Tuesday 12 October 2010

FICFA shines spotlight on short films

An annual tradition Metro movie buffs look forward to returns this week.

The Festival International du Cinéma Francophone en Acadie, also known as FICFA, has a mandate to present French-language films, including those made locally, to local audiences.

2010 marks the festival's 24th year in operation and it has grown steadily grown over the years, from the number of films presented to its visibility and cultural importance in the community.

Marie-Renée Duguay, executive director for Film Zone, Inc., the legal entity that owns and organizes the festival, agrees that FICFA has undergone a big transformation since its early years.

"The festival has evolved a lot in 24 years, for sure," she says. "When it started, it was over three days and there was maybe 15 films presented. Now, we have over 150 films presented.

"This year, we have over 35 programs we're presenting in our regular programming. We have a lot of parallel activities also, in the media arts component. That has also grown extensively in the last year."

Unlike most of the previous years, which mostly had short films presented before features, programming at FICFA is leaning more towards short films this year, which Marie-Renée believes is a film format deserving of its own audience.

"What is special about this year is the focus of the festival. We're focusing on short films. Everything we received this year as far as short films, what we had to select from, was such good material and so interesting, that we decided that it was really a good year to put the focus on that type of film to show to people that it's a genre unto itself."

The festival's programming committee divided the short films into many different blocks so that the individual films would be presented with others that share some type of similarity in terms of content or subject matter.

As an example, a programming block on October 1, entitled "Osez les court," will present what Marie-Renée calls "sexy short films" intended for an adult audience.

"They're either about sex or include a lot of sex!" says Marie-Renée, laughing. With titles like "La pilule" and "L'Amour à trois", it should not surprise anyone that these are foreign films. "(None of the) films in that program were made here, Most of them are from Europe or from Quebec!"

Despite a lack of local presence in the sexy programming, there will still be plenty of local short films screening at the festival. This year, many of them are works of fiction, which appears to be a conscious attempt to change the perceived notion that local films are usually documentaries.

"This year, there are a lot of short fiction films from here and that's really a novelty because, for a long time, people have been complaining that there's no fiction being done here," Marie-Renée says. "I think that if you look anywhere else in the world, before you have feature-length fiction films, you'll see the directors directing many short films. Here, it's kind of like nobody does that, really, so it was really interesting to see that finally some people are taking cameras and doing short fiction films."

There will be local short films presented during five different programming blocks.

They include: "Acadie courts" (Sept. 26), "Art sur roues" (Sept. 25), "Ciné-parc des Arts médiatiques" (Sept. 26), "Vues de chez nous" (Sept. 29), "Acadie Underground" (Sept. 30), and, finally, "Tremplin ONF" (Sept. 25), which does not exclusively consist of local productions. Although most don't, many of the presentations at FICFA will include English subtitles. Some can be enjoyed without subtitles, like "Miroir Noir" (2009), which is a documentary about music group Arcade Fire.

Despite existing in a bilingual community, FICFA insists on remaining a film festival mostly focused on presenting films that are intended to be seen in French.

"The festival was created for its francophone aspects so a mandate of the festival is really to serve the francophone community and also to interest the English community to what's going on in the francophone world and what's being created. I think the mandate is still appropriate for the festival because I think there's still a real need in the community to have some French cultural offers, specifically."

"I think there could be space for a second (film) festival," she adds, referring to possibilities of a film festival with more of an anglophone or bilingual programming focus.

FICFA will primarily take place at locations in Moncton and Dieppe between September 23 and October 2.

* Bernard C. Cormier is, among other things, a freelance writer and broadcaster. www.myspace.com/bernardccormier. www.twitter.com/bernardccormier. E-mail: Bernardccormier-gncb@hotmail.com © Bernard C. Cormier 2010

Tuesday 14 September 2010

From N.B. to Hollywood and Back

There may be many residents of the Moncton area named "Paul LeBlanc" but only one of them has ever won an Oscar.

That Paul LeBlanc, who is now retired and lives in his hometown of Dieppe, is the only known Acadian to date to ever win an Academy Award. It was earned for his work on the 1984 film Amadeus. LeBlanc had a career that can be seen as somewhat of a reassurance to locals with big dreams that such aspirations may not be as distant as you might think.

The second oldest in a family of six children, Paul became interested in hair while he was in the 10th grade. After graduating, he studied to be a hairstylist at the New Brunswick Community College. Upon completion, he had a business for a few years before deciding to explore the world.

"I decided I wanted to travel", he says, "so I left and, after a few stops in Montreal and Ottawa and stuff, I ended up in Toronto and got involved with wigs. This was in the late-'60s and wigs were very popular and very fashionable. Eventually, I went to Europe as a hippie, just with a knap-sack, long hair and stuff, and ended up in North Africa, and then I ended up in England. At the time, Canada was still under the common market with England so I was able to work.

"Fortunately, I got to work at one of the top wig houses in the world that dealt a lot with show business, a lot with BBC (television) and movies and stuff like that. I got my first beginnings in showbiz there."

After a year, he returned to Toronto and got a job at the CBC. A few years later, Paul worked on The Black Stallion (1979), his first movie credit.

"The Black Stallion people came (to Toronto) and were going to shoot for a month or something and then they were leaving. They weren't going to bring any Canadians with them but I had to work with the horse. I had to put a wig on the horse every day and stuff like that. Francis Ford Coppola, who was the executive producer, came over to see the race part of the movie, which was (the ending, being shot), liked the hair work and he mentioned it to some people. They asked to meet me and I met (Coppola). Then, the next day, a producer asks me if I want to go to Italy to finish the movie. The director liked me and, because of the horse, who was the star of the movie, I got to go to Italy for nine months.

"Francis Ford Coppola's a good friend of George Lucas, so when we got back to (North America), I was asked to go to the States to work for a movie for Lucasfilm called More American Graffiti (1979), which was (a sequel to American Graffiti)."

The doors to Paul's film career swung open from there as he continued to land gigs on high-profile films helmed by Hollywood royalty of the late-20th Century, which included, among others, Steven Spielberg, who hired him for the Second Unit on Raiders of The Lost Ark (1981) and Indiana Jones and The Temple of Doom (1984).

He was also hired to work on the third Star Wars film produced, Return of The Jedi (1983), a credit many people would be envious of having.

"They had brought me in to design new looks for Princess Leia," LeBlanc explains, "because George didn't like the donut and the beagle thing (in the hair). They wanted something softer and more feminine, so I was brought in to do some drawings and designs. I did that and then they went off to England to shoot. When they came back to finish in Arizona, I joined the group there and worked with them on the end of that."

"(The Jedi shoot) was very technical and very, very big. I mean there are a lot of people. There are a lot of departments, you know, and, of course, Harrison Ford's great. Everybody was very good and very nice but it's big. It's a big production. Lots and lots of people.

"My sketches (related to designing Leia's hair for Return of The Jedi) are in the Smithsonian, but I had to sign them off to George Lucas. When you work for Lucasfilm, all your artwork is not yours anymore. You sign it off."

Although, he was involved with that film, he wasn't involved with any of the Star Wars prequels.

"I'm glad (that I wasn't involved with them). I wouldn't have been that interested even though the conceptions and designs were beautiful, especially for Natalie Portman. I love that stuff but I must say that the filming of it (was) all done in front of a blue-screen, green-screen, and stuff, and for (the hairstylists), standing by, watching, it's really, really not very interesting. Not for us. It's interesting for the director, the photographers, you know what I mean but (not) for the people doing costumes and make-up and stuff. You're standing around watching one person acting in front of a green-screen and there's nothing! There's no fun to that. It's not interesting but then when you see the movie, that's not what you see at all! Of course, it's all different but to actually be there and doing it, it's very tedious!"

