The Forest Pioneers hit the stage at Cheeky Monkey in Sarnia on Friday (Nov. 2) for the record and music memorabilia store’s monthly First Friday concerts where local artists perform in the store on the first friday of each month.
The first thing that hit the ear was the doubling from a pair of acoustic guitars. There was nothing lightweight — this stuff was being played with a chop. The next thing coming in was some crystal clear singing. Then a sweet bit of harmony vocals filled the air. Things might have been slow outside and the crowd in the store smaller than usual, but the music seemed like it was going to be fine.
It was too.
The guitars were played by Andy Genovy and Frank Kirkey with Kirkey delivering the lead vocal. The harmony work was done by the full group, which was rounded out by vocalist Shannon Kelly keyboard player Lauren Ihrig. Their timing was solid and the voices of both ladies were distinct enough to stand out individually. That was particularly true of [Shannon] Kelly — she has a vocal timbre that’s truly unique. There were issues though.
Because of the way they’d set up Lauren was hardly visible and her keyboard could barely be heard. The balance was straightened around quickly enough but it was one of a handful of times where inexperience can (and eagerly will) bite people with Murphy’s Law. The two guitars dominated the sound balance more than once and singers were periodically partially buried in the mix. Nerves seemed to be in play a few times and one singer was prone to waving around the mic rather than staying close to it. They were classy about things though, actively seeking feedback from their audience and graciously receptive when it came.
The minor glitches aside, the Forest Pioneers offered an abundance of things to enjoy. Guitarists [Frank] Kirkey and [Andy] Genovy reinforce bass lines from Lauren’s keyboard emphatically when they double up on rhythm parts. When Kirkey switches to his mandolin and plays lead parts the trio weaves tapestries that are absolutely delicious. Their harmony singing, as mentioned earlier, is stellar. All four are solid vocalists and adept at modulating their volume to maintain balance within the ensemble. Kirkey and Shannon [Kelly] are distinctive lead singers. His vocals have transparent clarity of the type can’t be taught while hers have a ring, almost a twang, that fits the genres the group covers nicely. Genovy and Lauren are good singers and able to expand on the musical territories the band can work in.
They take full advantage of that. Their set covered everything from songs by Johnny Cash to music by the Celts with stops at the Band, Kris Kristofferson and even an original number in the mix. ‘Folsom Prison Blues’ and ‘The Weight’ got renditions different enough from the originals for the Pioneers to make them their own while illustrating the flexibility that made the songs iconic to begin with. The same was true for ‘Me And Bobby McGee’. ‘Forever’, the piece of their own on the set, showed that some great things may come from their pens.
It was a slower First Friday than usual, likely the result of the people running the Refined Fool announcing they’re stepping away from Artwalk and the confusion people have between the two events. Whether that’s the case or not, Christina Street was slow by the norms expected for First Friday and it was a shame. Rain or shine, the monthly First Friday’s are a reminder of what a great community this is. Those celebrations deserve support from all fronts.
It didn’t stop it from being a good night at The Cheeky Monkey though. They still had one of the larger crowds the celebration attracts and the Forest Pioneers helped to keep their light shining brightly. They may still be diamonds in the rough but they’re diamonds, and they’re really good ones.
All photos by Brian Hay