For many, it may seem like northern Ontario, or the North in general, is some sort of escalator that never fully reaches the top. Some sort of mountain that is unworthy of climbing, as it has no Walmart at the top. A seclusion ring baring only snow and landscapes barely even visible to those who want to put in a strip mall when the population hits its peak. As for Rick Charbonneau, it is not only home, business, work, and music, but it is a fearless escape from even the world many dare not to venture. It is an inspiration for music and lyrics, poetry, songwriting, desire, passion, and performance. It is natural. It is so natural, it is pure. It is so pure, it is ecstasy.
A folk singer-songwriter who hailed from the Great White North in 1951, Sudbury, Ontario, when the mines were in bloom, or soon to be, and there was not much direction out of the city. Traveling further North (and much West) to Wawa, Ontario, Rick remembers the sound of accordions and pianos being played around the wood stove. But, as wood would be his main source of heat and comfort, it would as be his passion as a tradesman, using that same wood to create beauty. And with that same beauty in carpentry, he would admire the build of a guitar. An instrument he would focus his songwriting on, and use to this very day. A tradesman’s work in the hand of another tradesman.
Rick’s first musical venture outside of his own personal rehearsal and schooling was with a band in London, Ontario, circa Endangered Species; a group that would power his motivation, for sure, over many years of performing and writing. A musician’s first taste of eloquence is his first taste at full blown passion. And passion it was, not only did Rick spend time in Vancouver helping build geodesic domes for youth shelters, but he continued to travel, make use of his carpentry abilities, write songs, and perform.
Upon moving back to Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, (he’s a current resident of Goulais River), he founded a group called Permafrost, which still performs as a group in the surrounding area.
The surrounding area of Algoma is not where Rick is venturing this weekend. Down in Toronto for the first-born grandchild in his Charbonneau genes, he has decided to perform his unique style of Northern folk music for Habits Gastropub on College Street. Gathered by a group of musician friends, including Enn Poldmaa on mandolin, Dave Pihlaja on drums and percussion, Cody McMillan on lead guitar and vocals, and Doug Wilde on piano. In an earlier phone interview, Rick, being the supporter of others’ musical talents and projects, made a point of promoting Doug’s current works. Doug Wilde, owner/operator of Deschamps Studios, has just finished working with Manteca and Confabulations, a band fronted by David Woodhead in the mood of world beat music.
Among Rick Charbonneau’s accolades are being nominated in the Top 5 for CBC’s Greatest Songs about Northern Ontario for his song ‘Old Gus’. He has opened for Greg Brown with Permafrost in Traverse City, and has grouped together a number of festival shows, including Live From The Rock, Harvest Gathering, Searchfest, and Goulaid River Days.
The show last Friday evening consisted of his original folk tunes taken from his solo CD releases Back to the Water (2003) and Man Who Walks by Moonlight (2006), as well as a group of carefully chosen cover material taken by acts like The Band, Bob Dylan, Willie P. Bennet, and Fred Eaglesmith.
If you couldn’t make it out last Friday, you can experience his music at www.cdbaby.com/rickcharbonneau or www.youtube.com/rickcharbonneau. And if you don’t even have time for that, as you read this I leave you with this, a quote from Rick himself:
“Music can take you to that sweet place where other modes of transportation just leave you by the side of the road.”