After the completion of The Terminal (2005), LeBlanc returned to the Moncton region and semi-retired. During that era, he opened a hair studio in Dieppe which he eventually decided to close after having a stroke and also realizing that, for him, cutting hair is not nearly as exciting as designing hairstyles for movies. He expects his last Hollywood credit to be for the upcoming film Black Swan (2010), which was shot during the Christmas months. As for advice for local people interested in having a career in the film industry, Paul recommends that they realize Moncton is far from the film industry and, not counting TV shows and documentaries, nobody can make a significant living in that field if they're based in the city. They would need to move away.

"You couldn't do what I did here. It's just not possible."

Paul also believes that there are behavioural differences between people living in Moncton and those who live in film centres like New York and L.A.

"People around here wait for something to happen, they don't make it happen themselves. You've got to make it (happen) yourself because nobody's going to do it for you."

* Bernard C. Cormier is, among other things, a freelance writer and broadcaster. www.myspace.com/bernardccormier. www.twitter.com/bernardccormier. E-mail: Bernardccormier-gncb@hotmail.com © Bernard C. Cormier 2010

NBer Conquers Green Gables

Photo: © Bernard C. Cormier 2010

Since 1965, Charlottetown annually becomes a Maritime hotspot for enthusiasts of musical theatre with the appropriately titled Charlottetown Festival.

From roughly May to October, people who dig such entertainment can sit back and relax to sights and sounds usually associated with Broadway in New York. The plays are usually performed for the public in the Confederation Arts Centre, an impressively large building facing the Charlottetown Mall, which was built in 1964.

If you're an actor in the Maritimes, there's a good chance that you want to eventually be on the festival's payroll at some point in your career.

The musicals presented may have changed over the years but Anne of Green Gables - The Musical has been a mainstay on the schedule every year since the festival began.

The musical's source material mostly lies in Anne of Green Gables, a 1908 novel written by Lucy Maud Montgomery (1874-1942). It was the first of nearly a dozen books written by Montgomery featuring protagonist Anne Shirley, who can be almost seen as a Canadian Pipi Longstockings. In 2008, a century after the first book was printed, another author, Budge Wilson, wrote Before Green Gables, a prequel to the original novels.

Because Montgomery lived in the province and people don't usually buy souvenirs of potatoes, PEI has largely publicly adopted the character as tourism figurehead and mascot since the early 20th century.

The book series was so successful that many adaptations and spin-offs in other media were made, these include (but not limited to) two theatrical films (1919 and 1934), two animated TV series (1979 and 2000), a half-dozen television miniseries, a spin-off TV series titled Road To Avonlea (1990-1996), and most importantly (in relation to the musical) a 1956 TV-movie.

The 1956 TV-movie, which aired on CBC, played an important part in the development of the theatre production because it, too, was a musical. The material developed for the TV-movie was used as the foundation to what became Anne of Green Gables - The Musical in the following decade.

As anyone can clearly see, with such a long and successful history attached to it, Anne of Green Gables - The Musical can be good on a CV if you're an actor.

Such is the case for Quispamsis native Andrew McAllister. It's the second year that the 24-year-old, who now calls Toronto home, has been performing in the production. Last year, McAllister played the role of "Charlie Sloane" in the ensemble. This year, however, he's been promoted to "Gilbert Blythe," Anne's love interest and, in some sequences, antagonist.

"(It's) fantastic to play an icon role, like Anne or Gilbert. I feel that it could really be a defining credit on your resume, so I feel like this is my chance to maybe be looked at in the eyes of a casting director more seriously or taken more seriously and get better opportunities," he said.

McAllister's story proves that it's possible for New Brunswickers to succeed in show business if they're willing to work for it.

After finishing high school in 2003, McAllister enrolled in Sheraton College, where he graduated in 2007. Although it's usually recommended for actors to join a union, which he eventually did, he consciously didn't for a while so that he could gain additional experience by playing non-union roles.

"I did a cruise ship right after I graduated just to get some money and get some experience. Then I was finding that I had a few job opportunities to become (a union member) but I didn't take them because I figured that, once I'm just out of school, I want to build a name for myself and maybe do shows that I may not get to do if I was a (Canadian Actors Equity Union) member because," he said. "The thing is that if you're non-Equity there's a lot more opportunities, really. Once you join a union, there are only so many union spots and there are so many people who are "union" and if I'm 21 years old and I'm already a member... I just find that I see so many people that just struggle to get work. So, I wanted to do as many shows as I could so I did about 10 shows as non-union then the right things happened at the right time. Now I'm working as a union member.

"I've been a member of the Canadian Actors Equity Union for a few years. It's nice to know that (the Charlottetown Festival) mainly hires Equity members. I find the standards great, whether you're Equity or non-Equity but I find it adds a sense of professionalism and you know that you're well taken care of and, if you have injuries or what not, you'll be in good hands."

Another advantage for him associated to his gig at the Charlottetown Festival is the proximity its location is to his friends and family from the Saint John area.

"I'm very close to home! It's only like three hours away. It's just so refreshing that my friends and family can come see me in shows. Some of them haven't seen me in anything since high school. To be known as a working actor from Quispamsis, sometimes people don't really get what that entails and the hard work. They just think it's like you're singing and dancing and whatnot. It takes a lot of effort."

He said he has also had good support from his family.

"They understand that you can fall on hard times or you could be successful. I mean I've made a good living for myself since I graduated from college and I've continued to work, so I mean they're supportive in that but I think they also realize that if I were to be trying to survive in this industry and I was 30 years old and I still wasn't a member of a union or working that consistently, then they would probably say maybe it's time to think about teaching or doing some other form of being in the same industry but just (doing) something that's more certain."

Although he knew of its title character because he grew up in a province neighboring P.E.I., McAllister didn't know the story of "Anne of Green Gables" before joining the production.

"I've never read the book, I've never seen the miniseries and I live in New Brunswick. Obviously when you audition for a show you want to research it and you want to understand what it's all about," he said. "I didn't know a lot (about Anne of Green Gables) before I came but now, since I've been here for two summers, I feel like the 'World of Anne' is special. People would be doing themselves a disservice by not seeing (the production). Now, I feel like I missed-out growing up (without knowing the story or seeing the production)."

If anyone ever spots McAllister in public, they shouldn't hesitate to ask him for an autograph. In fact, people are invited to ask him.

"(If they ask for autographs), it means I'm doing my job!"

Anne of Green Gables - The Musical runs until Aug. 28 with showings at 2 and 7:30 p.m. at the Homburg Theatre. Tickets cost between $39.10 and $75 and there are also family packages available. To order tickets, visit www.charlottetownfestival.com or call 1-800-565-0278.

* Bernard C. Cormier is, among other things, a freelance writer and broadcaster. www.myspace.com/bernardccormier. www.twitter.com/bernardccormier. E-mail: Bernardccormier-gncb@hotmail.com © Bernard C. Cormier 2010

Celebrating Baroque

Some people say that certain things never go out of fashion. If that saying is a reference to Baroque music, it's entirely accurate in the eyes of many people, proof of which can be seen with the Lamèque International Baroque Music Festival.

Established and incorporated in 1976, the festival has been bringing the world of Baroque and Classical music to the tiny northern community of Lamèque. The festival's 35th edition takes place tomorrow through Sunday.

For enthusiasts and academics, the history of music is filled with labels and classifications based on style and when any piece of music was written. Many of them overlap each other.

As an example, musically speaking, we are currently in the Contemporary period, which began in 1975, and the 21st Century period.

