LITTLE CURRENT—“Ladies and gentlemen, get ready for some old time Christmas music,” Paul Payne boomed over the loudspeaker as fiddler Scott Woods and his band emerged on the stage, wasting no time as they dove into their set on Sunday afternoon at the Little Current Howland Recreation Centre.
It was undoubtedly a festive event. The first notes from the band introduced the Christmas classic ‘Let It Snow,’ which seamlessly wove its way into a rendition of ‘Jingle Bells’ and finally ‘Santa Claus is Coming to Town.’
“We’ve been touring our Christmas show since about 2004, but for the first 10 years we’d do maybe a half dozen shows in southwestern Ontario,” Mr. Woods told The Expositor after the performance.
Each member had their own unique take on a green, black and white outfit, with some sporting green ties, others in green vests and still others with green shirts. Mr. Woods, the band’s leader, earned the nickname “the Flippin’ Fiddler” for his award-winning trick fiddling routine. He learned to play the drums, bass, piano, guitar, saxophone and clarinet in addition to mastering the fiddle.
Joining Mr. Woods was his sister Kendra Norris on fiddle, piano and vocals. To Mr. Woods’ opposite side was Steve Piticco on guitar, a multiple winner of the Canadian Country Music Association’s Guitar Player of the Year and Instrumentalist of the Year awards.
Holding down the groove was Pete Sisk on bass, who plays for eight-time Juno winners The Good Brothers and has been inducted into the Canadian Country Music Hall of Fame alongside that band.
Bill Carruthers had a clear view of the rest of the band, sitting at the rear of the stage behind his drum kit. He has played with numerous notable groups after getting his start in his dad’s family band at age 11.
The last performer, and quite a standout in his own right, was Leo Stock, a 14-year-old step dancer, fiddler and vocalist from Stratford. He has won national competitions for his step dancing and gave his all to the afternoon’s performance.
After finishing the first song, Mr. Woods welcomed the crowd and thanked them for attending. He ran an informal poll as to which audience members were at their first show for his band, to which many people raised their hands. “Where have you been?” he quipped back, to a good amount of laughter. That was the tone Mr. Woods cultivated for the show as a whole, interspersing jokes and witty anecdotes between songs.
“People often ask what our motivation is, and it’s certainly not about the money,” said Mr. Woods. “Our motivation comes from when we connect on stage as a band, but more important is forming some connection with the audience.”
Mr. Woods told The Expositor that, while playing old-time classic songs, he has seen old couples in the audience remember their fond memories and hold hands, something he said is a powerful feeling.
Before getting back to the music, Mr. Woods introduced his sister Ms. Norris, who sang ‘Home for the Holidays.’ Next up was the Bob Wills tune ‘Hooray, Hooray, Santa’s on his Way.’
Taking the band in a bit of a different direction, they next led into a five-tune medley of ‘Foresters Clog,’ ‘Cock Of The North Jig,’ ‘Wellington County Breakdown,’ ‘Mason’s Apron’ and finally ‘Milton’s Breakdown.’ This was the first opportunity for Leo to come to the front of the stage and showcase his intricate step dancing footwork, dancing across the stage at blinding speeds. Some people in the audience even got to their feet to participate in the dancing during this portion of the show.
A unique element to this performance was three cameras, one mounted near Leo’s step dancing area, one on Mr. Woods’ music stand and the third on Mr. Piticco’s stand. A projector screen above the band offered everyone in the audience a close up look of their masterful talents.
Mr. Piticco was next to be introduced in between songs. Mr. Woods called him the band’s ‘Telecaster Master,’ referencing the model of Fender guitar he was playing. ‘Master’ was an understatement. To say he shredded his part on ‘Whooper Snooper’ would not do a justice to the ferocious speed and accuracy with which he played.
Mr. Carruthers took his turn singing on the next song, ‘I Only Want You for Christmas.’ He had a microphone set up next to his drum set and kept up a steady tempo despite his double duty.
Mr. Sisk sung the next tune, ‘Winter Wonderland.’ He had a rich voice that harkened back to some classic Christmas recordings of years gone by. The audience seemed to appreciate the Elvis-style reprise he added in right at the end.
