Muskoka Roots Run Deep at Sawdust City Music Festival
By Bryan Dearsley
Muskoka’s roots certainly run deep. The region’s unique ‘cottage country’ brand has been a big draw for vacationers for decades – actually, more than a century! – and shows no sign of abating. Just a short drive from Toronto, it’s here that couples and families from all walks of life, including more than a handful of the world’s rich and famous, choose to spend their down time.
Muskoka has also been extremely popular among Canada’s creative types. From renowned artists (think Group of Seven) to TV personalities and film stars (think Martin Short), the region’s many lakes, rocky terrain, and abundance of trees and wildlife has acted as a backdrop to many an iconic event.
One such event is the Sawdust City Music Festival in Gravenhurst. Now in its third year, this year’s festival includes a stellar line-up of bands and performers, most of whom have, at one time or another, been bitten by the Muskoka bug (and we don’t mean blackflies, though that’s a distinct possibility).
To celebrate the return of the Sawdust City Music Festival, we reached out to the musicians scheduled to perform at the various host locations around Gravenhurst from August 2nd – 4th.
The response was astounding, showing just how deep Muskoka’s roots are amongst Canada’s top artists and performers.
For more details and the full schedule of performances at Sawdust City Music Festival, visit their website at www.sawdustcitymusicfestival.com/2019-schedule.
Miranda Mulholland (Harrow Fair)
Sawdust City is Gravenhurst’s nickname, which actually came from the lumber mill my great-great-grandfather, Charles Mickle, owned. The more involved I am with music and the community, the closer I feel to him. When I first created my label Roaring Girl Records, I had a hypothetical festival in mind. A festival that celebrated collaboration, cross-genre, and musicianship, the cornerstones of the label.
It is beyond my wildest dreams that it’s actually happening now, and in Gravenhurst. This town has been my favourite spot for my entire life – I was brought there in utero! My great- great-grandfather, Charles Mickle, believed in the power of the arts when he had the Gravenhurst Opera House built on the main street. It was called “Mickle’s Folly” at the time, but is still going strong after 118 years. I’m so excited to be reinforcing his testament to the necessity of music, art and culture in our society with the Sawdust City Music Festival.
Learn more at www.mirandamulholland.ca.
I don’t even think I can count how many times I’ve been to Muskoka! Some of my fondest memories as a kid are heading up to that neck of the woods in the summer and fall with my family. More recently, I’ve been going to Muskoka for house concerts, and those are some of my favourite shows that I’ve done. I also had a very silly and fun trip with some university pals up there that really cemented our friendship – all I have are fond memories.
I can’t wait to play the Sawdust City Music Festival. I’ve seen the lineups each year and was so thrilled when I was offered a spot. I’m really excited to see Bill and Joel Plaskett (obviously!), The Sadies (double obviously), and I’m very excited to be part of the Songwriters’ Circle with James Gordon, Emm Gryner, and Jay Gilday.
Performance Details: Saturday, August 3, 2 PM (FREE), Songwriters’ Circle, Trinity United Church; Sunday, August 4, 1 PM (FREE), Arts At The Albion
Learn more at www.gilliannicola.com
Nothing beats escaping the city and heading up to Muskoka for a weekend getaway. My uncle has a cottage in Bala, and over the past few years I’ve had some fantastic weekends swimming, waterskiing, and even playing hockey when the lake freezes in the winter.
I’m so excited for Sawdust City Music Festival — not only is it an honour to be included in this year’s amazing lineup, but it also gives me an excuse to spend more time in the Muskoka area!
Performance Details: Saturday, August 3, 5:30 PM, The Oar
Learn more at www.johnpmuirhead.com
I’ve had a serious relationship with Muskoka for many years, and in fact I spent as much of my summer as possible on a homemade hippy eco-friendly houseboat on the Severn River in the South West corner of this compelling area. The rocks, trees, rivers, lakes, and the stories have found their way into many of my songs, and in fact with my old band Tamarack we released an entire album of Muskoka songs called Muskoka’s Calling, which was literally launched onboard the Segwun.
Muskoka to me is so quintessentially Canadian that it’s become a symbol for everything that I cherish about this country. I remember visiting the Huntsville Museum with my wife and kids years ago, while we were camping in Arrowhead Park. It rained the entire time, and my poor family crammed into the tent while I became obsessed with writing songs about stories I discovered at the museum. When inspiration hits, you have to run with it!