Based on its definition, Baroque covers all music (but mostly pieces originating in Europe) written between 1600 and 1760. The Classical music period began in 1730 and ended in 1820. Since both periods existed at the same time for 31 years, the Lamèque festival also includes classical and, to a lesser degree, the Romantic period (1815-1910) which had a similar but smaller co-existing situation with Classical.

According to Montreal resident Mathieu Lussier, a bassoon player and the festival's artistic director, such strict parameters inspire creativity in modern players, composers, and the festival in general.

"No one will write new Baroque stuff but we can write in the style of Baroque music," he says. To stay true to the Baroque period, all musicians performing at the festival will play either original instruments used during that period or modern reproductions.

"In Lamèque, as with many other Baroque festivals around the world, we play that music with the instruments that they were using at the time," Mathieu says, "using original instruments or copies. For instance, my bassoon, instead of the big modern shiny metal bassoon with like 28 silver keys, is made out of soft wood with only five keys!

"The violins (used at the festival), instead of big loud with metal strings that can play huge halls, have gut strings made of animal guts. So, it's a totally different sound. It's more demanding in a way because the instruments (then) were are not as refined with their sound as they are now but we're recreating the sounds of the orchestra of the time. That's the exciting thing about the festival!"

Mathieu has been heavily involved with the music scene since he was 16 when a high school instructor helped him land his first gig as a performer. He considers the early-1990s as the period when he became a professional. Since that time, he has performed on approximately 50 albums.

His experience as a performer eventually led him to the Lamèque festival in 2000. He continued to perform there each year. Eventually, he became its artistic director.

Ever since his first performance, he has been blown away by the atmosphere and lack of separation between the performers and the audience. It encourages fans to communicate and meet with the artists between performances.

"It's extremely open and that's what musicians like about Lamèque - the human experience," Mathieu says. "It's so different than the usual festivals. (Usually,) you're invited somewhere. You arrive at the airport, there's a driver that brings you to a hotel. Then, you go to a concert hall, play a concert and maybe sign a few CDs, then go back to the hotel and then leave!

"The artists are going to stay for a full week in Lamèque in a bed and breakfast or staying at someone's house. They're going to meet people. It's a unique culture and landscape. We all share the meals. There's a group of women who will be cooking the meals for all of the artists. It's so much more fulfilling (than the usual performances). It's not a gig. It's something special."

Among the artists performing at the festival this year, there will be two performers who have been creating a buzz in recent years: Croatian mezzo-soprano Renata Pokupic and French organist Benjamin Alard. Mathieu encourages anyone to attend the performances.

"You don't need any type of background to enjoy Baroque music!"

All performances at the Lamèque International Baroque Music Festival will occur at Sainte-Cécile Church in Petite-Rivière-de-l'île, near Lamèque.

* Bernard C. Cormier is, among other things, a freelance writer and broadcaster. www.myspace.com/bernardccormier. www.twitter.com/bernardccormier. E-mail: Bernardccormier-gncb@hotmail.com © Bernard C. Cormier 2010

Friday 9 July 2010

Cruise with Emerson Drive

It's summer and the Cavendish Beach Music Festival under way.

The annual country music festival presents top-notch acts each year and the 2010 edition is no exception.

Continuing today through Sunday, a wide variety of artists will take the stage.

Among them are Maritime artists who have had hits in the past, like Terry Kelly and Ashley MacIsaac, and headliners like Keith Urban last night, Taylor Swift tomorrow and Lady Antebellum Sunday.

Also on the playbill is Canadian group Emerson Drive.

The group, led by vocalist Brad Mates, began its career in Grand Prairie, Alberta in 1995. At the time, the band was known as 12 Gauge. As time passed by and the members adopted a new name, they began to see returns on their investment of effort and energy, paying off in an American record deal.

Not counting their previous successes as 12 Gauge, Emerson Drive have continuously achieved levels of success on both sides of the border in many ways, including music sales and recognition at industry award ceremonies.

Its most recent album, last year's Believe, was named Country Album of the Year at this year's Juno Awards.

During a recent interview while commuting to a writing session, Mates indicated that the band still appreciated being recognized by the music industry for their efforts.

"(The Juno Awards are) one of those times throughout the year where, obviously, a nomination gets you excited and I guess it goes to show the work you put into recording an album. When people recognize that work, it makes you feel good, makes you feel like you're doing something right.

"We've (won) a couple (of Junos) before and it's nice to know you can look back and see (them) and, obviously, we're moving forward to get another nomination. Hopefully it shows that there's still growth within the band and people are still excited, obviously, to hear the music."

Mates points out that, because the music industry in Canada is relatively small, the Juno Awards is an annual reunion of sorts with friends.

"It's kind of a small network of musicians across Canada. We've been playing almost 16 years, so earlier on, in the days when we were playing bars and clubs before we ever had a record deal, (we would) meet some of these people along the way. You stay fairly close to them through the years because it seems like you're playing shows with them every once in awhile with groups you kind of came up through the ranks with.

"Like I said, it's kind of a nice small-knit community of people that always shares stories with one another on the road."

In almost any industry, people usually need to displace themselves and move for their jobs. In country music, that usually means a move to Nashville, Tennessee is imminent. As such, Mates lives there, which directly influences some decisions relating to the tours of Emerson Drive.

"I've been living in Nashville for about 10 years and, you know, all of our parents, sisters, and brothers are still all back home in Canada, so whenever we do get back (to Canada), it's always a special time for us - playing on the road where we see fans that we haven't seen in awhile and we see family and friends that we don't get an opportunity to see as much as we'd like."

Even if Emerson Drive most recently toured through the Maritimes earlier this year, with a stop in Moncton, they're already planning to return next year as part of a larger nationwide tour.

"We've actually been sitting down in the last few weeks and kind of putting together a tour via 2011 - probably start in February, tour across Canada. Definitely the Maritimes are going to be in that mix. It's always nice to get over to that side of the country, too, because, in a lot of the "Beginning Years," for starters, it was such a long ways to travel and the band started out in Alberta, so to be able to play shows straight across the country... And, obviously, the Maritimes is great. There's a great fan base of people there that love country music."

Although the band is already planning to visit us next year, they will play some "one-off" Canadian dates this summer. The Cavendish Beach Music Festival is one of them.

"We don't get a chance to get over to the Maritimes too often," Mates says. "To be on the bill with Jason McCoy (The Road Hammers), who's been a friend of ours for quite a few years, it's obviously going to make for a great show between us. When you don't get an opportunity to get up in certain parts of the country where you love to play, that's when it gets exciting for us.

"We've got a few ("one-off" shows), this summer that we're doing but, other than that, we kind of just leave (Canadian dates) for a whole month-and-a-half tour where we can go from one end of the country to the other and kind of get it all done in one shot."

Mates offers advice to musicians who have yet to be affiliated with major record labels and other yet unattained music industry rites of passage: "This band has always been built on just work and work and work... and taking good constructive criticism all the time and, also, learning (the answers to the questions) "What's our niche?", "What do people like about Emerson Drive?" and "Why do fans keep wanting to see live shows and buy CDs?'

"You have to find that spot and you have to be a little bit unique. As a band, I think you always have that initially but, for any artist starting out, the goal is just to keep working at it. When you feel like all doors have closed, you have to just kick away at it until you've been exhausted to the point where, you know, you feel deep inside like it's not happening," he said. "We've done it and we came from a small town in Alberta and now we're able to have a career in both (Canada and the U.S.), so it can happen. If you feel like you have something special and you work at it, good things will come around."

* Bernard C. Cormier is, among other things, a freelance writer and broadcaster. www.myspace.com/bernardccormier. www.twitter.com/bernardccormier. Bernardccormier-gncb@hotmail.com © Bernard C. Cormier 2010

Wednesday 30 June 2010

Metro Loves Biking

Over the last decade, Dieppe has grown up from a town to a city.

