By definition, a jam session is “a relatively informal musical event, process or activity where musicians, typically instrumentalists, play improvised solos, and vamp over tunes, drones, songs and chord progressions.”
True enough, but there is one word missing — a descriptor that really sums up the attraction of the musical jams that have been held for several years now at, from all outward appearances, a very ordinary run-of-the-mill barn near Norwood that housed the extraordinary.
“This is really organic … it’s alive and it just kind of morphs with who’s here and the vibe that they’re bringing in,” says Catherine McGrath, one of a number of people who braved the sweltering heat on Sunday (August 7) to take in the final music jam at Andy and Linda Tough’s barn on their 85-acre now-for-sale slice of rural heaven.
“It hits some spots that a paid venue just doesn’t get the opportunity to,” McGrath added. “There are no egos here. It’s ‘Come on up and play with me.’ I’m not a musician but, if I was, I feel I would completely appreciate that feeling of the joy of music and of playing with other artists at whatever level they’re at.”
For the Toughs, putting the pieces in place for a shared musical experience has been a mission of sorts since they hosted, in 2009 and 2010, Band of Brothers, a barn-held live music-based fundraiser for Soldier On, a Canadian Armed Forces program that helps injured veterans and serving members.
After that, recalls Linda, “We did the private jams and it just blew up from there. Word got around and people just started coming.”
During the pandemic, when people couldn’t come, no problem: the Toughs brought the barn atmosphere to them via three seasons of Live! At The Barn, sponsored in part by kawarthaNOW.
Andy — an audio and video recording engineer who, with Linda, owns RMS Events, a company that specializes in multimedia production and presentation for a range of clients — recorded and produced live off-the-floor performances by 18 acts, each multi-camera segment professionally edited and made available for public viewing on his YouTube channel.
For musicians starved of the opportunity to play live during the pandemic, the sessions were nothing short of a lifeline. Among those recorded, and very much at the forefront at Sunday’s final jam, were Rick and Gailie Young, a duo long well known for their covers of pretty well any British Invasion period song you can name.
“Our friend Mike Reynolds said ‘You’ve got to go to the barn, you’ve got to go to the barn,’ so Rick and I checked it out and fell in love with it,” recalled Gailie who, when asked what the appeal was, quickly said “Linda and Andy … and then the barn.”
“There it’s a job,” said Gailie, referring to her and Rick’s regular gigs at The Black Horse Pub in downtown Peterborough. “Here it’s for fun. Anybody can get up and jam and sing. Nobody gets upset. It’s breaking my heart that this could be the last jam. I’m hoping they (the Toughs) don’t sell. I told them that. It’s a sad day. I could cry.”
Singer-songwriter Wylie Harold is a 10-year veteran of barn jams who was also recorded by Andy for a Live! At The Barn episode.
“It’s everything — it’s the people, it’s the ambience, it’s the unhurried style,” Harold said of the barn jam’s big selling points. “You sign up and you don’t have to wait three hours to go on.”
“I wrote a song called I Dig Barn Jam Music,” added Harold, who performed the tune at Sunday night’s barn jam. “I couldn’t remember all the words. I just finished it as I was going out the door this (Sunday) morning. I wanted to contribute that as a gift to the barn, but it was hard to put into one song what this place is all about. I’m sad to see it go — it’s a magical place — but I wish them (the Toughs) well.”
Tami J Wilde, another longtime singer and songwriter who has been a barn jam regular, wasn’t going to miss this last dance for anything.
“Today is a bittersweet moment,” said Wilde, who also taped a Live! At The Barn episode with Andy at the controls. “This is the last concert here. You’re so used to it being here and they (the Toughs) have always been very supportive (of local musicians).”
“Once I knew the barn jams were going on, I did whatever it took to get here. It’s probably been four or five summers now. It’s a nostalgic place with a lot of beautiful people and really talented musicians. This is the kind of place that I like to play at.”
But there’s another aspect of the Toughs’ barn beyond the music and the ambience that held an equal attraction for whoever came through its doors — the stuff. Lots and lots of stuff that Andy, a self-admitted pack rat, acquired over the years and just held onto.
The end result was a feast for the eyes: a three-dimensional hodge-podge of vintage music instruments, posters, and art-deco furnishings. It would be easy to say everything but the kitchen sink could be found in the barn except for one small thing — there is a kitchen sink.
On Sunday, the Toughs put the many of the items they hadn’t already got rid of up for silent auction.
“All the stuff hanging from the ceiling, an old Wurlitzer organ, jukeboxes … it’s been a fun kind of place to go to, kind of magical, a great place to hang out,” assessed musician Richard Simpkins, who sat in with a number of other musicians Sunday and is no stranger to live music pub patrons over the years.
Andy, who noted a segment for the reality TV show Canadian Pickers was shot at the barn, reflected on his many acquisitions over the years.
“You know what they say: if you’re a collector, you fill the volume you have available,” he said. “I have a 40 by 60 foot barn with three levels and it got real full. Then I bought RMS Events and brought all that gear in. Half of the stuff I’m not using anymore. We’re out of the DJ business now. When we do find a buyer for the place, we’ll have another auction and more stuff will go.”
Beyond the music jams and it being home to a number of unique collectibles, the barn holds another special significance for the Toughs.
It was there, close to 12 years ago, that they married. If that wasn’t enough to being a sentimental tear to their eyes, Sunday’s surprise arrival of their son from Nova Scotia did the trick.
“What I’m most happy about right now is all of these musicians have been out there gigging again and people have been out there supporting them,” Andy noted. “That’s what it’s all about.”
McGrath, who attended the final jam with her partner Guye Vondette, can certainly attest to that. She has been a regular at many live music events over the years. On September 10, she’ll be in mix big time as Vondette again hosts Guyestock, a nine-act live music showcase held outside their East City home that will be very jam-like.
“I love being here — I’m a groupie,” admits McGrath with unabashed pride. “I certainly wish Andy and Linda well but this will be missed. There’ll be a void for musicians and those who came out to experience this. We may never see anything like this again.”
That Sunday’s last hurrah at the barn happened at all is another story altogether.
On May 21, when the derecho storm ripped its way across southern Ontario, the Toughs found half of the massive barn roof in pieces on their property. That forced them to remove their property listing until repairs could be made. They were, allowing Sunday’s final jam to be held.