Kind friends and supporters of Ottawa’s Queen of the Blues, Maria Hawkins, showed up in droves to her fundraising concert at The Rainbow this past Sunday, which featured an enormous list of performers from Ottawa and abroad. One act after another flowed seamlessly through a variety of musical styles ranging from roots, folk, and blues, to rock, R&B, and country. A steady flow of people filed in and out throughout the course of the late afternoon and into the wee hours of the night. Funds raised from the event will be used to pay for vital corrective eye surgeries that Maria needs, as well as to sustain her financially until she is able to resume her singing/performing career.
Maria Hawkins has earned herself a household name in Ottawa not only because of her powerful and soulful voice, but also because of the dynamic energy and raw passion that she passes onto her audience. She is also known for her long term community effort in passing the gift of music and singing to children, with programs she co-developed such as “Blues in the Schools”, as well as having been a spokesperson on anti-bullying, a topic she covers in her song, “Turn It Around”. After decades of delivering her inspiring messages of love, understanding, and life-affirming values through her music, her legions of fans, musicians, and friends wasted no time in giving back to this talented and generous lady in her time of need. For those who couldn’t make the fundraising event, donations can be made through GoFundMe.
The 4 o’clock sun beamed in through the west window, illuminating the stage as the first act boarded to perform. Maria took the helm as she conducted the enthusiastic, purple-shirted choir members of Family Harmonies’ Musicability choir, an all-ages, all-abilities program put together by Melodie Grealy-Fredette and Angèle Jodquin, and funded through donations and two large fundraising events each year. Maria’s band crew, Gary Epton (drums), Greg Szepietowski (guitar), David Johnston (bass), as well as Vince Halfhide (guitar) were on deck to back the choir, as well as some of the other performers throughout the day.
Hosting the day’s events, were blues/retro-rock trio, River City Junction, who gave one of their always-amazing performances showcasing their original material, which featured the smoky attitude-laced vocals of Caroline Addison, and absolute jaw-dropping guitar arrangements by Jason Fryer. Completing the band’s bass-line backbone, was Tommy Joanisse. They also backed up artists, Thomas Starwalker Clair, Terry Steeves, and Clint Everson, who each took a turn sitting in with the band.
Award-winning singer/songwriter Lynn Miles graced us with a short set of her accomplished folk/roots material, from the vast 12-album archive of her long and successful career. Her Emmylou Harris-like vocals, blended with her lovely flowing melodies, immediately grabbed the crowd’s attention, as she delivered her solo performance.
Local country ensemble Grateful We’re Not Dead gave the audience a dose of their traditional-flavoured originals and covers, followed by Ottawa’s legendary folk singer/songwriter, and guitarist Sneezy Waters. He and his 5-piece ensemble, “The Very Fine Band”, got the crowd going with songs from his vast repertoire in a career that has spanned 6 decades.
Wicked Grin turned on some serious heat with their rough and ready blues/rock originals, fortified with the gritty vocals of Murray Kinsley, and accomplished bassist, Leigh-Anne Stanton. Sitting in with the band was Bruce Saunders on drums, and Steve Trecarten, who delivered some fiery sax licks.
The only momentary glitch of the day was when Maria was whisked away to the hospital to nurse a broken pinkie finger she managed to give herself during a fall up the front steps. The show continued on cruise control, with many who stepped up to help with raffle ticket sales and performance changeovers. Local singer/songwriter, Pat Moore, relieved DAWG FM’s, Blues Bud Brent as temporary emcee, and later returned to the stage to engage the crowd with her full sounding country-roots material, wrapped in her warm, strong vocals.
Jimmy Cochrane sat in on guitar/vocals during the Maria Hawkins Band segment, along with Buddy McCann on harmonica, to contribute some sweet blues sounds, which packed the dance floor.
One of the rockier edged acts that impressed me included an acoustic version of local hard rock band, Claudia, who gave an energetic performance of “Bo Diddley” that kept the dance floor hopping, then turned around with a great, razor-edged version of “Knocking On Heaven’s Door”. Similarly, singer/guitarist, Danielle Hewitt, performed some challenging rock classics, joined by Szepietowski on guitar, Dave Baker on bass, and Buddy McCann, who switched over to the drum kit.
Alan Sandeman, also of the band Assembly Required, performed a few of his own light rock, country and blues numbers, and later, Rita Carter and her band charmed the crowd with some sultry and organic R&B material. Other highlights included Stormin’ Norman Doucette, Reg Carkner, and Yvon Villeneuve (Little Bones), who also presented one of his acoustic guitars to Maria onstage later in the evening.
When Maria returned a few hours later, sporting a freshly splinted, bandaged up hand, she headed up to the stage with her band, where, in true Maria Hawkins fashion, she turned her misfortune of the day around into a treasured adventure. She let loose with some of her classic original tunes, including my favourite, “Driving In My Car”, which tells of a near-catastrophic experience involving a landslide while driving with her son through the Rockies. Another apt example of how in Maria’s world, when life gives you lemons, you write a song…