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Bernard C. Cormier/TIMES & TRANS
[Photos:© Bernard C. Cormier 2010]
Marcel LaPlante recommends that anyone interested in biking to lose weight use a BMX bike, rather than a mountain bike as, with only one gear, it requires more energy.

But, despite its municipal adulthood, its residents' love of bikes is bigger than ever.

Not only does Dieppe have bike paths wrapped around it, it is home to The National Cycling Centre - Atlantic Canada, which has a mandate to develop cycling and train cyclists to compete at the highest levels of competition. The Centre's facilities are located in Dieppe's Rotary Park and include a BMX track and an oval-shaped velodrome track.

"The bike path and all of that stuff really helps the city and the people living in the city," says Luc Arseneau, head coach of the National Cycling Centre - Atlantic Canada. "Also, I think the demographics of Dieppe, in general, with lots of young families with generally OK or above-average income, not that cycling's an expensive sport but it is something that families really like here."

Jim Goguen, a bicycle industry veteran and co-owner of Mike's Bike Shop, agrees that there has been an increase in bike usage but doesn't see it as a phenomenon exclusive to any given municipality.

"In Dieppe, Moncton, Riverview, (interest in) biking as a whole has expanded tenfold compared to 10 years ago."

Goguen says that now it's not uncommon to sell bikes with retail values exceeding $1,000. He believes that a partial reason for such an increase is motivated by a desire to improve heath.

"Doctors are telling (people that) they have to get out, get healthier, lose weight. They say, in general, Atlantic Canadians are not healthy, well I can tell you, anyone who's cycling is healthy! More and more people are taking their bikes back and forth to work. Even on rainy days, if you look around, you'll see people on bikes, maybe not as many (compared to sunny days) but more and more people are heath conscious."

Some bike enthusiasts are very particular about what they ride. Marcel LaPlante, a Dieppe resident and musician who records under the stage name of "Mars Creation," is one such enthusiast. His interest in bicycles is so great that he's shot many videos featuring bikes and motorcycles. He plans to eventually record a bicycle-themed CD, like Kraftwerk's 2003 album Tour de France Soundtracks. LaPlante only drives BMX bikes for many reasons, including physical fitness. He recommends that people interested in biking for weight loss use BMX instead of mountain bikes.

"With BMX, there's only one gear. You'll definitely get tired and it will take a lot of energy and it will drain you out. It's better with BMX than (with a) mountain bike. A mountain bike (has easier) gears, (it's easier) work."

When it's possible, he bikes to work and encourages others to do so.

"It will save mileage in gas plus it's good exercise and, like I say, it's a good feeling."

Although everyone seems to agree that cycling is healthy, Metro Moncton is sprawled over such a large distance that biking to work may not be practical for everyone. People living near the old airport in Dieppe, as an example, may not want to commute to work on a bicycle if they're employed at the casino located in near Magnetic Hill. Arseneau understands that.

"It's a factor that the Greater Moncton area was not developed into neighbourhoods, like Vancouver was. Here in Dieppe, as an example, one thing people will often say is that the next corner store is 8 km away. It's true. That was the way (the cities were) developed. It is a fact here that the cities are so spread across that it could mean 10 kilometres to work. For me, that's almost nothing but for anybody on the street, 10 kilometres is a lot of biking! If you have to come back (home) at 4 o'clock in the afternoon or 5 o'clock after a long day at work, that's a lot of work.

"But after a few months or weeks of training or practising, 10 kilometres is not that far on a bike and everybody can do it."

Arseneau suggests on way to reduce commuter mileage on a bicycle: use Codiac Transit to cover part of the distance since many of its buses are equipped with bike racks.

He also believes that people would be more encouraged to bike to work, and to other places, if business owners would be more accommodating to those interested in using that method of transportation.

"The businesses need to adapt," he says. "(As an example), in Paris, there are showers now in most of the new buildings so that people who bike to work can shower and have a clean day at the office."

"(Metro Moncton has) all of these nice businesses where you can have a coffee or something but (they don't have) bike racks! So, you bike, you have a nice bike path or bike trail or lane, whatever you want to use, but you get to that place to take a coffee or go to a restaurant, whatever you want to do, and there's no place to even lock your bike! That's not really positive and encouraging for people to go to those places by bike, so they'll just take their car."

Arseneau believes that such moves by local businesses would be beneficial to the environment and it would impress bike-using consumers.

Another bike-related concept absent from Metro Moncton is the coin-operated bike rentals that are found in larger cities, like Montreal. Both Arseneau and Goguen don't believe that Moncton has a population to support such ventures but they would support the idea if it were ever introduced in the region. Goguen says that success of those rental units would be dependant on tourism.

"A local person is not going to rent a bike just to go out for the afternoon but someone travelling can't always have their bike with them."

* Bernard C. Cormier is, among other things, a freelance writer and broadcaster. www.myspace.com/bernardccormier. www.twitter.com/bernardccormier. E-mail: Bernardccormier-gncb@hotmail.com © Bernard C. Cormier 2010

Join In The Fete de la Musique

Every year since 1982, people around the world have been celebrating La Fête de la Musique.

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Bernard C. Cormier
[Photo:© Bernard C. Cormier 2010]
Glen Burg will perform in downtown Moncton Monday as part of Fete de la Musique.

Meaning a "Celebration of Music," it is sometimes identified as, among other things, "World Music Day" in English, and occurs each year on June 21.

Its origins can be traced back to 1976 when Joel Cohen, an American musician employed by a French government-owned radio station, thought up the idea of having an annual celebration about music. He also thought that it would be best if such a day would take place on the summer solstice, the longest day of the year.

The first Fête de la Musique took place five years later during legendary French politician Jack Lang's stint as Minister of Culture, a political position that is highly regarded and respected in that country. Since that time, La Fête de la Musique has spread out into the rest of the world.

"It was a French initiative," says Gilles Courregelongue, the Consul General of France based in Moncton.

Although the Minister of Culture oversaw it in the early days, he says that it was always a non-governmental activity. "Of course, it went much further than the limit of the French government's competence and its goals," the consul general says. "Now it's in so many countries! In every country of the world, the French embassies are always taking part in it and helping (with) it but it should not (be seen) as a "French Government Action." We are just a part of it. We have maybe been the leader at the very beginning but it's not at all the situation today and that's not the image we want to give because we don't deserve it anymore."

La Fête de la Musique is a day to celebrate music: any music, all music, and any way a person wants to, as long as it's about the music and the musicians perform for free.

Therefore, it is totally acceptable, for example, for anyone to pull out a guitar and walk up and down Mountain Road while playing acoustic death metal.

To make things a little more structured and organized for people who wouldn't do that in Moncton, a committee of various organizations led by the French Consulate, which include The Province of New Brunswick, The City of Moncton, and Music NB, plan free public performances to be held on Monday.

"(The French Consulate) introduced the idea (in Moncton) in 2004," says Mamadou Konté, the co-ordinator of those performances.

This year, as with the previous ones, Konté was involved with the selection process that decided which artists would effectively be performing at the "organized" venues, which include City Hall and Mascaret Park.

"We're open to all genres of music because we're not selecting bands for us but, instead, for the public," Mamadou says. "We don't know what the public will like, so we make sure to offer all musical genres. One night, we sat down and listened to what each band interested in performing submitted to us. We tried to make a line-up that held together and included all musical genres. It certainly was difficult in making decisions to cut bands when we were nearly finished with the process, but I can assure you that we didn't cut many. We had to cut some acts due to time restraints."

