Say the nickname “The Man of a Thousand Songs” in Newfoundland and Labrador, and you’ll need to go no further before it’s clear who you’re talking about.
Later this month a plethora of local musicians will gather in St. John’s for a star-studded concert to support Ron Hynes, hoping he’ll one day also earn the nickname “The Man of a Hundred Years.”
Alan Doyle, Amelia Curran, The Once, Tim Baker of Hey Rosetta! Duane Andrews, The Dardanelles and more — all local musicians with ties to Hynes — are preparing to encourage him as he wages his toughest fight to date with “The Night of a Thousand Songs: The Stars Come Out for Ron,” to be held at the Delta Hotel in St. John’s Sept. 30.
Hynes is receiving aggressive chemo and radiation treatment for throat cancer, diagnosed last month.
Hynes has a singing/songwriting career that spans more than three decades. He’s a founding member of the Wonderful Grand Band, has composed theme songs and scores for projects such as CBC-TV’s “Hatching, Matching and Dispatching” and the Mary Walsh film, “Young Triffie’s Been Made Away With,” and has earned multiple MusicNL and East Coast Music Awards as well as a Genie Award.
He’s also a past Juno, Canadian Country Music Award and Canadian Folk Music Award nominee.
Hynes has released eight records, and is perhaps best known for tunes like “Sonny’s Dream” — which has become a folk music classic, and has been covered by artists around the globe — “Atlantic Blue,” written about the Ocean Ranger Disaster, and “The St. John’s Waltz.”
“The Man of a Thousand Songs,” a feature documentary by William D. MacGillivray, debuted at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2010. In it, Hynes speaks candidly about his life, his talent and his battles with drugs.
“I shared a stage with Ron in 1973,” said Glen Tilley, “The Night of a Thousand Songs” organizer. “I was in a band, and we used to do a show from the Bella Vista on Saturday nights on CJON. This promoter who was working with Ron in support of his first album wanted to bring this folk act on, and the guy was going to play acoustic guitar, of all things, and sing. You’re 18 or 19 and you’re just a kid playing in a rock band and you think you’re cool with a radio show, and here was Ron Hynes. It was a humbling night.”
Through his work as a producer for CBC, Tilley has developed a longstanding relationship with Hynes over the years. The news of Hynes’ diagnosis hit him hard, he said.
“God, it was devastating. It makes you realize how you should be thankful for every day you’re on the face of this Earth and healthy.”
Recruiting talent for the concert — from which all proceeds will go to Hynes to help him through his illness — was an unsurprisingly easy task for Tilley. All he had to do was send a few emails, and the volunteers starting coming on board, whether it was the venue or the audio equipment or the musicians.
In fact, Tilley’s challenge now is to cut down the list to a manageable show, he said.
“I think it’s an opportunity for (the artists) to display their professional and personal love for a man who was a trailblazer in the Newfoundland and Labrador music industry,” he explained.
The show will be presented almost in two acts: the first half with more of an acoustic concert-type feel, while the second half will feature Hynes’ own band — Paul Kinsman, Paul (Boomer) Stamp and Paul Turner, with special guests including Cory Tetford, Chris LeDrew, Sandy Morris, Glenn Simmons, Liz Solo, Colleen Power and Larry Foley — moving the event from an intimate beginning to a more energetic finale.
Performers including Doyle, Curran, Baker, The Once, the Duane Andrews Quartet, Atlantic String Quartet, The Dardanelles and Hynes’ nephew, writer/performer Joel Thomas Hynes, will do a mix of their own music and Hynes’ songs.
Kinsman, a keyboard player, has been recording and performing with Hynes since 1994. His participation in the event is a labour of love, he explained.
“When his buddies and musical colleagues heard of his diagnosis, we realized it would be a long time before he would be up to working again, and in the music industry, if you don’t play, you don’t eat,” he explained. “We want to ease the financial stresses of paying for food and heat and medicine and help give him the chance to get well.
“When we started talking to artists about the show, we let everyone know they could perform whatever they wanted, but it quickly became clear that everyone wanted to do a Ron song. Every musician I know has at least a couple in their repertoire. His songs are a common denominator among us all; they’re just as meaningful and satisfying to perform as they are to listen to. In a way, we’re going to use his own songs to help with his healing and recovery.”
Baker said in an emailed statement he gave Tilley a “fervent, immediate yes” when asked to take part in the show.
“The only trouble was then trying to select which of his many songs to cover — like panning for gold in a river of diamonds,” he wrote. “The night can only be wonderful.”
For many of the musicians, they’ll be honouring not only a songwriting peer, but a teacher and mentor.
“Lots of people inspired me to play music, but Ron Hynes made me want to write my own songs,” said Doyle. “Like so many of us who owe Ron a debt of gratitude, I am delighted to get a chance to help him out.”
“The Night of a Thousand Songs” is one of a number of benefit concerts for Hynes in the coming weeks.
Tonight, Southern Shore locals will perform Hynes’ music at “An Evening of Ron Hynes’ Songs” at the Southern Shore Folk Arts Building, beginning at 8 p.m.
“The Power of Song: Rallying for Ron,” a fundraiser at the Dalhousie Arts Centre in Halifax, will happen Wednesday, with Cathy Jones, Bruce Guthro, Charlie A’Court, Lennie Gallant and others.
At Toronto’s Hugh’s Room, a benefit concert for Hynes will take place Oct. 13, featuring Seamus O’Regan, Kim Stockwood, Mary Walsh, Terry Kelly, Barry Canning, Michael Ondaajte and more.
Tickets for “The Night of a Thousand Songs” are $30 and are available at the Delta Hotel in St. John’s, or online at www.holyhearttheatre.com