I recently attended an extremely interesting and unusual venue for the Tom Robertson Blues Band. This was an outdoor afternoon annual Family Day 2009 at Canada Post’s huge South Central Letter Processing Plant in Toronto. (It’s the largest mail sorting plant in Canada).
This was an ideal sunny day, perfect for listening to ‘da bluz’ outdoors . . . in a beautifully tranquil setting of grass and trees and a nature trail to the south . . . with the beach at Lake Ontario just south of that again.
Tom Robertson and his band are well-known, seasoned blues artists from the Toronto area, some of whom are also Canada Post employees by day . . . while performing in blues clubs and festivals at night and on weekends. Some of the incredible blues, rock ‘n’ roll and rockabilly artists Robertson has performed with over the years, includes rockabilly legend Rompin’ Ronnie Hawkins, Canadian blues guitar icon Mike McKenna (McKenna, Mendelson Mainline) and Newfoundland’s own ‘Prime Minister of the Blues’, the late, great Dutch Mason. About Mason, Tom had this to say, "I played with Dutch Mason back in the ‘70s. I learned more from Dutchie than anyone."
Along with Robertson in his present band, is Al Kavanaugh on bass. Al is a very familiar face, who this writer has seen many times performing onstage with blues guitar great Mike McKenna (Mainline; ex-Guess Who/Downchild/Apostles/Ugly Ducklings) at the sadly-no-longer Blues On Bellair in Yorkville. I’ve also seen Kavanaugh performing at Grossman’s Tavern (Toronto’s ‘Home of the Blues’) and elsewhere in the Toronto area.
The same 'good vibes' familiarity can be said of drummer Bill Hedefine, who’s been co-hosting an avidly-attended weekly Sunday night blues jam at Grossman’s with blues guitarist Brian Cober’s band The Nationals, for over a decade, as well as appearing in several other blues bands over the years.
Last but not least, is Rob ‘Blues Butcher’ Bellmore . . . he’s the blues harp (harmonica) player in the Robertson blues mixture for this show. Bellmore was also one of the earliest members of the Toronto Blues Society, when it was founded in 1985. ( http://www.torontobluessociety.com/ )
I might add, that last year’s drummer in Robertson’s band at Family Day 2008, was Kid Carson, who was in 'Toronto Sound' band the Ugly Ducklings in Yorkville’s 1960s hippy days, when Neil Young used to play in Yorkville coffeehouses like The Riverboat. He was also in the original Toronto production of ‘Hair’ at the Royal Alex in 1970. A few weeks ago, this writer saw Kid subbing on lead vocals for Neil Young after Neil’s new concert movie ‘Trunk Show’ was shown as part of TIFF (Toronto International Film Festival), outdoors at Dundas Square in downtown Toronto. Carson sang Neil’s parts, when Neil (who through miscommunication, wasn’t told he was supposed to be there) "took a trip", as the story goes.
Robertson’s band cooked up some awesome blues at this year’s Family Day 2009, while nearby some of South Central’s management staff were cooking up hundreds of free burgers and hotdogs for the almost one thousand who attended this yearly, popular post office event. They even hosted guided tours of the plant, showing how mail is sorted, for kids and their parents who attended.
With a backdrop of face painting for the kids, along with outdoor games and a very rural-looking petting zoo, Robertson belted out "Swing Home Chicago", some upbeat Chuck Berry, including the rousing "Little Queenie" and "Round and Round", and some other classic ‘50s and ‘60s rock ‘n’ roll.
Some awesome Chicago-style slow blues was in the bean-pot as well, including Albert King’s "As the Years Go Passin’ By" . . . one of Robertson’s favorites. There was also some traditional country (considering the outdoor grassy setting) thrown in for good measure, including "Good Hearted Woman" and some Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson classic old time country.
Rob ‘Blues Butcher’ Bellmore’s blues harp playing really went all out on many tunes, as did Robertson’s magnificent blues lead and slide blues guitar solos. Hedefine’s drumming was rockin’ all the way through this terrific afternoon of blues as well . . . with Kavanaugh layin’ down some really interesting, meaty, beaty and bouncy bass lines to complement the whole bluesy picture.
All in all, this was a very fine Saturday afternoon in the park-like and sometimes downright rural setting out-back of Canada Post’s South Central mail sorting plant. With all the good food, friendly warm sun-shiney day of families and their kids having fun with the face painting, petting zoo, clowns and huge inflatable slides and bounce-on rides – with Robertson’s rousing blues band backdrop -- made this a memorable, bluesy, lighthearted fun Family Day 2009 for one and all!