Another person involved with the process was Jean Surette, executive director of Music N.B. Jean is also a member of the band Les Païens.

"One of things that the (selection) committee tried to do was to involve as many people as possible," he says. "Have a list of people who wanted to play and try to cater to everyone, if possible. That, obviously, wasn't possible but we tried to. It was to give a good mix, depending on what time of day, where was the venue and what kind of event we wanted to create, like "early-evening/late-afternoon.

"Well, we tried to cater more to families but later in the evening we were able to program maybe heavier or more adult' bands.

"One thing that's beautiful about music, especially on a day like La Fête de la Musique, is to let people have the chance to discover new music, whether it be music that they're not used to hearing or that they don't get to hear. So, it's giving people the opportunity to discover new music."

"The Spirit of La Fête de la Musique is that you play every kind of music at every level! That means that you can have world famous artists and also young kids just learning," says Gilles.

The organized La Fête de la Musique events in Moncton this year will include Alcaz, a band from France.

For some of the performers at La Fête de la Musique, it presents them with a new platform and, perhaps, an exercise in audience interaction.

Local musician and radio personality Glen Burg will participate in La Fête de la Musique for the first time. Although his experiences in public performances include impressive experiences, like playing on stage with members of Gentle Giant, Glen sees his solo acoustic Main Street morning sidewalk set as a welcome challenge.

"It's easy for me to get up on stage in front of thousands of people as I've done before in a band setting and be just like OK! Let's kick this! Let's do it right!' Myself, in front of two or three people, forget having thousands of people! Just having two or three people there, one of whom I might not have known beforehand...the stakes are raised! For me, that's the challenge that I push myself into at the same time with La Fête de la Musique. It's like, OK, maybe people will be more receptive today but at the same time I'm going to be nervous as heck!

"I don't have stars in my eyes playing on the sidewalks of Moncton," Glen adds, "but it's nice to be part of this activity because, over in France, where it originated, you get music on every street corner! "

"The big difference in France, and in Europe, is that (the performances) are small and more spontaneous," Gilles says.

"Here, it's more organized. Also, the cities are different. In Moncton, you cannot do things (that) you can do in Paris. In many European cities, (bands) are playing on the pavement, in the streets..."

In case anyone thinks that he's panhandling, Glen will place a sign in front of him saying I'm not soliciting. I'm here for International Music Day.'

* Bernard C. Cormier is, among other things, a freelance writer and broadcaster. www.myspace.com/bernardccormier. www.twitter.com/bernardccormier. E-mail: Bernardccormier-gncb@hotmail.com © Bernard C. Cormier 2010

Reviewed: "Che: A Graphic Biography"

Thursday 17 June 2010

Tommy Cash Pays Tribute To His Brother

Tommy Cash, the youngest sibling of late entertainer Johnny Cash, and his backing band, The Cash Crew, will take the stage tomorrow at Moncton's Capitol Theatre.

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Tommy Cash started out managing his brother Johnny Cash's music publishing company in 1964, before launching his own recording career the following year.

"It's been a long time since I played any shows in New Brunswick," the 70-year-old singer said last week during a telephone interview from his home in Hendersonville, Tennessee. "(I played there) back in the '70s and maybe in the '80s. It's been a long time, so I'm looking forward to (going) back to that part of (Canada)!"

The youngest of seven children and eight years younger than Johnny, Tommy Cash somewhat followed in his older brother's footsteps by becoming a singer in the 1960s despite being advised not to.

"He told me to stay out of his business. He said, "It's rugged and it's tough and it'll kill you! Travelling, and being up and being gone all the time..." but I didn't listen!"

"I came to Nashville in 1964, after I got out of the U.S. Army, to manage Johnny's music publishing company. I worked at that for two or three years and then eventually went out on my own and started touring with Hank Williams, Jr. and Connie Smith. I then had a few hit records of my own."

Tommy Cash's recording career began in 1965 with the 45-rpm singles "I Guess I'll Live" and "I Didn't Walk The Line." His first LP was Here Comes Tommy Cash. His only album for the United Artist record label, it was released to the public in 1968.

His next half-dozen albums, including 1970's Six White Horses, were recorded for Epic. The title track of Six White Horses, would become his most successful song. It reached No. 1 on Canadian country music charts and No. 4 in the United States.

Throughout the years, the older Cash assisted his brother by including him as a guest on The Johnny Cash Show and in various TV specials. The two also recorded songs together as late as the 1990s.

Although Tommy Cash continued to record and perform, the music industry took somewhat of a backseat in the 1980's as his priorities shifted towards real estate.

"I got a real estate licence in 1984 to help the family with their real estate needs: brothers and sisters and parents and so forth. I liked it so much that I just stayed in it! I still do a lot of real estate, too."

But his involvement in real estate never made him retire from recording and touring, it just made him less available for such activities. Over the last decade, Tommy Cash has been reducing his real estate workload and refocusing on music, as he did in the 1960s and 1970s. He's away on tours for as many as 120 days each year.

"I'm taking more bookings than I did in the '80s and '90s. I still enjoy it and I'm still in good health. So, as long as I feel that I can do a good show and as long as I'm feeling well enough to travel, then I'll continue to do it. When the time comes when I need to retire from all of this, I will."

His most recent album, Fade To Black: Memories of Johnny, which includes duets with George Jones and Marty Stuart, was released in 2008. It was his first album for the Christian record label InLight Records. Like Cash, InLight Records is based in Hendersonville. "The label contacted me. I signed a contract with them to do three albums and (Fade To Black: Memories of Johnny) is the first one. I haven't done the second or third one, yet, but we're negotiating as to whether I should stay with this label or go with another label.

"At my age, you know, people are not jumping up and down and knocking at your door to sign you to a record contract!

"Even though myself or someone else in my position might be singing as well as they ever did and performing as well as they ever did, or better because of experience, the record labels are not interested. They're interested in the young people with money to promote themselves.

"In other words, they're wanting the young people on their labels, not the older people. If you (go) to the labels with a big production package and lots of money, they may put an album out on you or they might put a single out on you but they're certainly not knocking on your door to get you to sign with a major label. It's sad in a way that the record labels are that way but they're only interested in making money. "They're not interested in promoting an older artist's career."

Tommy Cash has performed in 37 different countries and, as one would expect, has had many different types of experiences while on the road, even some negative ones when entering Canada.

"The only time we've ever had a problem at the Canadian border is that I had a bus driver who did not tell me that he had a pistol in his tote bag! That held us up a few hours!

"We explained to the Canadian authorities that I didn't know that he had a pistol and that he shouldn't have tried bringing it into the country. They confiscated it, of course, and let us go on our way. That was a time that was quite scary!"

Unlike his brother, Tommy Cash has yet to be the subject of a biopic but he was included in Walk The Line (2005).

"I was a 10-year-old in the movie. When (Johnny Cash) puts a little boy on his shoulders and says "Where's Tommy?", that's me. Also, I was in another scene where I was dancing in the background as a 10-year-old."

Although the film's producers didn't ask him for his permission for such inclusions, Tommy Cash was flattered that he was incorporated into the story.

"I think if they would have done more with the family (then) all of us would have been in the movie, all seven of us...but the movie was about Johnny and June (Carter-Cash). It wasn't about the family, it was about Johnny and June."

Tommy Cash gives the film a passing grade but dislikes some of the creative liberties it took with some of his family members.

"(The film's producers) showed us a rough-cut of the movie six months before it was released to the public. I was surprised about a few things. For an example, they portrayed my dad as a mean-spirited, hard-boiled, hard-to-get-along-with person and he wasn't that way at all! Especially the last 30-40 years he lived, he was very mellow. I didn't understand why they did that and I asked them to change it but they didn't. When the movie came out, (the portrayal of the senior Cash) was actually stronger because there were scenes in the rough-cut of the movie that were not in the (final cut) of the movie and vice versa!"