Leo was back front and centre with some more energetic footwork on ‘Snowflake Breakdown.’ Ms. Norris sung on ‘Mary, Did You Know?’ and then Leo took his turn on the microphone for ‘Beautiful Star of Bethlehem.’ One audience member could be heard remarking, “what a talented kid,” as he expressed his multiple talents on stage.
“It’s pretty fun to be on the road,” said Leo after the show. “You get to see a lot of the geography of Ontario first-hand and we get to play in a new town every night.” Leo is homeschooled and does his work on the bus as the band travels.
These are long days, too.
“I usually get up around 8 to get my homework done before the show, and we’re usually all loaded up again by 10:30 at night,” he said. However, Leo seems to enjoy his time with the band.
“It’s really fun to hang around them. You get to play great music and share it with people.”
Mr. Woods shone next with a facemelter of a performance on ‘Listen to the Mockingbird,’ a song he performed that included imitations of bird sounds among frenetic bowing. More people got to their feet during this song and bouts of applause erupted whenever Mr. Woods played anything particularly impressive. He got extra laughs during some of his bird calls when he knocked on the wooden body of his fiddle, saying, “that’s a woodpecker.”
The performance took a mellow turn with the story and acoustic performance of ‘Silent Night,’ then a recitation of a poem called ‘The Innkeeper’ set to the background music of ‘O Little Town of Bethlehem.’
There was one more three-song medley before the intermission, where the audience had a chance to buy snacks, pictures and signed CDs of the band that are not available in stores.
In the second part of the show, the band returned wearing red accents instead of green ones and opened with a duet between Mr. Woods and Ms. Norris of ‘Joy To The World.’ Next was another triple set of ‘It Came Upon a Midnight Clear,’ ‘Hark! The Herald Angels Sing’ and ‘Away in a Manger.’ During the latter song, murmurs rippled throughout the audience as they recalled the lyrics to this Christmas classic. They continued the sentimental Christmas theme with ‘Angels We Have Heard on High,’ or, as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau would prefer, according to Mr. Woods, angels we have heard ‘get’ high.
Next was a band original song called ‘Finger Twister.’ Leo jumped in near the end with an entertaining slide whistle accent before disappearing backstage. Where he had gone was soon evident as the band began into ‘Mele Kalikimaka,’ the Hawaiian Christmas song. Part-way through, the band’s own hula dancer—Leo—re-emerged wearing flowing black hair and a grass skirt and traversed the front of the stage. He even kept the getup on as he step danced during the next upbeat fiddle feature, ‘Alabama Jubilee.’
Mr. Carruthers then slowed things down once again with a soulful rendition of Skip Ewing’s ‘It Wasn’t His Child,’ then the band plunged into ‘White Christmas’ and Don Messer’s ‘By the Fireside.’
Mr. Woods then thanked everyone who had helped to make the show possible and noted that proceeds from the day’s show would be supporting the Little Current United Church’s outreach to the Manitoulin Centennial Manor’s Another Step Forward campaign. He said most of his band’s shows are fundraisers in collaboration with a church.
During ‘O Holy Night,’ there were more sung murmurs throughout the audience. Then, Mr. Woods showed everyone the reason why he has won so many awards to date—he pulled out his trick fiddling moves on ‘Black Mountain Rag.’ Whether it was fiddling behind his back or doing somersaults, he never skipped a beat and delighted the crowd with his special abilities.
The band sang ‘We Wish You a Merry Christmas’ and closed with another step dance special on ‘Orange Blossom Special.’ The audience sprang to their feet and delivered a thunderous standing ovation—they were not ready to say goodbye to these world-class performers. The band obliged with a sing-along version of ‘Jingle Bells,’ complete with Leo’s step dancing once again.
“We love to have a lot of fun on stage,” said Mr. Woods, reflecting on the show. “We play real music with real instruments; it’s not always perfect but we keep it real.”
Gail Gjos, head of the Little Current United Church’s Outreach Committee, said the event netted $2,500 for the Manitoulin Centennial Manor’s Another Step Forward flooring replacement campaign.
Scott Woods and his band are travelling all over Ontario and have one stop in Quebec before wrapping up their tour on December 22. More information on the band and their shows can be found at their website, ScottWoods.ca, or by calling 1-855-726-8896.