I am so honoured and grateful to be performing at the Sawdust City Music Festival this summer. I am especially excited that I’ll be leading a songwriting workshop, and I’m hoping that another Muskoka song comes out of it! It will be great to connect with other artists there, and to be a small part of helping this unique festival grow, since the arts have become another essential part of the remarkable character and feel that Muskoka offers.
Performance Details: Saturday, August 3, 2 PM (FREE), Songwriters’ Circle,
Trinity United Church
Learn more at www.jamesgordon.ca
It’s exciting for us any time we get to play a show north of Bloor Street. We love the bar scene in Toronto, but it’s a treat to get out of the big smoke. As both front members of our band grew up in other provinces (one from Newfoundland and one from BC) neither of us have much experience with Ontario’s cottage country aside from noticing extra traffic out of the city before a long weekend.
We’re serious fans of Joel Plaskett and regard him as one of the OG cats of Canadian indie rock. We’ll be sad to miss Bill and Joel as we’ll be playing our set at the same time as theirs but we’re looking forward to checking out all the other acts on the bill. Excited to be a part of Sawdust Fest!
Performance Details: Saturday, August 3, 8:00 PM (FREE), Sawdust City Brewing Co. “Saloon” (with Jay Gilday)
Learn more at www.sidehustlemusic.ca
Bet Smith (Bet Smith & The Currie Brothers)
After having grown up in Muskoka and having left to spend most of my adult life between Toronto and BC, it was going to take something pretty magical to bring me back to my small-town Ontario roots. I found that thing at Currie’s Music and in the Currie brothers themselves who became fast friends and musical collaborators a few years ago. Drawn in by the amazing atmosphere of their store, and then hooked on their talent and creativity, I can truly say that the Curries changed my life.
The collaboration led, of course, to our band being part of Sawdust City Music Festival, which is a wonderful new gem for Muskoka. Watching Gravenhurst come alive with such a spectacular and diverse variety of music gave me a renewed sense of pride for this town last summer. I am so glad to be part of the festival again this year.
Learn more at www.betsmithandthecurriebrothers.com/
Vikki VanSickle (Author)
I have a generous friend who invites me to her family’s Lily Bay cottage every summer. We spend most of our time lakeside, but I look forward to our trip into Gravenhurst – via rowboat – for Chelsea buns, extra wine, and a trip to Currie’s Music and Antiques. I have found many treasures here over the years, including a fantastic pair of blonde cowboy boots, a hand-written flower diary from 1913 with the most beautiful personal description written to ‘Mother,’ from ‘Father,’ and an ABBA double-album perfect for dinner-prep sing-a-longs that now lives at the cottage and hopefully endears me enough to its owners that they will continue to extend an invitation for years to come.
Learn more at https://vikkivansickle.wordpress.com/
Mike Belitsky from The Sadies
Not being a resident of Ontario as a kid, I can’t share any Childhood memories of the region, but in recent years my son and I have gone camping in the area so I have fond, fresh memories of spending time on the lakes and camping out around there. The Sadies have played up in Bala a few times and in Port Carling which were fun times, for sure.
I’m looking forward to catching up with my old pal Joel Plaskett, who I rarely get to see but always enjoy hanging out with, at The Sawdust City Music Festival.
Performance Details: Sunday, August 4, Music On The Barge (FREE), 7:00 PM – 9:30 PM, Gull Lake Rotary Park (with Shakura S’Aida, Ryan Langdon, The Pairs & Fred Schulz)
Learn more at www.thesadies.net
Stephen Stanley from The Stephen Stanley Band
When I was a kid, I spent five years working the spring-summer-fall season at a resort in Muskoka, on Lake of Bays. I’m pretty sure I played live for the first time in the Algonquin Room at the now defunct Ronville Lodge. Once every couple of weeks, we’d borrow a staffer car and head into Huntsville and hit a place that I think was called “The Now Shop” – a record store on Main Street. From there I would return to the lake with 2 or 3 new records… every time. I specifically remember coming back with the Clash’s Combat Rockand The Stones Tattoo You… I had a full-on stereo in my room and the only turntable for miles… I was the staff’s de facto DJ.
