Canadian bands celebrate Canada Day weekend with multi-cultural styles
WHO: Bill Hilly Band
WHERE: Millennium Place
WHEN: June 30
WHO: Burt Neilson Band
WHERE: The Boot
WHEN: July 2
So just who are Bill Hilly and Burt Neilson? Ask the members of their respective bands where you might find these gentlemen and youll be greeted with mischievous laughter. There is in fact no Bill or Burt. The names come from a collective of diverse personalities. And much like our country, whose birthday theyll help celebrate this weekend, the Bill Hilly and Burt Neilson bands are proud to be distinct and original.
"Its pretty hard to describe us as just one sound," says Burt Neilson vocalist/guitarist Michael Filipowitsch. "I try to explain it as a blend of funk, rock, bluegrass, jazz, a bit of everything."
Originally the Burt Neilson Band appealed to those who follow the "jam band" scene, such as The String Cheese Incident. However, this Thunder Bay band has found their following branching out to include those who expect the unusual and those who enjoy the mainstream.
"Its a given that were not a mainstream pop band," explains vocalist/guitarist Chris Frye of the Bill Hilly Band. "Were an acoustic, global, folk explosion. People dont expect a drum kit when we show up. But in terms of the audience, people always seemed to be wowed and are surprised at how much fun they have and how much dancing they can do without a drummer and without electric guitars. Especially the young folks. I think theyre surprised at how much they get involved."
Perhaps its Canadas multi-cultural background that makes room for music other than the Blink 182s and Eminems. Our hodge podge of ethnic heritages have strongly shaped who we are today and has also created a sound distinctly Canadian.
"There really is something in Canada that makes us open to traditional music and a mixture of things. Thats really what Bill Hilly is. Were a research group for international forms of music and we arrange them and make them our own thing," continues Frye. "So when you see us, were not just a country band, or a Romanian band. We do this wide swathe of styles We have people in the band whose families come from all over Europe, the Ukraine, the British Isles, Holland and Denmark. We tap into our own roots and try to explore other things as well."
The Bill Hilly Band has had the opportunity to bring that sound overseas. Its well known that the maple leaf is warmly embraced by foreigners and the six Bills from Victoria were pleasantly surprised by the response to their music.
"I dont think most people (in Europe) have much of a connection to what Canadian music is necessarily," speculates Frye. "In pop music they know Brian Adams and Celine Dion, but in terms of folk music, they have such a rich traditional background of their own that I dont think they really tap into Canadian styles. But boy, did they ever respond to our style of fiddle music and so on! They went crazy! We had them dancing on bridges in Prague and in the streets in Strasbourg."
The Burt Neilson Band has been venturing into the American market where they too are greeted by surprised listeners. And although theyre lumped into the same category as many U.S. jam bands, the Burt Neilson Band still manages to bring something unique to their performances.
"As far as Americans go, what they know of Canada is the Barenaked Ladies and maybe the Tragically Hip in places like upstate New York," says Filipowitsch. "They seem to like Canadian bands, but dont seem to know too much about us. Everywhere weve gone, theyve loved us. But we get comments like I didnt know people could play in Canada, or theres good bands in Canada or are there more bands than just you?"
Growing up in a northern Ontario town, away from the influences of the U.S. border, may have helped set the band apart from similar American colleagues. "I do find a lot of them sound the same," Filipowitsch adds. He also says the simple awareness of where we come from creeps into their style, not in the traditional form like the Bill Hilly Band, but in subtleties he says Canadians appreciate.
Thanks to their musical careers, both Frye and Filipowitsch have been able to do something every Canadian should do: experience our grand country from coast to coast. They offer up their own contributions to the "I Am Canadian" celebrations.
"The other day we were driving from the prairies into the mountains and I was just like wow. And then I also think about the Maritimes and how diverse it is," says Filipowitsch.
"I suspect Canadian are the friendliest, most hospitable human beings that Ive met. Travelling and discovering the blend of cultures, like Francophone communities in Alberta that I wasnt aware of, is just amazing," enthuses Frye. "There is something so beautiful about the openness and friendliness about Canadians and I love it. We are top of the world!"