Regardless of the manner his father was portrayed, other members of his family, in his opinion, were right on target.

"Reese Witherspoon as June Carter-Cash was outstanding! She had June's personality down-pat. She was wonderful!

"I suppose that's why she won an Oscar for that performance!"

* Bernard C. Cormier is, among other things, a freelance writer and broadcaster. www.myspace.com/bernardccormier. www.twitter.com/bernardccormier. E-mail: Bernardccormier-gncb@hotmail.com © Bernard C. Cormier 2010

Thursday 3 June 2010

Tommy Cash

This weekend on "Bernard Brule Les Ondes!" (BBLO!): an interview with Tommy Cash (Johnny's brother).
The show starts Saturday night at 12 midnight AST.
Listen to it live on FM or online:http://public.bellaliant.net/asx/CKUM.asx

What are you drinking this summer?

[Photo:© Bernard C. Cormier 2010]

Officially, it will not be here for almost a month but its seasonal temperature has already struck our region.

That means it's a good time to invite friends over to, like many locals would say in chiac, "timer" (pronounced "time-é": party, drink).

If you're going to entertain people in such a manner, you probably need to be prepared to provide them with something to wet their throats. For such occasions, a person must be mindful of who's coming over to keep you company and if any liquid consumption exceptions exist for them.

The first step in planning is at the grass roots level of your inner circle of friends.

According to Saint John-based sommelier and freelance writer Craig Pinhey, that fundamental fact's a no-brainer.

"You know how it is: you hang out with people of liked interests, right? It's very rare for somebody to be coming to my place that doesn't drink wine or beer. It's just like I don't have any smoking friends, really. It's rare to a few," he says.

"People who are interested in food are not going to come (to my residence) and eat Kraft Dinner, right? I wouldn't invite people for a potluck supper who only know how to make hot dog casserole, you know. That's not snobby, it's just, like I said, liked interests."

Pinhey says that he would likely not serve pop to guests. Instead, if necessary, he would serve water.

Moncton resident Marty Gautreau shares a similar point of view on the topic, especially concerning guests that don't consume alcoholic beverages.

"(If they don't drink alcohol), they're not (one) of your guests!," Gautreau says with a laugh and adding in French, "You're asking the wrong question to the wrong people!"

However, Pinhey takes his views towards gatherings a few steps further than Gautreau.

"I don't believe in pop," Pinhey says. "I just think it's the discourage of North America. I just think that pop is the reason for obesity in this country, especially when people allow their kids to drink it. Pop is just sugar. All pop is. You can use sugar-free pop and it will just taste sweet. It doesn't really bring a lot to the party in my opinion."

Although Pinhey doesn't encourage pop to anyone, he does, upon occasion, use it as an ingredient for some drinks.

"I usually keep Coke around for rum and coke but I would use way less (Coke) than most people! You hardly need any in that! It needs a lot of lime and then, you know, probably like half as much as what you see most people use when they're making rum and coke."

Besides pop, there is another drink Pinhey would not serve to guests: coolers.

"I wouldn't drink them and the reason (why) is (that) they're just sugar bombs. They're basically pop with alcohol in them and artificial colouring and flavour, you know. I just don't have time for that," he said. "I don't consider that a valid source of enjoyment for an alcoholic beverage. It has no purpose in my life ... (Coolers) are marketed heavily towards young people and women. Coolers are so sugary that you don't even taste alcohol in them. They're deceptive. You have to be careful with them, very dangerous!"

Tammy Brideau-Lirette, a sommelier and product advisor with NB Liquor, says that the possibility of weight gain due to alcohol consumption likely occurs when physical activities and exercise are reduced.

"Coolers are full of sugar and beers are full of yeast and all of that bloating stuff," she says. "These days, young people don't do as much exercise as they probably should with all of the video games, Internet, and all that. It's a big possibility that with all of that stuff, (weight) is accumulating.

"Exercise (with) moderate (alcohol) consumption. Be responsible."

She adds that it's very important to have some non-alcoholic drinks on hand in case some of your guests cannot drink liquor for medical reasons, like pregnant women.

Gautreau is experienced with hosting social gatherings. In the summer months, he's usually hosting such gatherings at an average of one per week. The drinks he serves and the structure of his gatherings are tailored for warm weather. In his opinion, the ideal summer gatherings are those focused on barbeques.

"Barbecue. Friday night. Suppertime. Have a few guests over, a little steak, and a little Corona followed by poker, you know," he says.

Pinhey, Gautreau, and Brideau-Lirette all have different recommendations for the perfect and appropriate alcoholic drinks.

Gautreau's recommendations for alcoholic drinks this summer are Coronas and "Blue Margaritas." He says that guests will likely accept the offer when it's a Blue Margarita.

"Everybody wants a Blue Margarita! It's like the Flaming Moe!" he says referring to a drink featured in an episode of The Simpsons. He also recommends bartending how-to books like "The Complete Bartender" by Robyn M. Feller.

Pinhey recommends classic cocktails like gin and tonic.

"They're simple to make. You can't beat gin and tonic in the summer!

"For me, in the summertime, my drinking changes a lot. I hardly drink any red wine. I drink a lot of light, refreshing white wine then I drink a lot of low alcohol white wines. Wines that are 10, 11, 12 (per cent) instead of 13, 14, and a lot of dry rosé wines. In the winter, it's not uncommon for me to get strong ale or Belgians strong beers. You kind of get a craving for them sometimes, like winter warmers. In the summer, I drink mostly pale ales and good quality lagers... and more cocktails.

"You definitely change your drinking habits when the weather gets warmer. No question about it."

Brideau-Lirette emphasizes the importance of being ready for any unexpected issues related to when your guests consume.

"If I have a group of people, I always try to have a little bit of everything to please everybody. I'll have a little bit of wine. I'll have a bit of a few import beers (and some) rosés.

"It's always nice to have people try something new."

Bernard C. Cormier is, among other things, a freelance writer, and broadcaster. www.myspace.com/bernardccormier. www.twitter.com/bernardccormier. He can be reached at: Bernardccormier-gncb@hotmail.com © Bernard C. Cormier 2010

Sunday 16 May 2010

Blowing The Pipes and Banging The Drums

For numerous years, the Moncton-based Codiac RCMP Pipes and Drums Band has entertained audiences.

The local group, which was the first of seven presently in the nation, has an origin that can be traced back to the early 1990s, years before the Moncton Police Force was decommissioned in favor of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

“It was the Centennial Anniversary of the City of Moncton”, reflects Pat Fox. A retired member of the RCMP and former member of the Moncton Police Force, she’s the group’s Quartermaster. “Back then, (the Chief), with the Moncton Police Force, decided that we should have a pipe band in Moncton. I remember the memo that came out. The Chief was looking for anybody that wanted to learn how to play bagpipes!”

As time progressed and the group’s reputation solidified, the band’s playing brought it to places well beyond the city limits.

In the opinion of Art Cormier, former member of the Pipe Band, inclusion in the band opens the doors to life experiences and adventures that most people don’t have the pleasure of having.

One of the highlights he had was one involving royalty.

“In order to have your kilt put in your name like the RCMP, you have to have royal decent. In our case, it was Princess Anne in Fredericton. So we went there and played for her. We also had meals with her. It was so exclusive that the only ones that were allowed in there was the band and her security, which she had five or six (people). So it was nice getting pictures of her. I got pictures of her with my daughter. She was very normal. I had thought that maybe she would be much more different because she’s royalty. Even the press was not allowed inside that room. The thing I really noticed that I thought was kind of interesting was that I would take a picture of her and a member of her security team would be taking a picture of me!”

