The Gift of Music
You can hardly consider yourself a Townshipper if you haven’t attended at least one event that featured the live music of The Castaways. That group has been playing its ‘old-time country’ music for people, free of charge, for more
than twenty years, as at home in front of a group of seniors in a seniors’ residence as they are in front of hundreds of spectators at Hatley’s Canada Day.
“We’ve played from Stanstead to Richmond and all points in between. We’ve played in the St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Richmond, the Borderfest parade in Stanstead, the Friendship Day Parade in Lennoxville and at many seniors’ homes. Bunny had a lot of connections; he’d take on these jobs and we would follow,” explained Robert Woollerton, the last of the original band members who included Bunny Smith and Eddy Custeau, both now gone to the big jam session in the sky, Alice Cameron and John Macdonald. “It’s been a fun twenty years,” said Robert who plays guitar in the band, adding: “As Bunny used to say, as soon as it stops being fun, we quit!”
In addition to Mr. Woollerton, today’s members of The Castaways are Leta Dustin, Ann Crawford and Chilston Lowery who has been on a ‘hiatus’ for health reasons but is hoped to return. “We’ve been fortunate to have Elmer Andrews fill the spot for now, as far as the fiddling goes,” mentioned Robert.
Leta Dustin, who got started with music in the Boynton dancehall about seventy years ago, plays the piano in the band. “My ma wanted to play violin so she taught me how to chord the piano when I could hardly reach the pedals!” said Leta who took up piano playing again in the 1980’s, after retiring. “Eileen Drew was trying to learn the violin and wanted someone who could chord the piano. I’m really thankful Eileen got me back to my music,” said Mrs. Dustin who also plays with The Jubiloes, an all-girls band. “Music has filled up my retirement years and I’m thankful for all the people I’ve played with. I miss Eddy – was he ever fun to play with because he liked the fast music; he played a lot of reels.”
Ann Crawford grew up in Waterville but has lived in Lennoxville for the last thirty-three years. She has sung and played guitar with The Castaways for about eight years. “I started on the keyboard but then Robert taught me how to play guitar,” said Ann who now tries to learn a new song on the guitar every week. She can also play the fiddle, although she only takes it out once in a while. With a keen understanding of the power of music, Ann learnt how to play the fiddle after her hus- band, Gordon, moved into a long-term care facility. “I learnt his favourite tune, “Little Girl”, and then played if for him on Christmas.” Besides the places
mentioned previously, The Castaways have played in community centres, churches, day centres for seniors, at Magog’s Seniors’ Day, Townshippers’ Day, and at Townshippers Association’s intergenerational events. “We’ve played for birthday parties and other gatherings. We don’t charge, but we accept donations for the gas expense and we’ll also accept a meal as pay,” admitted Mr. Woollerton.
Last Thursday, the tunes of The Castaways had people toe-tapping and dancing on the dance floor of the Ayer’s Cliff Legion Hall where I interviewed the band’s members. “He taught me to play guitar but he won’t help me with the singing,” joked Ann, referring to Robert. “We’re all amateurs and just like playing together. Don’t ask me to do a solo – that’s not up my alley!” mentioned Robert.
Amazed at how busy the group was, I asked if they’d played anywhere else that week. “This week we’ve played four times! I don’t keep track of the mileage; when the gas tank is low I just fill it up,” said Robert.
“One time when we were playing at a seniors’ residence in Richmond, there was a woman lying on a stretcher listening to the music. I said to Ann: ‘Look at her toe.’ It was tapping away to the music. That’s our pay.”
The Castaways, along with a few musical guests, get ready to play at the Ayer’s Cliff Legion last Thursday. Seen in the photo are (l. to r.) Georgeline Charland, Elmer Andrews, Leta Dustin, Beth Hartwell, Ann Crawford and Robert Woollerton.