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What happens when you combine two 'Come From Away' performers and a metal guitarist? Just watch, say The Rowdymen

The Rowdymen are (from left) "Come From Away" performers George Masswohl and Greg Hawco, and Killer Dwarfs guitarist Gerry Finn — Toronto-based performers with a goal of sharing Newfoundland and Labrador culture as far as possible.
The Rowdymen are (from left) "Come From Away" performers George Masswohl and Greg Hawco, and Killer Dwarfs guitarist Gerry Finn — Toronto-based performers with a goal of sharing Newfoundland and Labrador culture as far as possible.

Musical trio hopes to share and celebrate Newfoundland and Labrador music and culture

One of them has spent years as the lead guitarist for metal band the Killer Dwarfs. One of them was an orchestral percussionist and a school band teacher and performed the bodhran backbeat for Jake Doyle’s “Republic of Doyle” escapades before turning to theatre. The third one is a longtime musical theatre performer currently on hiatus from playing the stage role of a former Gander mayor.

Put them together and all they want to do is celebrate and share Newfoundland and Labrador culture, taking you along for the (socially distant) ride.

The Rowdymen are local natives Gerry Finn and Greg Hawco along with Ontario’s George Masswohl, and they’re currently somewhere in the St. John’s area in self-isolation, preparing for a series of shows.

Hawco and Masswohl met as performers in the Toronto production of “Come From Away” — Hawco plays the bodhran in the band while Masswohl plays the role of ex-Gander mayor Claude Elliott in the Tony- and Grammy-winning production, which is based on the impact on the town of the 9-11 terrorist attacks. Guitarist Finn is a friend of Hawco’s, and the pair had been working together for years, talking about creating some kind of soft-seat theatre show about their home province.

When the pandemic hit and “Come From Away,” like all other performance venues, was shut down, the three musicians began rehearsing together with the goal of bringing Newfoundland music to as many people as possible.

“It’s just fun to celebrate,” says Finn, describing growing up in St. John’s and finding his dad’s traditional music torturous.

It wasn’t until he left and came home for Christmas as a university student that the sentimentality of the music played in a local pub hit him like a ton of bricks.

“It’s a part of how I grew up,” he says. “I love the music. I’ve played music professionally my whole life, but now to finally have an opportunity to play it with my buddies is just a joy.”

Masswohl says he knew nothing about Newfoundland and Labrador apart from learning “I’se the B’y” from a primary school songbook. When he came to the province for the first time in 2016, he reckons his life changed; it changed again when he landed the part in “Come From Away.”

“There are two things in my entire life that I’ve felt really strongly about,” Masswohl told The Telegram. “Being an actor is one thing, and spending my life in a place that is so magical and beautiful and welcoming as Newfoundland is the other.”

The Rowdymen take their name (at Masswohl’s suggestion) from the 1972 Gordon Pinsent film. They take their musical inspiration from a mix of traditional tunes and modern influences.

Along with cover songs — including a version of Simani’s iconic “The Mummer’s Song” — Hawco, Finn and Masswohl have been writing and recording their own original music, spending much of their quarantine time to that end. Their first release is “Bell Island Pony,” an original song offered to them by local songwriter/musician Blair Harvey and Steve Cochrane, about the horses that worked in the Bell Island iron ore mines.

The Rowdymen have also done a few live shows in Ontario, working out the challenges of performing while abiding by public-health protocols, and are thrilled with the response they’ve gotten so far.

Word travels fast and their Tibb’s Eve show at the Black Sheep in St. John’s has been sold out for more than a month. They’ve added another show at the Black Sheep on Dec. 22 and are finalizing the details for a show with Spirit of Newfoundland on Boxing Day.

They’ll play three shows at the Royal Canadian Legion in Gander Dec. 18 and 19, donating a third of their proceeds to the venue.

Apart from that, The Rowdymen have been invited to play at Government House on Dec. 15 and the performance will be live-streamed.

The goal is to eventually release an album and to keep the band going when “Come From Away” reopens, thanks to supportive producers. In the meantime, the plan for the live shows, Hawco says, is to play some tunes, tell a few stories, give come-from-aways something they’ve never heard before and remind Newfoundlanders and Labradorians how much they’ve got to be proud of.

“It’s a great time,” he says. “A great night of entertainment."

Ticket information for the upcoming Rowdymen shows are available on the band’s Facebook page.

Tara Bradbury reports on east coast culture in St. John's.

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