Wayne Beattie, Band Manager, concurs with Cormier on the issue of travel and experiences.

“We perform at probably anywhere between thirty and forty events per year, including RCMP functions such as police memorials, ceremonies. We do parades, such as the “Gold Cup and Saucer” in PEI in conglomeration with the composite band of RCMP Nova Scotia from Halifax. We also have members who have attended events in England when George The RCMP Horse was presented to Her Majesty The Queen. Scott Murray, our Pipe Major, was honored to go with a composite band from the RCMP.”

“It’s a great opportunity to travel,” Beattie continues. “We travel all over the country. We’ve been to Ottawa. Some of our members have been down to Las Vegas. There’s lots of opportunity this year, there’s lots of opportunity coming up.”

Although the group’s affiliated with policing, members of the general public who are basic civilians can participate as members. With membership numbers currently in the early-twenties, the Codiac RCMP Pipes and Drums are in need of new members.

“Our main objective is to draw people to come out, perform in our band, be part of it, and be proud of what we do,” says Beattie. “As Band Manager, that’s my plea to put out to anyone who is interested!”

Membership to the group is open to people of all walks of life and demographics, even children. However, potential members must pass an RCMP criminal record check and be able to afford some of the necessary cost, like those related to some of the equipment.

In the case of Cormier, who had twice of the expenses as most other members due to the enrolment of his then-adolescent daughter, he was lucky not to worry about such costs.

“At that time, I was working (for a company), doing a lot of detailing, and I had this gentleman who was a very nice customer of mine. He was a little bit older, maybe in his 80s. He used to be at my shop every week getting his car washed. We became friends over the years and always talked. (One day he asked) “Art, What’s new?”. I said, “Geez, funny you should ask. I just joined the RCMP Pipe Band.”

Cormier proceeded to tell his regular customer about wanting to be a father participating in regular bonding activities with his daughter. His customer was touched by Cormier’s approach at parenting and told him to remind him of his conversation when he’d return later in the day to pay for his car wash.

Upon his return, the customer asked about the cost of the kilts. Cormier told him that they each had a price tag of $1,100. The customer proceeded to write him a cheque for $2,200. The generous customer told Cormier “I’m paying for it (but) they’re your kilts. You get to keep your kilts! You don’t owe me anything! The only thing I want in return is that you send me a list by e-mail letting me know of all of the gigs when you’re going to play because I really want to watch and enjoy them.”

“That was always a big memory before I got in the band”, Cormier says.

Occasionally, being a member of the RCMP Pipes and Drums Band can lead to strangely comedic situations, as Cormier remembers.

”We used to play for the Air Force Vets in Moncton for Remembrance Day. (One year) we went there and played for them. I remember one of the guys went up to the bar while I was sitting down at the table having a drink. There was a senior citizen, a woman (at the bar). She was probably in her 80s. As he was standing there, I saw her head tilting and tilting. I guess what she was trying to figure out the big question, you know, “Do you wear anything under the kilt?” She was trying everything to see. I remember her trying to sort of flick his kilt, trying to see if he was wearing something! That was quite funny!”

As for that popular question the old lady was trying to solve, Cormier provides an interesting answer: “The only way to know is for (a person) to actually join the band!”

Bernard C. Cormier is, among other things, a freelance writer and broadcaster. www.myspace.com/bernardccormier. www.twitter.com/bernardccormier. He can be reached at: Bernardccormier-gncb@hotmail.com © Bernard C. Cormier 2010

Saturday 15 May 2010

No BBLO! Tonight; It'll Return Next Week

My radio program, "Bernard Brule Les Ondes!", will return next weekend.

Friday 14 May 2010

The Man In Black

Johnny Cash entertained generations of music lovers with his vast catalogue of recordings and television programs.

Although mostly identified as a country music singer, he was also a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

His impact on late-20th century and early-21st century popular culture is too significant and detailed to be summarized in a few lines.

The man in black passed away in 2003 but left behind thousands of fans, many of whom wish they had the chance to see him perform live.

For those fans, "The Man In Black" tribute show, starring Shawn Barker, aims to keep Cash's music alive on stage.

Originally, Barker, a 37-year-old actor/musician from St. Louis, Missouri, began in the tribute circuit performing as Cash's Sun Records label mate Elvis Presley. After a few years of performing as Elvis, Barker went to Hollywood to audition for a part as Presley in the play "The Million Dollar Quartet," which was set in the early days of the pioneering rock and roll record label. Instead, he got the part of Cash and has been performing as him ever since.

"I started out singing my own music and in cover bands," he says. "I kind of accidentally got into the tribute side of it and was doing Elvis tributes for a few years. That's how I got contacted for the play in Hollywood."

"It was a casting agent for the play who knew that I did Elvis and asked me to audition for (it). I originally auditioned for the part of Elvis (but) was cast as Johnny Cash in the play.

"For about a year, I was going back and forth to Hollywood working on the play. I called Kurt Brown, who's my manager now, and kind of asked him if he had any work for a tribute, maybe doing Johnny Cash, and told him what I was doing. I sent him a couple of tracks of me singing and stuff. He put me in a show he had that was multiple tribute artists doing different country singers. We came out, filmed it, and sent the film out. The whole thing just kind of snowballed from there."

Now a seasoned Cash tribute artist with six years worth of performances under his belt, Barker's stage presence continues to attract an increasing fanbase. This is especially true in Quebec.

"It's been great up there, you know. It's funny how we've done really well in the States but, for some reason, in Quebec the Johnny Cash show just went huge! It just blew-up huge!," he says with a level of excitement and awe easily transmitting over the phone.

"Last year, we did the summer (in Quebec) and we sold over 60,000 tickets. It went beyond just being a Cash tribute. Me, myself, (I) went over huge. I just did one of their big sitcom TV shows where I played "Shawn Barker"! That was my part -- me as a person and as a recording artist."

The television program Barker will appear in is L'Auberge du chien noir (2003-present). It's broadcast on SRC.

"That episode, as far as I know, won't air until October 4," Shawn says.

"I'm actually, I think, the only English-speaking character they've ever had on the show in all these years (that) it's been on!," he adds with a chuckle.

Barker is tri-lingual: he knows English, German, and French.

As a person who's always interested in self-improvement, he used his time in Quebec to improve his knowledge of the French language.

"If you don't use it, you forget it! It's like over the summer, I was getting really good at my French. I was picking up quite a bit and I spent most of my time just immersed in (French in Quebec City).

I made friends and spent my time with people who were French. I spoke French.

"After we closed in Quebec City, I lived in Montreal for three weeks, with people who were only French-speaking. I learned quite a bit but I've been gone for a year. I forgot a lot of it already!"

Despite being a tribute to Cash, "The Man In Black Show" is not affiliated with the late singer's estate or business entities.

"People from the estate, the attorneys from the Johnny Cash estate, did come to Quebec and (saw) the show. (They) enjoyed it, you know, they really enjoyed it. So, they know I'm out there and that I'm doing it. As far as like a partnership with the Cash estate, no, we don't have anything like that," he says.

Barker says people attending "The Man In Black" can expect representation from all eras of Cash's career and repertoire.

"The band is four musicians, two female back-up singers and then myself," he says.

"So, there are seven of us onstage altogether and we go through Johnny Cash's career as much as we possibly can in the two hours that we're onstage. From the stuff he did at Sun Records, Memphis, Tennessee, in the very beginning of his career, all the way up to touching base with the stuff he did before he passed away with Rick Ruben and the American Records.

