By Taylor Burgess
Jonnies Sticky Buns is the hippest new eatery in Winnipeg, with a rotation of funky original cinnamon buns ranging from the classic, to the carrot ginger, to the limited edition specials (like a Guinness bun for St. Patrick’s Day). And when you enter the little storefront on the north side of Portage, between Lipton and Ruby, you know there’s some creative juices flowing around there, with collaged-over benches, the Rachel Schappert mural on the wall, and old windows used as a chalkboard and a bulletin board. So it’s probably of little surprise that the two people behind the store (and behind the counter) are established Manitoban musicians.
The two in question are Rheanna Melnick of Feed the Birds and Jon McPhail of Jon McPhail and his Family Band. They met a couple years back at open mic nights at Charlie O’s Lounge.“I remember sitting in there and Jon walked in,” Melnick recounts. “His friends all stood in front of me, because I was in the back. And he grabbed a candle from one of the tables and pretended to light one of his friends on fire.”
“Really?” muses McPhail. “Are you sure that was me? That doesn’t sound like something I would do.”
But it wasn’t until the next summer that they became more acquainted. They camped together at Folk Fest, and through mutual friends, they partook in breakfast, biking, and playing music by the river.
It seems that fate had pulled the two together. One strange coincidence that they have discovered over their friendship: McPhail’s father, a United Church minister, married Melnick’s parents. “She brought in a photo,” says McPhail, “and I asked, ‘Did you Photoshop this?’”
Another overlap is that the two play in family bands. Melnick has played with her brothers Ben and Dustin since she was young. They had helped out with her solo recordings, and they also play on Feed the Birds’ Catcher.
Jon McPhail plays as Jon McPhail and his Family Band. That, however is just in name—he plays by himself. Previously, McPhail was a member of Valsuzie, who recorded an album. However, after the album, McPhail felt a looming pressure around it all. “We tried to play some shows with a new member, and the whole thing sorta exploded. I was the glue. I was the person who was supposed to keep everything going, and get all the gigs, and be the band leader. And I really felt exhausted by the whole thing.”
So he took a year off from music, focused on his work, cooking, and managing a cafe. And after about eight months (and getting burnt out by all that) he ran off to his family’s cabin for a week and took recording equipment and every instrument he owns to record the album hummmm.
“I love how a lot of the songs have a bit of a mellow vibe because I was alone in a room,” he said, “but when I get them on stage with a bunch of people we have so much fun and—”
“It gets raucous,” says Melnick.
“Yeah, the whole experience is just ridiculous fun,” says McPhail.
Melnick, on the other hand, ended her previous solo recording project because she was sick of singing slow, sad songs, and is now the principle songwriter of Feed the Birds. Now she writes shorter, more upbeat songs. “They’re kinda in a punk format, because I always wanted to be in a punk band,” laughs Melnick. On Catcher, the album that Feed the Birds released this past fall, she’s crafted nearly a dozen sweet catchy tunes, focused on farming, relationships, and nature. It’s a dreamy affair, all led by her acoustic guitar, vocals, and tambourine playing for a mostly bittersweet ride.
“It’s really fun to play upbeat, rockin’ songs, as opposed to the slow ones, though they have their place,” she says.
Years ago, that first summer when the two started to hang out, they played a few shows together that McPhail had organized.
“And then we were going to go on tour. That worked terribly and ended spectacularly, with me sending an email entitled ‘Hey Asshole’ to one of the venues,” laughed McPhail, who said it was intended as a joke. “He replied very quickly. But not pleased. So that ended that tour.”
“We had tour meetings, and we made breakfast,” says Melnick. “And after Thanksgiving, Jon came back and said, ‘Hey, how about this idea: do you want to try to open a cafe?’”
And then two years later, it happened, to everyone’s delight.
You can find out everything you need to know about the eatery at www.jonniesstickybuns.com. Feed the Birds can be found at www.myspace.com/feedthebirdsband, and Jon McPhail’s Family Band is at www.myspace.com/jonmcphailfamilyband.