Their feathers may be getting a little gray, Jean Hewson and Christina Smith say, but their songs are as lively as ever, even after 25 years of playing music together.
Hewson and Smith are celebrating the anniversary of their folk music duo with two concerts at Petro Canada Hall at Memorial University this weekend.
Both music teachers, the pair first collaborated when Smith invited Hewson to play guitar with the STEP (Suzuki Talent Education Program) Fiddlers group of kids, which Smith was teaching, back in the early 1980s. Five years later, they began performing on and off as a duo, but both remained focused on their individual projects: Hewson toured with folk band Barkin’ Kettle and trad group Tuckamore, and released a solo album, “Early Spring,” in 1992; Smith was writing music for film and playing sessions on CDs by Emile Benoit, the Irish Descendants and Buddy Wasisname and the Other Fellers.
Hewson co-produced and played guitar on Smith’s 1995 album, “Fiddle Me This.”
“After that, we thought, ‘You know, it would be great if we could go to the Canadian folk festivals and do some touring,’ because we had never done that with each other before,” Hewson told The Telegram. “A couple years later, we applied for a showcase at the North American Folk Alliance, which was a large international folk music conference and it was happening in Toronto that year. We were accepted and we went up and got all kinds of festival gigs, and that was the beginning of our touring life.”
Since then, Hewson and Smith have toured across Canada, the United States and the U.K., and have released two CDs as a duo, 1998’s “Like Ducks!” and 2005’s “August Gale,” as well as their work on “Mahervelous,” as members of Frank Maher and the Mahers Bahers.
They’ve been nominated for three East Coast Music Awards, two Canadian Folk Music Awards, an Indie, a Newfoundland and Labrador Arts Council Award, and the Crossroads magazine gold award for Best Roots/Traditional Album for “Like Ducks!”
In August, the pair was presented with the Ernie King Tradition Bearer award by the Goderich Celtic Festival. The annual award is given to those who have shown outstanding dedication in the preservation and passing on of their musical traditions.
After all this time, Hewson said she and Smith still haven’t run out of things to talk about.
“When we drive across the island to do gigs on the west coast, we don’t stop talking the entire time,” she said. “Both of our lives are linked through not just music, but personal interest. We spend a lot of time comparing notes on our students, checking in as to how they’re doing, and our families and politics.
“We’re not just musical partners. I wouldn’t even call Christina my best friend. She’s more like a sister to me. We keep each other well entertained.”
Hewson and Smith are working on another CD, but it takes them a while, since they’ve got to fit the project in among everything else they’re doing. Hewson reckons it’ll be released sometime in the next couple of years.
"We're not just musical partners. ... (Christina) is more like a sister to me." - Jean Hewson
Neither of them have any plans to retire from performing any time soon, Hewson said.
“We joke about how some day at the folk festival they’ll have to wheel us both on in wheelchairs and we’d be happy to play right up until we can’t play or we drop dead. I anticipate that we’ll always be playing together.”
Tonight at 7:30, Hewson and Smith will perform a family show with guitarist/children’s entertainer Eric West. All proceeds from ticket sales of the show will go to West’s Vinland Music Camp, a week-long annual music camp in Gros Morne offering instruction in Newfoundland music, dance and storytelling.
Saturday evening at 8, the duo will take to the stage with special guests Daniel Payne and Rick West for an “adult” show, which will be recorded for broadcast by CBC Radio.
“I don’t like to say it’s an adult show, because folk music is for people of all ages, but there might be the scattered murder ballad or off-colour banter,” Hewson said with a laugh.
Tickets for both shows are $15 for adults and $10 for children, and are available at Fred’s Records and O’Brien’s Music Store.