Jesse Winchester Let The Smooth Side Show

Marcus Lee Winchester.jpg

Submitted by Don Graham

Photo Credit: Pierre Millette 

The second annual Jesse Winchester tribute show Seems Like Only Yesterday was held last weekend at the legendary Toronto listening venue, Hugh’s Room. Founder and creator Bill McKetrick, a talented musician/songwriter/singer in his own right, put together a diverse and talented lineup for this event. As he explains, "The Jesse Winchester Tribute concert is a labour of love for everyone involved. Both a love of the man and a love of the music. All of us consider it an honour to be able to continue the tradition of Jesse Winchester at Hugh's Room, where he was the first person to perform when the club opened in April 2001, and performed every April until the year before his passing. The participation of his son, Lee, is just that little extra bit of connective tissue that makes the whole event even more special."

And a special night it was,  the show started with a poignant and moving version of Jesse’s beautiful “Defying Gravity.” What made it so special was it was sung and played by Bob Cohen, longtime guitarist for Jesse. Bob had actually never sung solo as his mastery on anything stringed was his job with Jesse. But he delivered the tune with poignant grace and you could have heard a pin drop. Bob and I worked together in bands in Montreal before Bob joined forces with Jesse. He  introduced me on this night  and I got to do an old favourite of mine “ Payday” backed by Bob and the multi talented David Woodhead on bass.

Friends of JesseFriends of JesseTerry Jones nailed his performance of “Dangerous Fun “ and Rebecca Campbell strummed and sung a great version of “No Pride At All.” The band bass player, the oh so talented David Woodhead,  grabbed his six string for a crowd favourite “Nothing But a Breeze“ . The smooth voiced Fergus Hambelton did a moving version of “Step by Step’ and the hugely talented Suzie Vinnick owned “Everyday I Get The Blues” and Allister Bradley took to the keys for an insightful rendition of “ That’s What Makes You Strong.”

Next up was Jesse’s son Lee Winchester. Lee bears an uncanny resemblance to his Dad which he assures us “purely unintentional” and as for the beard like his father,  Lee says, “my wife thinks it’s sexy, what can I say?” His voice is pure and rich and I can’t help but think Jesse was smiling from above when he heard Marcus Lee singing “ If I Were Free.” The powerful voice and presence of Blair Packham closed out the first half with “Tell Me What You Like About Roosevelt.”

The second half was a repeat of the first half with myself doing ‘Yankee Lady”, the funky Rebecca doing “ Let The Rough Side Drag”. Terry followed with an amazing version of “Brand New Tennessee Waltz” followed by Lee’s “Songbird.” Suzie’s incredible ‘Rhumba Girl” got the room moving and Allister Bradley set the mood with “I Wave Bye Bye.” Fergus transported us all with “Sham A Ling Dong Ding.” The evening was closed out with Lee doing one of his Dad’s signature performance songs “ Can’t Stand Up Alone” complete with Jesse’s patented choreography.

The sold out evening was made extra special with the presence of Jesse’s ex-wife , his widow, his three children and his grandbabies. This all led to an awesome warmth and feeling of love and respect in the room.

As usual, the awesome part of this night was that  all the songs were written by one man, Jesse Winchester, no writing by committee, just songs written by a man and his muse.

Bill McKetrick explained that at Jesse’s last appearance at Hugh’s Room in 2013  they walked around the block before the show. Bill asked Jesse how he managed to be so succinct in his songwriting. Jesse thought about and said, “Well, I say what needs to be said and then I don’t say anything else.” There you have it.

Congratulations to all involved on a memorable night of music and memories and an evening of letting the smooth side show.

See you next year when we do it all again!