Luke and John began their month-long Monday-night run at The Black Sheep this past Monday.
Not to be confused with Christ followers of the same name, these two musicians are on a pilgrimage of sorts, with St. John’s being the holy land.
Lucas Rose and John Moran relocated to the capital city from Hamilton, Ont., attracted by the local music scene. Moran had been to the province once before, in 2013, meeting a selection of musicians during his summer here. Rose, charmed by Moran’s stories, decided to take the plunge and move east with his longtime pal and musical collaborator.
Since their arrival in November, the pair have made a splash in the local folk music scene, becoming fast friends with the High and Lonesome Ramblers, a six-piece bluegrass act.
“We didn’t come here for any other reason than the music,” Moran said, when met with my skepticism regarding the backstory regarding their 3,000+ kilometre move.
“I was really struck by how everyone valued music, it seemed to be a little more important here, or the musicians seemed to be a little more respected here,” Moran continued, quickly noting that this statement was not meant to put down other music scenes in Ontario, or across the country.
“A few years ago, Luke and I had planned on starting a band together. We ended up parting ways … and at the time, we hadn’t played a lot of music together, period. We had jammed together a couple times, but we both knew that we liked each other’s playing and that we fit well together.”
Though they complement each other well, the Hamilton music scene wasn’t a great fit for the duo, Lucas explained.
Their material, which ranges from old timey bluegrass to modern folk — with choice cuts from various genres of country and traditional folk tunes spliced in between — makes a great fit in the downtown music scene, which has had strong traditional and folk influences for decades longer than the young musicians have been playing tunes.
Though miserable weather accompanied their Black Sheep debut, the pair’s proficient pickin’ at other shows inspired locals to brave the blowing rain to check out the pair unaccompanied.
Switching between guitars and mandolin, the duo bounced around a vast setlist, covering classic country and folk singers, like Doc Watson, Ricky Skaggs, Gordon Lightfoot, Alison Krauss and Union Station, John Prine, Stanley Brothers, Mississippi John Hurt, and more.
Instrumental tracks provided opportunity to showcase their skillful picking, with a couple a cappella performances demonstrating their vocal capabilities.
With a three-page long list of tunes to choose from, Luke and John played a mix of tender tunes, murder ballads, and up-tempo songs, catering to the vibe of the bar, as the Black Sheep audience grew.
Moran played a banjo tune at my request, later hauling out a concertina from a book bag, in a highly impressive and totally unanticipated move. This marks my first time seeing a concertina in a St. John’s bar, and hopefully, it will not be the last. (Though maybe this just means I don’t spend enough time at Irish bars, though accordions are still far more prevalent than concertinas.)
Either way, here’s to many more nights of Luke and John — If a dark bar is the pulpit, I’m happy to be a disciple.
Welcome home, boys.