Hillbilly Highway – Three cheers to the Small Time

by Sheldon Birnie

I was witness to some magic Monday night; some pure gold in musical form. I stood along the north wall inside the Times Change(d), sipping Standard lager with my best gal as the place packed itself to the brim and spilled out onto Main Street and the hot night beyond.

The place was a literal who’s-who of Winnipeg’s roots scene, performers and fans alike. Many had seen the night’s performers over the weekend out at Trout Forest, and knew for a fact that the events of the evening would be something special, something to be experienced, no excuses. They weren’t wrong in that.

Corin Raymond opened the night up with a set of his tunes and the tunes of his pals, giving the audience a taste of his upcoming Paper Nickels album, due for release in November. The evening’s headliner, Jonathan Byrd, joined Raymond half-way through as they sang tunes the two had written together over the years. Byrd and Raymond’s performing styles differ greatly, but they both bring an honest intensity to the words they’re singing, the characters they’re portraying in song. And they compliment each other the way only good friends with thousands of miles in a small car together behind them can. It was a beautiful thing to behold, greater still to hear.

Up from North Carolina, Jonathan Byrd came on, with a disgustingly sick back-up band, after a short break. On guitar he had Grant Siemens, on drums Joanna Miller, Rej Ricard on bass. Andrina Turenne and Alexa Dirks of Chic Gamine provided perfect harmonies. The band had been hastily assembled a year and a half earlier by Jaxon Haldane to record Byrd’s most recent, yet still unreleased album, You Can’t Outrun The Radio – bootlegs of which have been making the rounds among the roots scene since.

The performers were red hot. The tunes so on point, raising back-of-the-neck hairs one minute and eliciting a knee-slapper at the next line and back again lickety-split. This truly was a magic night, something for the ages.

And yet, as on point and rock solid as the band was, as tight and precise of songwriters Byrd and Raymond clearly are, these folks on stage are unlikely ever to break hard into the Big Time; never cruise the Hillbilly Highway in tour buses like Dierks Bentley or any of those Nashville boys. In a way, that’s a crying shame. But then again, maybe the Big Time aint all it ought to be.

Corin Raymond put out an album in 2009, which is now in it’s third printing, titled There Will Always Be a Small Time. The completely independently produced album is a celebration of the DIY, a hymn to kitchen parties and guitar pulls and grinding it out in the shadows of the crumbling Music Industry. To quote Corin,

“The Small Time is a laboratory and a testing ground, as well as being a full-time living for myself and a thousand others. It’s where the upstarts are hiding and where the veterans can always return. It’s also the best place to hear music, to really listen to it, to be touched by it personally. The Small Time is small. Intimate. It flourishes in local venues, on festival side-stages, in community halls and living rooms. And the Small Time have never been bigger than it is now.”

So here’s to the Small Time! Three cheers! Pull in to almost any honky tonk, barn dance or backyard BBQ along the Hillbilly Highway while summer still shines down on us here, and you’re bound to find someone eking out an existence, or blowing off some steam on the weekend, as part of the Small Time. If Small Time is big enough for these massive talents, hell, the Small Time better be big enough for me. I’ll see you there, friends. Party on!

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