B4B, started as an idea by Ottawa singer/songwriter Ana Miura back in 2003, who wanted to make a difference in her community by staging a concert to raise funds and awareness for those dealing with breast cancer. By 2007, she enlisted the help of local performer Amanda Rheaume, who have gone on to put together an annual concert each year for the past 10 years.
Featuring over 50 artists and touring through 21 different Canadian cities, B4B has raised over $140,000 for a variety of charities, including the “Babes 4 Breasts Head Start Program” offered at the Ottawa Integrative Cancer Centre (OICC), which is 100% funded by B4B.
Ottawa singer/songwriter Jeff Logan, who goes by his stage persona, Jasper Bridge, tells me about his reasons for starting his Beards for Breasts annual fundraising shows:
“When I started my project called Jasper Bridge a few years ago, I thought having worked with Amanda Rheaume and different artists for so long, there’s been various things we’ve donated money to on tour. To be a socially responsible artist, I wanted to make sure to do that too, because I saw it as a huge thing to do. So I immediately started brainstorming, thinking of what can I donate to, and I thought why don’t I donate to Babes 4 Breasts? I could do a side thing for them called Beards 4 Breasts… a little play on words. All proceeds go to Babes4Breasts, and specifically this year we’re pushing everything to the OICC Head Start Program.”
The OICC Head Start Program was developed for women recently diagnosed with breast cancer. It was designed to provide the educational, physical, and emotional tools needed to overcome the fear and uncertainty surrounding breast cancer, by bringing them back to living their lives with a sense of hope and confidence. Nutritional workshops, exercise, mind body therapy, stress management, integrative medicine, and adapting a healthy lifestyle, are just some of the elements of the program. The idea is to inject a fresh and healthy approach as a first step for women who are newly diagnosed, who are afraid and don’t know where to turn.
During an orientation seminar which I attended, I could feel a sense of connection and ease among the women in the room that developed. I listened to a woman who was trying to carry on with her busy life of full-time work and taking care of her children while trying to make room to deal with her recent diagnosis and ensuing treatments. After the session, I left the centre a little more educated, completely inspired by meeting these brave women, and thankful that such a program exists.
This year, Beards for Breasts was held for the first time at downtown Ottawa’s hotspot venue, Live! On Elgin, which has become known for promoting a diverse spectrum of artistic events, as well as for being strong supporters of the community.
The show itself is set up as a songwriting circle, where each performer takes his turn playing an original composition one at a time in a round. Each year, Bridge grows out his beard leading up to the event, while gathering pledges for the ritual beard-removal afterwards. He chooses a fresh crop of male local artists to share the stage…those already bearded, or those who will make the effort to grow out their beards in support. Bridge chose local artists, Sean Tansey (Lost To The River), Jamie Douglas (The Powergoats), and Shawn Tavenier (Silver Creek) to join him for this year’s show.
“I think it’s exciting because you’ve got four different artists to bring various different views and songwriting styles. I play a lot of lead guitar, so I can hop on people’s tunes and add some lead parts, add harmonic back-up vocals, etc. It’s nice that we have such a thriving scene that we can just pick from, and I don’t have to reach far out of my immediate network. I remember the first year, I wondered who I could get, and now it’s more who do I see first? I play with all these guys so often, and it’s really nice to have such support, and have all of us volunteer to do something for a good cause. Usually the weekend following the event, I go to Hair Fellas every year and I see Tom, who gives the great straight shave. They’re kind enough to donate the shaving of the beard for me as well.”
Four stools were arranged side-by-side on the stage as the bearded men took to their seats with their acoustic guitars. One by one, each took a turn playing an original composition, in a round formation, sometimes alone, and sometimes with the accompaniment of another fellow performer. Each one stood out on their own, with material and delivery as unique as a fingerprint. They openly shared songs written from the deepest corners of their hearts and minds in an array that ranged from stirringly sentimental to frivolous tongue-in-cheek humour.
