Many roots music fans are amateur musicians, which makes learning from the pros a special treat.

In 2014 the Registry Theatre presented its inaugural Roots Weekend, a combination of concert performances and workshops featuring two pairs of Canadian artists. Acoustic blues artists Rick Fines and Suzie Vinnick joined ukulele ace James Hill and cellist Anne Janelle.

Last year the popular downtown Kitchener performance venue ventured further afield, pairing a Canadian female folk trio, Trent Severn, with an American male bluegrass trio, the Kruger Brothers.

Trent Severn’s Emma Gryner, Dayna Manning and Laura Bates performed a Folk Night at the Registry concert and conducted a harmony singing workshop. Consisting of Jens and Uwe Kruger and Joel Landsberg, the Kruger Brothers performed and conducted a strings workshop. The Krugers returned a year later in response to popular demand and delivered a superb, sold-out concert.

This year’s Roots Weekend pairs Dave Gunning, a Folk Night at the Registry fave, with Tom Rush, an American folk legend. Rush performs April 15, while Gunning performs April 16. They conduct daytime workshops April 16. The Gunning concert is sold out; tickets for the Rush concert are still available.

Info on the workshops are as follows:
10 am — Titled Songwriting, Rush’s workshop features stories spanning
a half century in music.

1 pm — Titled Storytelling in Song, Gunning talks about telling
stories in song and about the process of collaborating with other
songwriters. Participants with songs in progress are invited to share them with the workshop.

The workshops are $25 each. Pre-registration is required. Contact Jack Cole at


Gunning returns to perform the Merrick Jarrett concert, held annually as a tribute to the late, much beloved Canadian folk icon.

The Nova Scotia-based singer/songwriter debuted at the Registry in 2007. At the time he was virtually unknown in Ontario despite releasing a number of acclaimed albums and winning a string of East Coast Music Awards. He later returned at the invitation of Folk Night at the Registry — with Edmonton folksinger Maria Dunn in 2009 and as a solo act in 2011 and 2012. The Newfoundland duo Ennis opened for him at his last appearance.

I remember hearing about Gunning for the first time in 2007. Although I kept my ear pretty close to the music ground as an arts reporter for the Waterloo Region Record, I had not come across Gunning until a promoter informed me he was premiering in Ontario. He now performs in Ontario more than he does in the Maritimes. It was a privilege to introduce Gunning to Ontario audiences.

What impressed me initially was the quality of Gunning’s songwriting. It’s easy to understand why he has collaborated with so many of the country’s best songwriters including the late Ron Hynes and childhood friend George Canyon, in addition to James Keelaghan, David Francey, Lennie Gallant, Bruce Guthro, Karine Polwart and Matt Andersen, among others.

Although his polished vocals were evident on his albums, hearing Gunning live  underscored the strength his burnished baritone, augmented with thick regional accent — as warm as an East Coast sunset at the height of summer.

I wasn’t aware of Gunning’s prowess as a guitarist until I saw him perform, whether fingerpicking or strumming acoustic six- and 12-string.

He won me over with his warm friendliness and Forrest Gumpish humour when I interviewed him prior to his Ontario debut. These personal characteristics subsequently found expression when he was on stage.


Born in New Hampshire in 1941, Rush is a seminal figure in folk music. He not only helped shape the folk revival of the 1960s, he influenced the  singer/songwriter movement of the ’70s and the new-folk renaissance of the ’80s and ’90s. No less an artist than James Taylor told Rolling Stone magazine ‘Tom was not only one of my early heroes, [he was] one of my main influences.’

Before graduating with an English degree from Harvard in 1963, he had become a fixture of the Boston coffeehouse scene. From the outset Rush interpreted various traditions, from blues and early rock ’n’ roll to country and traditional folk, with a pleasant, easygoing tenor. Later he contributed to the folk-rock, country outlaw and heartland rock movements.

Like Judy Collins, Rush helped establish careers. Although he wrote original songs, his sensitive ear was drawn to many gifted emerging songwriters who subsequently rose to prominence. For example, The Circle Game — first released in 1968 with cover photos by Linda Eastman (later to become McCartney) — combines a pair of poignant originals (the instrumental Rockport Sunday and heartbreaking No Regrets) with Joni Mitchell’s Tin Angel, Urge For Going and The Circle Game, along with James Taylor’s Something in the Way She Moves and Sunshine Sunshine, Jackson Browne’s Shadow Dream Song and Charlie Rich’s So Long.

Those unfamiliar with Rush’s artistic legacy can do worse than hunting down his retrospective The Very Best of Tom Rush: No Regrets, his 17th album since 1962 and released by Sony Music in 1999. In addition to seven enduring original songs, its covers span Jesse Fuller, Bukka White and Eric von Schmidt to Browne and Mitchell. It also includes songs by a couple of other Canadian songwriters — David Wiffen’s Lost My Drivin’ Wheel and Murray McLaughlin’s Child’s Song.

In the 80s Rush formed his own management company, booking agency and Night Light record label (before independent labels became popular) while continuing to perform, culminating with his legendary Boston Symphony Hall concert in 1982. In the new millennium he has released eight albums, including 2013’s Tom Rush Celebrates 50 Years of Music (includes DVD of the concert). Nearly six decades later, he’s still at it. This thumbnail bio doesn’t do Rush justice; it’s just a teaser.

Below Rush performs McLaughlin’s tender classic Child’s Song.

Roots Weekend
with Dave Gunning & Tom Rush
Registry Theatre
April 15 & 16


Season 11 LINEUP (2016-17)

Oct 29
Brilliant songwriter from northern England who has appeared several times at the Mill Race festival. Great instrumentalist and storyteller.

Nov 19
Raised in Ontario and a resident of Nova Scotia for many years, Smith is an eloquent songwriter with a voice as rich as vintage single malt.

Jan 21
Local folk artist Nelson returns and Carabine, from the duo DALA, launches her new recording.

March 18
PEI native Gallant’s accolades include 16 East Coast Music Awards, 11 albums in both languages and songs covered by more than 30 artists.

Gallant is part of the fourth annual Registry Roots Weekend with THE CELTS (Nonie Thompson, Eugene Rae, Anne Lederman & friends) performing The Real St. Patrick on March 17. $25.

Workshops conducted March 18.

April 8
Based in Montreal, the acoustic folk trio performed a Folk Night at the Registry highlight show in 2007.

May 6
Host of the 11th annual Merrick Jarrett concert, the talented New Hampshire-based singer/songwriter has penned such contemporary classics as Place in the Choir and Roseville Fair.

Series pass (all six shows): $96
Folk Night prices include HST. Tickets available online at