A shot in the dark

Folk opera a sure­fire hit

Richmond Hill Post - - Music - by Ron John­son

Amer­i­can pres­i­dent John F. Kennedy was as­sas­si­nated on Nov. 22, 1963. It is a sur­pris­ing thing to cre­ate a mu­sic al­bum and pro­duce a so-called “folk opera” based on the as­sas­si­na­tion in Toronto, 50 years later. Luck­ily, the story and the mu­sic that make up The Kennedy Suite are wor­thy of at least this ef­fort and could lead to more.

“I im­me­di­ately fell in love with the whole piece and said let’s do some­thing,” said Michael Tim­mins of Cow­boy Junkies fame, who was given a demo of the songs that make up The Kennedy Suite by Andy Maize of the Sky­dig­gers back in the early 2000s.

“I played it for the band and they were very into it. We didn’t know what the end game was; we just started it with­out know­ing where it was go­ing to go.”

Now we know, a short decade later. This month, in ad­di­tion to the re­lease of an al­bum fea­tur­ing a num­ber of spe­cial guests, such as Sarah Harmer and Hawk­sley Work­man, Cow­boy Junkies is also mount­ing a stage pro­duc­tion at the ven­er­a­ble Win­ter Gar­den Theatre on Nov. 22 and 23. The al­bum is sched­uled for re­lease on Nov. 12.

“It’s a bit of a mon­ster,” Tim­mins con­fesses. “There are lots of mov­ing parts and peo­ple. The big ques­tion was how to do it and not lose a for­tune on it. We’ve never done any­thing to this scale; it’s ex­cit­ing.”

The songs are writ­ten by Scott Garbe, a King City teacher who’s long been ob­sessed with the Kennedys. He lis­tened to his par­ents’ records of JFK’s speeches, read PT 109, and when he real­ized Kennedy had al­ready been as­sas­si­nated. He was dev­as­tated.

“I saw a spread of pho­tos of the as­sas­si­na­tion in a com­mem­o­ra­tive book, and it was like it was hap­pen­ing right in front of me,” says Garbe. “It was the first time I re­mem­ber hav­ing a sense of what death was. He was this big hero, such an im­por­tant per­son. Ever since that time, I’ve read ev­ery­thing I could get my hands on.… Years later, I started to write about it as a way to wres­tle with those ideas about mor­tal­ity, vul­ner­a­bil­ity.”

The Kennedy Suite con­sists of 15 songs, each from a dif­fer­ent per­son’s per­spec­tive. Some are funny, some are dark, some of­fer pow­er­ful po­lit­i­cal com­men­tary and some, such as “Take Heart,” sung won­der­fully for the al­bum by Reid Jamieson, are enough to move one

We just started it with­out know­ing where it was go­ing to go.”

to tears. De­spite the decades that have passed, there is lit­tle doubt of the story’s con­tin­ued rel­e­vance.

“It has that el­e­ment of hope that re­flects, in some ways, Obama com­ing into power,” Tim­mins ex­plains. “It was some­what rel­e­vant, and now more so than ever with more par­ti­san pol­i­tics, the black and white di­vide, and the vi­o­lent cul­ture hasn’t sub­sided and that sort of ha­tred within the cul­ture. So, in some ways, a lot of things that were ex­ploded with the as­sas­si­na­tion are still present to­day, maybe even more so.”

The band might not be able to stage the pro­duc­tion out­side the city, but there is a chance a cer­tain deep-pock­eted some­one could catch the show and push the phe­nom­e­nal pro­ject even fur­ther.

Many guest vo­cal­ists joined Cow­boy Junkies on ‘The Kennedy Suite’

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