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Brant, Al, Jack and Alex rocking Opry Gold with Leisa Way

June 27, 2024   ·   0 Comments

By Constance Scrafield

Leisa Way’s Opry Gold may have a few tickets left for this final evening at Theatre Orangeville. She has brought four brilliant young musicians to her Wayward Wind Band. Here is what they had to share with Citizen.

Brant Garrat

Brant Garratt, on the guitar and lead vocals,said “Doing concerts with Leisa is awesome. I’ve been listening to Country music and playing Country and Bluegrass since elementary school. But to play live with a band that’s as good as Leisa’s is awesome.”

To him, this Opry Gold is like a celebration of the Country music of traditional Opry.

“The impact all those singers have had,” he said, “there’s a certain honesty and truthfulness in Country.”

Mr. Garratt’s parents are musical. “Dad’s musical and adventurous.”

Brant attended Humber College, where he truly discovered his love of Bluegrass and acoustic Folk music.

Mr. Garratt’s father is a forester. They both now work for the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority.

On a deeper level, he noted, “Living close to nature really coincides with the music; after all, it’s called Country. In Bluegrass, all the instruments are acoustic, nothing powering them except you and it’s a natural fit.”

He has his own project in his band Duke Street Turnaround. The name comes from the street in North Bay where two brothers in the band lived.

“We wrote five or six original tunes. A friend in Mono with a studio hired a videographer. Then, we rehearsed a lot, went in one day and tracked five or six tunes,” telling us in a rush of excitement. “We had just come back from a three-day tour. Everybody was feeling, well, tired. Yet, it was great.

“I’m proud of we’ve done; it’s a passion project. Alex George, a fiddle player, played too.”

They have been playing in Toronto clubs, like the Horseshoe Tavern.

“We play all over, even to goat farms,” he laughed.

Brant Garratt mused, “A lot about being a musician is being a good person.”

Al Braatz

Al Braatz, on bass and lead vocals, is an actor, singer and musician. He played Buddy in the Buddy Holly Story.

Effervescently, he praised Opry Gold as always great and said he is really excited by just being asked to join “Leisa and Bruce and such a great band.”

“I make movies too.” he said. “I want to do it all, within the medium of art. If you’re too comfortable,” he posited, “Maybe, you’re in the wrong place.”

Music is great for the audience to invoke some change, is his philosophy.

“It’s oneness; everything is frequencies,” he said. “We are beings of creation and we should be. The only way through it is love. When we got together and we created some incredible things, times were simpler.”

Mr. Braatz has done films with a few “incredible friends.” He wrote a scene and during the pandemic, they collaborated remotely to make a couple of films.

Another friend, Iain Steward, wrote Starry-Eyed, “a queer dark comedy” about a marginalized community and a “delusional romantic” looking for “an old flame,” a stalker.

“The story is about people creating a story,” said Mr. Braatz, who directed the film.

Starry-Eyed is entered into the Dances with Films film festival in Hollywood. It has also hit some film festivals in New York.

“It’s all pretty crazy,” he admitted. “I was just doing it for the sake of it.”

His ambition is “to do it!” and show other people that they “can do it too.” 

“What is the most important is connection and what else is there but to do it, if you really love it; everything is time in hours of doing and honing my craft. I hope others will see what I have to offer. I feel released from the pressures of needing it to be perfect for everybody else.”

Jack Gaughan

Jack Gaughan, playing guitar, banjo, and lead vocals, spoke to the Citizen from his home in Huntsville, Ont., on a day when he and his parents had done a triathlon.

When he was nine years old, he started to beg for guitar lessons.

“I was coming back from my first guitar lesson,” he recalled. “And I already knew all my songs by the time I got home.”

Gaughan learned the Chet Atkins style of guitar playing – fingerstyle. The guitar is its own instrument with no accompaniment.

When he was 12, hundreds of thousands of people viewed Gaughan playing his guitar fingerstyle on a YouTube video he released.

As a teenager, Gaughan played his self-accompanying guitar for the Muskoka Concert Band, opening for them.

He was thrilled to open for Weston Silver Band at the Gravenhurst Opera House when he was “13 or 14.”

Excelling later at Humber College, Gaughan was put at the top with other players. A professor gave him a lot of instruction and “sent gigs.”

There he met Brant Garratt and Alex George, through whom he was introduced to Leisa Way.

“That’s what made explosions to me is when I met people in a big city,” Gaughan said happily.

“I finished Humber when I was 22. I’m 23 now.”

Humber College was where he got good at jazz and did the Great American Songbook with Leisa Way.

He re-discovered his love of songwriting and began releasing his own songs on YouTube, “releasing myself as singer/songwriter.”

He fell in love with the way Gordon Lightfoot tells a story.

“Leisa’s such an amazing person,” was his praise. “This has been amazing for me, these concerts… are so dramatic, strung out the way she tells these stories and weaves the music.

“It is amazing with Al and Brant, moving the dialogue together, working with Bruce Ley.

“What a legend he is.”

Simply, “I feel as though I’m in the right place. Every day, I learn more about the music industry, how vast it is, meeting people who are doing such creative work.

“I’m really excited about all the possibilities.” 

Alex George

Alex George, on the Fiddle and Mandolin, started playing the fiddle at eight years old. His mother is from Nova Scotia, bringing all the music and his cousin encouraged him to play.

“I begged for a fiddle when I was eight years old,” he told the Citizen. “My grandma bought me one.”

Living in St Catharines, Ont., where there is the “fantastic” Niagara Olde Tyme Fiddle Association, Mr. George was eight years old, taking the Suzuki classical route but he was more interested in the fiddle. His parents brought him out to play, basically jam sessions, going to seniors’ residences.

“Any way I can be involved,” he said. “It’s wonderful to get to play with Leisa and her band. These days I play with Duke Street and it’s pretty good to have two separate things going on. Playing with them is very fulfilling.”

Recently, he has been learning about “String arranging,” basically a musical addition a singer might want as an overlay. Where it is expensive to hire a whole band, an overlay of strings adds embellishment. There is a technique you can use for putting layers of fiddle music, for example, which Mr. George plays and applies.

“I feel honoured,” he commented, “how it came to be at Humber; I end bringing up a ton of work. My prof at Humber makes his living that way, for some of the major players in the world.”

Still, playing live is definitely the main thing for him; just to improve to be the best version of himself that he can be.

“I’ve been playing violin most of my life,” he reflected. “I almost look at the violin as a way of understanding the world; my own personal improvement in playing reflects my own life’s growth.”

Alex George said, “Providing music to weddings, people request songs that mean so much to them. It’s wonderful to be able to provide that service.

“The importance of playing for others, that most important thing is the emotional connection to your audience.”

Opry Gold’s last show is this evening. Check with the Box Office at 519-942-3423 for the last remaining tickets.

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