"We don't really stick with one period. Like I said, we go from everything, from the '50s (onwards). We do the stuff from Folsom Prison, stuff from his TV show, all the way (upwards).

"We had a meeting. We sat and tried to pick out the songs that would best represent Johnny Cash's career. Being a fan, I pretty much knew most of the stuff already but there was stuff that I hadn't heard -- the guy recorded over 1,500 songs!"

Barker usually ends his Cash tribute with the song "Hurt," a track originally performed in the 1990s by Nine Inch Nails, years before the elder singer publicly adopted it as his own. As a fan of all sorts of rock music, Barker sometimes feels tempted to perform with a slight NIN slant.

"I actually break character on that. I want to kind of cut loose with it a little bit!" he says, laughing.

With a "non-Cash" CD due to be released during the upcoming summer months, Barker hopes his Cash performances will spin off into success for "Shawn Barker."

"That's what we're hoping for! That's what we've always hoped for! We've always tried to put my name up front. It's not different than Joaquin Phoenix as Johnny Cash (in the 2005 movie Walk The Line). That was just one part that he played in his career and that's kind of what it is for me.

"It's just one part of a bigger thing that I do: acting, singing, and (playing) music."

* Bernard C. Cormier is, among other things, a freelance writer and broadcaster. www.myspace.com/bernardccormier. www.twitter.com/bernardccormier. E-mail: Bernardccormier-gncb@hotmail.com © Bernard C. Cormier 2010

Saturday 8 May 2010

Melissa Auf der Maur (Madm)

Tonight (technically tomorrow) on "Bernard Brule Les Ondes!": an exclusive interview with Melissa Auf der Maur (ex-Hole, Smashing Pumpkins): http://public.bellaliant.net/asx/CKUM.asx

The show starts at 12 midnight AST (Toronto + 1 hour).

Sunday 2 May 2010

Enjoy Free Comics Today

(Photo: © Bernard C. Cormier 2010)

May 1 will be the 9th Annual Free Comic Book Day (FCBD) at comic book specialty stores around the world that have accounts with Diamond Comic Distributors. It happens during the first Saturday, each May. As one would expect, the event results in physical movement patterns among comic fans that are similar to that of a university freshman year pub-crawl in which participants get plastered for free.

You get the picture.

Whether you "get" it or not, you'll be able to get free comics, especially printed for the event, at most comic book stores on that day, providing that the establishment you visit is participating.

FCBD is the result of North America's comic book industry attempt to profitably rebuild itself in the late-1990s and attract new clients while keeping the ones it already had. Much to their good fortune, the modern era of comic book based movies began during the same era, which resulted in a strengthening of the industry due to the publicity that the films generated. The idea of FCBD is credited to Joe Field, owner of a Concord, California comic book store.

"Actually, the idea was the answer to a deadline!" chuckles Mr. Field from his store during a telephone interview.

"I had a column when I was writing in (Comics & Games Retailer) from a retailer's perspective. I had proposed something like a Free Comic Book Day about five years earlier but it wasn't as fleshed out or as easy a concept to deal with. So, when I sat down to write my column that month and was really short of searching for ideas, and looked outside and saw that there was a line outside of my store going next door to the ice cream store for "Free Scoop Day," I thought 'you know, if they can do that for ice cream, we can certainly do it for comics!' So, I put the whole thing together, put the column together. At the same time my column was published, industry reaction to (FCBD) was published. We were able to build up steam from there! So, yeah, (the idea) came from me as a retailer."

"When he suggested (FCBD), (he was) likening it to Baskin Robins' Free Scoop Night," recalls Brent Frankenhoff, editor of Comics Buyer's Guide. "He made the suggestion and it took about a year, maybe even two, to get all of the mechanisms in place, to get Diamond onboard to help, and to get (an advisory) panel together."

The first FCBD occurred in 2002 during the first Saturday of May, thus enabling it to piggyback on the publicity of the first Spider-Man movie, which was theatrically released on the same weekend. Nearly every FCBD has been coordinated to happen during the opening weekend of comic book-based movies. That's not the case in 2010. However, the remake of "A Nightmare on Elm Street" will be released to theatres the previous day making it an "un-official" tie-in movie of the event.

The "Free" in Free Comic Book Day comes from the free comics that are given to people who visit participating comic book stores. Publishers usually use the occasion to print one-shots that promote either all of a given company's output or a specific series or crossover event. Although the comics come with a $0 cover price, retailers need to buy them. Many see the related wholesale expense as a cost of doing business and give the comics away until they're gone in a "first come, first served" manner others do not and opt to limit quantities that customers can receive.

"It's sort of a nice barometer to see where the (comic) industry's at, to see who's putting out what," says Paul Kaminski, an associate editor at Archie Comics who's responsible for Sonic The Hedgehog comics and was involved in the creation of Archie's first homosexual character, Kevin Keller, including this year's FCBD featuring the character. "The only Archie comics I owned prior to working there was from FCBD!," he confesses. Nothing in life is black or white, and that's true with FCBD, which has its own share of controversies. American graphic novelist and comic book enthusiast Jeffrey Brown sees FCBD from multiple angles.

"I'm always a little disappointed that a lot of the comics seem to be for kids and/or it's stuff that's not original, like it's just excerpts from somewhere or reprints. I always liked the idea that it would be something, you know, totally new and I know some publishers do that!

"This year, (FCBD) has a Fraggle Rock/Mouse Guard free comic that (has) all new stuff but that's related to my own personal benefit. So, maybe I shouldn't complain," says Brown as he refers to a comic he contributed to. "One thing I've seen more in the past couple of years has been fathers coming in with their kids, both boys and girls, which I think is interesting because a lot of times these are people that don't read comics as much anymore but they finally have a way to introduce their kids to comics."

Don Mann, Comic Book Accounts Manager at Gamezilla in Moncton, sees it in different ways, too.

"I don't think that it reached its full potential. I don't know if it's ever going to. We found that it does bring in readers but there's a lot of preaching to the choir," he says referring to those who are already regular readers.

Due to its original objective to increase sales and attract new customers for both the publishers and the participating comic book specialty stores, FCBD could be seen as analogous to a gateway activity to a shopping addiction of comics and related products. It could be said that the soap opera-esque nature of serialized superhero comics, like those of Marvel and DC, likely leads to spending of thousands of dollar over the span of a person's lifetime.

Kaminski agrees, "FCBD is so important because it gets you started."

Field objects to that analogy.

"Is someone overspending if they go to the golf course every weekend when it costs $100 for green fees? No. I haven't seen anybody who needs a 12-step program for comics."

Fellow retailer Mann sees things a bit differently.

"It's like 'here's your free sample' and hopefully they'll come back and spend some money later! That analogy is not completely false but I don't think that reading a comic is as destructive as getting your first (drugs) for free to come back and (get more)!"

Mann has witnessed some customers going through their mid-life crisis by buying comics. Along with other staff members, like store manager Craig MacArthur, he has to "manage" the customers in question.

"If (retailers) got people coming in because they're having their mid-life crisis, which usually means getting into something they enjoyed when they were a kid, like comics, (retailers have) got to make sure that they don't overstep (their budget) and, all of a sudden, it's not fun for them!"

Free Comic Book Day will take place tomorrow. Visit www.freecomicbookday.com to find a list of participating retailers.

Bernard C. Cormier is, among other things, a freelance writer, broadcaster and graphic novel critic. www.myspace.com/bernardccormier. www.twitter.com/bernardccormier. http://bernardccormier.blogspot.com. He can be reached at: Bernardccormier-gncb@hotmail.com © Bernard C. Cormier 2010