It was a highly entertaining spectrum of artists, who showcased the fruits of their musical creations, and the venue’s warm and inviting space added to the intimate atmosphere. Throughout the evening, there were many stories surrounding song topic inspirations, plenty of on-stage comical beard banter, lots of laughter, as well as some completely hushed periods during some very poignant numbers that were crafted with such beauty, sincerity, and honesty. And even though the four showed such different artistic elements, there was a brothers-in-arms banding together for the cause connection that was felt loud and clear.
Bridge led the way at the start of each round, and showcased some of his original material, all of which expressed a variety of heartfelt topics. His poignant lyrics were underlined in his uniquely sensitive and slightly fractured vocal timbre, that brought to mind similar stylings of troubadours like Paul Simon and Dan Peek. “Smile In My Light”, was an endearingly sentimental piece in ode to his grandfather, one of the people he remembers for the light of his smile. He spoke of his experiences performing for the troops in Afghanistan, followed by his performance of “With A Gun”, which drove a parallel between love and war, and featured Bridge’s fantastic fingerpicking style. My personal favourite came with “Love To A Wild Thing”, a gorgeous flowing melody filled with cool changes and even cooler lyrics.
Singer/songwriter with local band Lost To The River, Tansey shared some strikingly good lyrical work on his original compositions. “Biggest Lake”, was an impressive acoustic prog piece filled with beautiful haunting chord progressions and colourful changing time signatures and rhythms. I enjoyed the bluesy, light-hearted, “Dumb Kid”, and was especially moved by one called, “For Sara”, which he wrote about a person transitioning genders. This three-quarter timed gem delivered a message of love and the importance of being the essence of the person you are. “The love in your heart has no shame. No gender, colour, or hate. And if love is all we are, be the one you are working towards.”
Long-time Ottawa singer/songwriter, and frontman for The Powergoats, Douglas led us through material plucked from his earlier recorded work with The Powergoats, right up to cuts from their current album, Ruby Headlights, and even threw in a new, unrecorded piece entitled, “Don’t Go Falling”. I enjoyed its very Rolling Stones “Wild Horses” flavour, with some nice leadwork and backing vocal accompaniment by Bridge. I also enjoyed the infectious vibrance of “Indoor Sunshine”, a song that reflects the theme of generosity among friends. One he usually ends his Powergoat shows with, “Blow By Blow”, had a great flowing ska-meets-reggae groove, along with some challenging vocals of highs and lows. I loved the line, “We’ll catch the shiny chips of karma, and deal them blow by blow.”
Tavenier is another talented Ottawa singer/songwriter, known as frontman of long-time local favourite, Silver Creek, who are celebrating their 10th anniversary. Some of the songs he shared were of his most recent, unrecorded work, and bore a structure and style very reminiscent of The Allman Brothers and Bruce Springsteen. Paired with his powerful voice, and natural-born stage presence, Tavenier gripped the audience each time during his time in the round. “Hey Solitude”, a love letter he wrote to one of his best friends, had some nice added harp embellishments by Douglas throughout, while “Trouble Me”, had a very gospel-driven feel, emphasized with his conviction-filled vocals and lyrics. His rendition of Fred Neil’s “Everybody’s Talking” was masterful, with the song’s iconic falsetto parts performed to perfection.
Merchandise donated for the event that was available for purchase consisted of each of the performer’s own CD’s/download cards, all five Babes4Breasts compilation CD’s, t-shirts and various door prizes including Sens tix. There was also a silent auction for two framed incredible photographs by Ottawa photographer, Sean Sisk: one of Gord Downie, and one of Eddie Vedder. Including the show’s cover charge intake and pledges received for Bridge’s beard removal on Saturday, funds raised for B4B surpassed the $2,000 mark, which brings a three-year total of over $6,000. “I’m averaging two thousand dollars a beard, I’d say that’s pretty good.”
For more on Beards for Breasts, visit their Facebook page.