There were alcohol-fuelled arguments about whether the Flock of Seagulls second album was better than their first (it wasn’t…), and I also remember nobody sharing in my love for Echo & the Bunnymen’s Porcupine, but that was a GREAT record…! All these years later, some of my dearest friends still live on the lake, and my band gets up there to play at least a couple times a year, so I’m definitely pretty excited to get the chance to play at the Sawdust City Music Festival for the first time. We are playing on Sunday, but maybe we’ll be lucky enough to slip into town early and catch Bet Smith & the Currie Brothers, Tight Ropes & Loose Endsis a really great record…
Performance Details: Sunday, August 4, 9:00 PM (FREE), Sawdust City Brewing Co. “Saloon”
Learn more at https://stephenstanleyband.com
Ah Muskoka! The place where friends gather, families play together and the great outdoors get stuck between your toes. We love the beauty found here and are excited to be a part of Sawdust City Music Festival this year. Looking forward to meeting up with our pals Annie Sumi and John Muirhead, as well as catching the sweet sounds of Jay Gilday and Maria Doyle Kennedy… to name only a few. See you there!
Performance Details: Sunday, August 4, Free Kids Zone, 2:00 PM – 5:00 PM
Gull Lake Rotary Park; Music On The Barge (FREE), 7:00 PM – 9:30 PM
Gull Lake Rotary Park (with The Sadies, Shakura S’Aida, Ryan Langdon, & Fred Schulz), Gull Lake Rotary Park
Learn more at www.thepairsmusic.com
Muskoka will always remind me of the sunshine of my youth. I remember being 18, listening to The Velvet Underground, with hands out the window, driving up highway 11 in a rusty, old Honda civic. Surrounded by my darling, misfit-friends, it felt like we were a band of ragamuffins on a quest for Heaven! We would spend the weekend around a bonfire singing Neil Young and taking the boat out to the local swimming hole. I associate the care-freedom of my youth to the stillness of those lakes, and the crackle of that fire.
Needless to say, every time I drive that Northern Highway, I start to breath with more certainty that I am on my way Home! Thank you to Sawdust City Music Festival for having me out this year – cannot wait to feel your Muskoka Magic.
Performance Details: Friday, August 2, The Oar (FREE), 5:30 PM
Learn more at http://anniesumi.com/
Five the Magician
This is going to be the best summer ever! A family friendly music festival in beautiful Gravenhurst … c’mon, it’s the best of both worlds!! Your kids are going to love it there.
I almost begged the Organizer to hire me for this event, because I wanted to take my family to the Sawdust City Music Festival in Gravenhurst. It’s going to be awesome!
Performance Details: Sunday, August 4, FREE KIDS ZONE, Gull Lake Rotary Park, 2:00 PM – 5:00 PM — Five the Magician, The Pairs, Vicki VanSickle, Storytime Tent, Games, Crafts, Face Painting, Vendor Village
Learn more at www.bigsmilescompany.com/five-the-magician.html
Andrew Penner (Harrow Fair)
My not so hidden gem in Muskoka has been talked about for a while amongst touring musicians: Currie’s Music in Gravenhurst!! Most of your readers might know about this place, but… wow!! A family owned, recording studio, music, and antique store extravaganza!! Get a coffee next door, go in and enjoy. You can thank me later.
Learn more at http://www.andrewpenner.ca/
Maria Doyle Kennedy
One of my favourite memories was writing a song called “Muskoka Bound” with my trio Trent Severn. We took the experience of being stuck on Hwy 400 and turned it into a mystical bluegrass song, where we wondered what everyone’s story was. Looking around at canoes on the tops of cars, and families jammed into SUV’s, we all lament the drive but love the destination.
Performance Details: Saturday, August 3, 2PM (Free), Songwriters’ Circle, Trinity United Church.
Learn more at www.emmgryner.com.
First thing I think of when I hear “let’s go to Muskoka” is bonfires, buddies, and cold beers. I’ve always enjoyed the outdoors, and I am so fortunate that such a beautiful and relaxing place is only a few hours away. I don’t really have a frequent spot to visit, as we’ve rented places all over, but stopping at Weber’s is a must after a long drive on the 400. I am really looking forward to performing and watching all the talented bands at this years Sawdust City Music Festival!
Performance Details: Sunday, August 4, Music On The Barge (FREE), 7:00 PM – 9:30 PM, Gull Lake Rotary Park (with The Sadies, Shakura S’Aida, The Pairs & Fred Schulz).
Learn more at www.ryanlangdonmusic.com.
Bryan Dearsley is Editor-and chief of Luxury Globe Media, and is thrilled to bits that the Sawdust City Music Festival is returning to Gravenhurst… yeah!