Oak and Elm – Weekend Warriors

Jay Edwards has had 27 brain surgeries. Aaron Peters is so fascinated with Jay and his talent and his struggles, he’s decided to make a movie about it.

Oak and Elm
Oak and Elm

As a result, I’ve been getting to know Jay recently. Last weekend I went to an open mic event at 160 Bartley Drive to hear him sing. He sat around waiting and waiting to be invited up. Finally, he decided it was his turn and he stood, no mic, no accompaniment, and started singing an original song. After the first verse, the noisy crowd became silent. Jay’s voice is strong. He sings with strong emotion. His words are well written, heartfelt and easy to relate to. There is something very Kurt Cobain about him. At the end of the song, an emotional audience broke into loud applause. People came up to Jay to pat his back. He looked to me, his new acquaintance, to see my reaction. I was emotional, smiling and fully approving of his performance.OAK-&-ELM-9

While I was at 160 Bartley, the staff there let me know about a networking event happening the following weekend that included 5 bands performing in the evening. It’s been a while since I profiled a band, and I was impressed with the space, so decided to check it out.

I wanted to concentrate on OAK and ELM,  an “Experimental” Folk Band, out of the 5 bands that were performing. They came in from out of town (St Catherines), so I wanted to meet them while I had the chance.

 “We just do it for fun, really.”

“We just do it for fun, really.” This was the theme of our conversation. I had heard that the band was doing a lot of travelling. I naturally assumed touring. I wanted to know if they were looking for more gigs and what sort of attention they wanted so I could write an article that might be helpful to them.

One of the organizers of 160 Bartley said she first met the band at a retreat in the mountains in B.C. When I asked the band about that, they said she met Jon, Jon, Mike, Stacey, and Melissa who were travelling in B.C. at the time. Em and Josh drove separately on a Grey Hound bus to meet them at Dawson’s Creek. The members of the band were travelling across Canada for 2 months writing songs and playing acoustically while they travelled. They even played for a radio station in Dawson’s Creek.

The band has played Toronto’s Cherry Colas and other southern Ontario venues. They say they love to just jam together and play at family and friend gatherings. They say they hope to get more Toronto gigs this year.

What for? Why do they want Toronto gigs? The band says “It’s something we all do, we might as well do it together”. Sometimes there are as many as 9 people in the band. Members change. They are in and out of the band fluidly as they attend University, travel, work. They think they are just playing with their friends. “It’s fun”. I was starting to imagine them kicking a ball around a soccer field.

I kept asking the band questions, hoping at least one of them would tell me they were serious about their music. They are all fine musicians and lovely people. As it turns out, not one of them is serious.

They did make a point of saying though, they try to play for no cover charge as much as possible. Not every bar will agree to wave the cover charge, but the band doesn’t ask to be paid. Don’t they realize they are taking the space at the venue away from another musician or band? Don’t they realize they encourage the venues to not pay for musicians? I don’t support that.OAK-&-ELM-1

“I’m writing my Masters, I can’t do this anymore”

It was breaking my heart. I felt my time had been wasted on them. I don’t cover weekend warriors. I’m trying to support indie musicians who are trying to be heard, because getting heard is so difficult for them. Most of them don’t have money or even a supporting network of people. Many of them work their way from the ground up with second hand instruments. Most of them are elated when someone offers to pay them for their work as a musician. So many of them are highly talented and no one can hear them because the weekend warrior is playing their gig.

Jay Edwards sits in the background enjoying the band.
Jay Edwards sits in the background enjoying the band.

I thought of Jay, who was out there somewhere in the venue. He was watching the other musicians perform. No one had thought to invite him to sing that night, despite having heard him silence a room the week before. These are the people Jay is competing against. In fact, these are the people all the serious indie musicians are competing against. The weekend warriors who get booked in Toronto venues because they’re talented and entertaining. It doesn’t matter that they don’t really care. It doesn’t matter that the gig is not helping to advance their music career. It doesn’t matter that they will disappear from the music scene to get on with their “real lives” one day soon.

In contrast, Jay is trying to get some music recorded to sell. He wants opportunities for an audience, so he can rake in some of the cover charge and have his music heard. He dreams of one day selling a song that he wrote. Jay told me “music is it for me”.

So is this article going to leave the band feeling hurt? Maybe insulted? Perhaps, but i believe this is a discussion that needs to happen. I follow 457 Ontario bands/musicians on Twitter. I have 778 listed on my website. That’s a lot of talent. I think it’s fair to say there’s also a lot of weekend warriors, and consequently, a lot of starving musicians.

Oak and Elm is:
Josh Di Iorio - Guitar/Banjo/Vocals
Mike Cameron - Lead Guitar/Vocals
Emma Fleury - Accordion/Ukulele/Guitar/Vocals
Steve Del Duca - Keyboard/Synth/Melodica/Chitter-Chatter
Jordan Phelan - The Authority (Bass)
Long Jon Papa B - Saxophone/Mandolin/Guitar/Vocals
Jon Marleau - Percussion/Vocals