Fortunately for Canadian indie rock music fans, particularly those who have found The Strumbellas very much to their collective liking, what happened in Lindsay didn’t stay in Lindsay.
Four of the band’s members — Simon Ward (vocals/guitar), Jon Hembrey (lead guitar), Darryl James (bass), and Jeremy Drury (drums) — are from the town now that’s part and parcel of the City of Kawartha Lakes, having made the decision long ago to pursue their musical talents in Toronto. That was a very wise decision as things turned out.
Following the addition of David Ritter (vocals/keyboards) and Isabel Ritchie (violin), who came into the fold via a Craigslist call for help, The Strumbellas quickly found their voice and their rightful place on the crowded Canadian music landscape.
On Wednesday, August 10th, Peterborough Musicfest welcomes The Strumbellas to Del Crary Park as the festival’s 35th season winds down to its conclusion. Admission to the 8 p.m. concert, as always, is free.
Formed in 2008, The Strumbellas wasted little time getting busy, releasing their self-titled debut EP the following year and subsequently performing at a number of legendary Toronto venues including The Horseshoe Tavern and Cameron House.
With the 2012 release of The Strumbellas’ debut full-length album My Father And The Hunter, it seemed everyone was talking about the band that mixed and matched elements of country, folk, and pop with a rock anchor. The Canadian music industry paid attention too, in the form of a 2013 Juno Award nomination for Roots and Traditional Album of the Year – Group.
But what was denied The Strumbellas in 2013 came its way at the 2014 Juno Awards when the band’s second album, We Still Move On Dance Floors, took home the statue in the same category.
VIDEO: “Spirits” – The Strumbellas
VIDEO: “In This Life” – The Strumbellas
Not content to rest on its laurels, The Strumbellas’ big breakthrough came in 2016 with the release of their third album Hope and, in particular, the album’s first single “Spirits.” The song topped the Billboard Alternative Songs chart for two weeks.
Having since been certified triple platinum in Canada and Italy, and gold in the United States, France, and Belgium, “Spirits” brought The Strumbellas their second Juno Award in 2017 for Single of the Year and earned the band not only a number of prominent festival dates but also an appearance on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.
Asked during an August 2017 interview with Cassandra Popescu of Canadian Beats Media if she and her bandmates saw beforehand the success “Spirits” would attain, violinist Isabel Ritchie was quick to answer “Absolutely not.”
“We were excited about Spirits but we were excited about a lot of other songs. I don’t even remember how we picked Spirits (to be the album’s first single). We were just ‘OK, we’ll release that first and see what happens.'”
“It has just been amazing to see where it has gone and how it sort of moved across the world, and even in Canada, starting out on smaller stations and moving to rock stations and then moving to pop stations and just seeing that evolve.”
During the same interview, Ritchie touched on The Strumbellas’ modus operandi of interchanging high-energy songs with more emotional tunes that expose common vulnerabilities.
VIDEO: “We Don’t Know” – The Strumbellas
VIDEO: “Salvation” – The Strumbellas
“We love playing those upbeat songs live, especially in a festival environment,” she said. “It’s really fun, so we kind of always have this pressure on ourselves to make fun songs that people can dance to but, naturally, a lot of the songs we write start off a little more chill. I don’t think we’re doing anything that pushes us out of our comfort zone or is unnatural. Everything definitely comes from a natural place but we always have fun with the upbeat ones.”
In 2019, The Strumbellas released a fourth studio album, Rattlesnake, featuring the singles “Salvation” and “I’ll Wait” — the former performed on Late Night with Seth Myers, again exposing the band to a huge North American audience.
As the band’s fans await some word on new music coming down the pipe, last year’s release of the single “Greatest Enemy” has satisfied their thirst for now.
However, fans also found out in March that frontman and principal songwriter Simon Ward would no longer be touring with The Strumbellas, with Jimmy Chauveau (Ascot Royals, Kadeema) joining the band as their new lead vocalist.
“I am just not cut out to tour to the same extent anymore, and as much as I love the band, I have decided I would like to put my focus on my first loves: songwriting and being at home with my family,” Ward said in a statement. “Stepping back from touring will let me focus on that and more, and I’m excited for everything to come.”
Ward’s decision to remain behind the scenes with The Strumbellas came after he opened up about his struggles with depression and anxiety in a February 2021 interview with David Friend of The Canadian Press — a difficult time that, early on, forced the cancellation of a 14-city Canadian tour in January 2020.
VIDEO: “I’ll Wait” – The Strumbellas
VIDEO: “Greatest Enemy” – The Strumbellas
“It’s so easy to isolate yourself when you’re having mental health issues,” said Ward, a reference to those times on tour when he would stay behind in his hotel room while his band mates got together for dinner. “All you want to do is not be with other people. So I would stay by myself. I’m still working my way through it and struggling. I’m better now but, you know, mental health is just such a tricky game. It seems to hang around, come back and float around.”
Ward wrote “Greatest Enemy” after he went through what he termed “the worst year of my life.” In November last year, Ward also released his debut solo album Simon and the Island — a nine-song record that he hopes “comforts and encourages others that are struggling with their own mental health that they’re not alone.”
“These songs are about my life,” Ward explained in a statement. “Some of them are about my struggles with mental health, some of them are love songs to my wife, who is my soul mate. This album is about being in a dark place but seeing the sliver of hope shine in.”
Peterborough Musicfest is presenting 16 free-admission concerts during its milestone 35th anniversary season, each staged Wednesday and Saturday nights at Del Crary Park in downtown Peterborough.
Overseen by general manager Tracey Randall and staff, a board of directors, and numerous volunteers, Peterborough Musicfest’s stated mission remains “to provide diverse, affordable live music to enrich cultural and economic prosperity in our community.”
For more information on this concert or the entire 2022 season, visit www.ptbomusicfest.ca or phone the Peterborough Musicfest office at 705-755-1111.