[19 September 2011]
PopMatters Associate Music Editor
I grew up in the small town of Barry’s Bay, Ontario, Canada—basically the last major pit stop for those heading west along Highway 60 into the wilds of the internationally renowned and enormous Algonquin Park to camp, canoe, and generally get away from the hustle and bustle of modern life. When you live in such a small town, it’s a rarity that you get a gem of a band that essentially eschews playing mostly covers. But what amounts to being my home town band growing up, the Fireweed Company (formerly known as just Fireweed), really took the road less travelled: while they could turn in a blistering version of Tom Petty’s “American Girl” at shows at the local hockey rink, they were – and are – the rare small town band unafraid to wade into the waters of playing mostly original material. And strong original material at that. The band, revolving around the core nucleus of singer/acoustic guitarist Jayson Bradshaw and lead guitarist Steve Gutoskie, has turned in just two albums in nearly 20 years of performing together: 1994’s criminally now out-of-print Drinking Man, and the somewhat more easier to find (in the Ottawa Valley, at least) As Long As You Know ... from 2007. They can performs to crowds to up to 800 people in my old stomping grounds, which is a pretty big feat considering only a few thousand folk live in the area, but they remain hereto unknown by the rest of the world.
That might never change, but the band, finally, after almost 20 years, has finally put together a video for an unreleased track called “The Philosophical Song”. While it’s doubtful the thing will go viral, it is surprisingly slick and well-polished for a band that literally exists right next door to the middle of nowhere. Yeah, they’ve got a kid in the video obviously playing air drums, which is a bit hokey, but the clip pretty accurately conveys the ways of small town life: playing songs in pool halls, and rocking it on someone’s back porch. Plus, for being a new song, the tune itself points the way for a possible new direction for the band: mid-tempo roots rock with Bradshaw’s acoustic taking a much more prominent role than I can remember. You may laugh and call these guys hicks, but the Fireweed Company has done something no other band playing rural areas a two hour drive up the Opeongo Line (an old settlement road in the area) have ever done: play original songs with attention to detail, polish and plain old conviction. If you ever are en route to Algonquin Park from Ottawa, Canada, and you’re looking for some night life to check out in the sleepy town of Barry’s Bay and its environs, definitely try to check these guys out if they’re playing a gig. Your eyes will be thrust wide open at the originality and sincerity in which a small town band with nowhere else to go can play.