Tehkummah celebration for Great Northern Opry inductee Jeff Gilmore

Double Barrel bandmates Barry Williamson and Jeff Gilmore take the stage at the Tehkummah Hall at a celebration of Mr. Gilmore’s upcoming induction into the ranks of the Great Northern Opry. photo by Michael Erskine

TEHKUMMAH— Friends, neighbours and colleagues of Island musician Jeff Gilmore gathered at the Tehkummah Triangle Seniors’ Club Hall at 7 pm last Sunday, September 20 to celebrate and honour Mr. Gilmore as the Island’s latest inductee into the Northern Ontario Country Music Association’s Great Northern Opry with an evening filled with laughter, story and song.

The Great Northern Opry itself honours and celebrates those musicians who have made a significant contribution to country music across Northern Ontario and sports a substantial number of Island musicians among its ranks, several of whom were on hand to congratulate Mr. Gilmore and provide entertainment for the evening.

Mr. Gilmore is the 105th inductee into the Great Northern Opry and his elevation to that august post will take place at the Annual Northern Ontario Country Music Awards Weekend Friday, November 6 to Sunday, November 8 in Sault Ste. Marie at the Quattro Hotel and Conference Centre.

But this evening was an opportunity for local country fans and musicians to honour one of their own in a most appropriate fashion, an evening of country music.

“It came as quite a surprise,” said Mr. Gilmore while taking a break from the festivities backstage. He described receiving the call last Christmas.

Mr. Gilmore credited his mother, a bad case of gout and the late great Ronnie Gilchrist, with setting him on the road to the country music stage. Mr. Gilmore grew up surrounded by music, his mother Carol is also a local performer. “My mom was always singing,” he said. “There was always music at home.”

His first public performance gave little foreshadowing of the future. “I was so nervous,” he laughed. “I had a guitar and it sat in my closet for about a year. But the first time I got up to sing, it was accapella (without instruments). I swore right then that would never happen again.”

It just so happened that Mr. Gilmore found himself laid up with a serious case of gout, sidelining him from work for quite some time. He put that time to good use, took the guitar out of the closet and taught himself to play. “I just sat down and played, and played, and played,” he said.

His next public appearance was during one of the Gore Bay Airport Days when Ronnie Gilchrist called him up on stage. “Ron called me up on stage and said to me ‘you’re a guitar player now’,” he recalled. “I was so nervous I didn’t even plug in.” But from that moment on, Mr. Gilmore never looked back and he eventually began playing with his own band Double Barrel.

“I have to say that Ronnie Gilchrist was an inspiration to me,” he said, noting that the local musician acted as a mentor and provided a blueprint on becoming more than just a musician, a true entertainer.

Mr. Gilmore’s mother joined him onstage during the evening, singing a Merle Haggard song (“I don’t know anyone who can sing a Merle Haggard song better,” he said.) Ms. Gimore sang a number of songs with son before telling him how proud she was of him and sealing her comments with a kiss.

The evening’s entertainment was largely provided by Down Yonder, itself containing several inductees, including the redoubtable fiddling barber Doug Hore, who launched into a lively fiddle tune to start the evening off and his fellow bandmates Glen McDougall (bass), Tim Shaw (drums who will also be inducted into the Great Northern Opry along with Mr. Gilmore), Debbie Robinson (vocals), Jeff Pyette (lead guitar) and Jan Carscellan (keyboard) soon joined him in delivering a number of old country standards.

A melancholy moment was introduced to the proceedings by Ms. Robinson, who sang a rendition of ‘Silver Wings’ dedicated to the late (Anne) Elaine McGauley who had passed away earlier that morning.

In a more humorous moment later in the evening, Ms. Robinson relayed an inspirational short story she had received that spoke of the importance of savouring life’s joys while one is able. Look out Stuart McLean, Ms. Robinson has definitely established herself as a consummate storyteller.

Great Northern Opry inductee Ben Lentir was one of the musical guests who took part in the evening along with Mr. Gimore’s Double Barrel bandmate Barry Williamson, who took over on bass while Mr. McDougal strapped on a guitar.

As the bands launched into ‘Waltz Across Texas’ couples began to drift onto the dance floor, pair by pair, much to the gratification of the musicians.

“People ask me all the time ‘what are you going to play?’,” said Mr. Gilmore. “I tell them that I really don’t know for sure until I get up on stage.” It is important as an entertainer to gauge your audience and to tailor your song list and repertoire to what gets the toes tapping. “When people are headed out onto the dance floor, you know you are on the right track,” he said.

There will be eight buses from across Northern Ontario pulling into Sault Ste. Marie for the Great Northern Opry Show and Dance on Friday, November 6, from 9 pm to 1 am. That show will feature Back in Tyme from North Bay, along with special guests.

“There will be two events held on Saturday evening, running back to back,” noted Mr. McDougall. “The first will be The Northern Ontario Country Music Awards Show from 6:30 to 9:30 pm.  Afterwards, from 10 pm to 1 am, there is the weekend’s second event, the Great Northern Opry Show and Dance.”

The awards show on Saturday evening will feature music by White Stallion and Friends from Sault Ste. Marie and the Master of Ceremonies for the event will be Glen McDougall and Scott Infanti.

Inductees into The Great Northern Opry this year will be: Robert Sabovitch, Cochrane District; Chantal Delorme; Cochrane District; Ervil Boreland, Nipissing District; Kevin Russell, Sudbury District; Dana Lee Hebert, Cochrane District; Tim Shaw, Manitoulin District; Jeff Gilmore, Manitoulin District; and Debbie Rivard, Algoma District.

The 2015 Northern Ontario Country Music Hall of Fame inductees will be Don Brose and Al Mooney. The Saturday evening Great Northern Opry Show and Dance will feature Yvan Nadeau and The Bandidos from Timmins, along with more special guests.  The weekend will wind up with the “Great Northern Opry Country Gospel Show” on Sunday morning, from 10 am until noon. This show will feature NOCMA recording artist Scott Infanti and friends. “This show is second to none across Ontario,” said Mr. McDougall. “I really believe they could take this show touring across the country.”

The weekend ticket package for all four shows is just $65 and can be obtained by calling Dave at 705-257-9650. “We also have bus packages available from the outlying districts to Sault Ste. Marie that include tickets and accommodations,” said Mr. McDougall, but he cautioned to call early for tickets as they sell out quickly. For information about these bus packages please contact Beth or Glen at 705-377-4643.