The Jacks creating a February fever for Johnny Cash

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The iconic engagement of June Carter and Johnny Cash, which took place Feb. 22, 1968 at the old London Gardens, is being marked with a celebration by the Jack Richardson London Music Awards.

The Jack Richardson London Music Awards (JRLMA) will be heating up February by making it hotter than a pepper sprout.

If that sounds like the words to Jackson — the signature song of country superstars June Carter and Johnny Cash — it should. The JRLMA is celebrating the 50th anniversary of Cash’s on-stage proposal to Carter on Feb. 22, 1968 at the old London Gardens with a country music gala 50 years to the day after it happened.

Thursday, Feb. 22, at the London Music Hall, JRLMA is presenting Johnny & June: Engaged in a Fever.

“If someone is a fan of Johnny Cash, or if you never really know much about him, then this is a great event for you,” said JRLMA founder Mario Circelli. “I hope people will come away with a new connection to Johnny Cash.”

Guests of honour for the evening include W.S. “Fluke” Holland, Cash’s drummer who was behind the kit at the iconic 1968 London Gardens show, and Tommy Cash, Johnny’s younger brother.

Tommy Cash is the younger brother of the country music icon, but also an accomplished musician himself.

After serving in the Army, Tommy Cash played with Hank Williams Jr. before going on to score a number of Billboard hits. In 1969 he delivered his biggest hit, a tune dedicated to John F. Kennedy, Robert F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King entitled, Six White Horses.

Tommy Cash continues to tour, is a motivational speaker and the voice behind dozens of television commercials.

Another highlight of the evening, in addition to a Q&A session with Holland and Cash, JRLMA winners The Marrieds perform a tribute to Johnny and June. Not only will they recreate the celebrated proposal, but they will also perform several songs with guest appearances by Holland and Cash.

In addition to marking the anniversary, Circelli said the show will also offer Londoners the chance to celebrate one of their own.

Saul Holiff, who died in 2005, was Cash’s manager for some 17 years, guiding the troubled singer through many of his most difficult years where he dealt with addiction, keeping him on the path to superstardom.

“Saul orchestrated the Folsom Prison show, he was instrumental in bringing June Carter into the act; Johnny Cash is irrevocably linked to London and the reason for that is Saul Holiff,” Circelli said. “It’s because of Saul that Johnny became a superstar. So, we wanted to pay homage to Saul, and pay tribute to Johnny and June, and what better way to do that then by commemorating the 50th anniversary of that special night.”

More London musicians will be joining the show and other guests who know the Cash-Carter-London story will be in London for the event or during Jack Richardson London Music Week, which is set for April 8-15.

Filmmaker Jonathan Holiff and author Julie Chadwick, for example, will be in London on Sunday, April 15 as London and the JRLMA continue to celebrate that hot February night, as well as the organization’s annual awards gala.

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Rose Cora Perry rocks the Whisky A Go-Go

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London’s Rose Cora Perry & The Truth Untold recently performed at the legendary Whisky A Go-Go in Los Angeles.

The Whisky A Go-Go has anchored the Los Angeles music scene since opening in 1964, playing host to rock ‘n’ roll legends from The Doors and Guns N’ Roses to today’s up and coming artists, including one band from the Forest City.

The Sunset Strip landmark — the first live music venue to be inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame — launched its popular Ultimate Jam Night showcase back in 2015.

The Whisky’s showcase features a rotating lineup of musicians — including the house band members Chuck Wright (Quiet Riot), Matt Starr (Mr. Big), Mitch Perry (Lita Ford) and Paulie Z (The Sweet) — who come together to perform a variety of classic rock, hard rock and heavy metal favourites.

The opening act for the Jan. 23 jam was London’s own Rose Cora Perry & The Truth Untold.

Launched in 2016 by Perry and drummer Tyler Randall — and recently assisted by touring bassist Amber Gorham — the band has been gaining acclaim for its songs and music videos, but playing the Whisky, Perry said, takes things to a new level.

“The Whisky is literally the epicentre that any rock ‘n’ roll musician, die-hard grunger, could aspire to play,” she said. “The funny thing is it has this legendary status, but it’s probably not even half the size of Call the Office. My nerves overtook me at some moments, I couldn’t believe we were there, but it was in a good way. It took our energetic performance and made it really fun for everybody.”

Perry is actually no stranger to performing at legendary venues.

During her days with the early 2000s band Anti-Hero, Perry and her bandmates performed at legendary New York City venue CBGB, less than a month before the club closed its doors in 2006.

That experience, together with playing The Whisky, speaks to Perry’s commitment to always following through with her dreams.

To share her music, Perry created her own record label when she was just 15. That effort would lead to several successful ventures, including the signing of Anti-Hero to a major label record deal.

However, she ended up leaving the music business for about a decade when that band came to an end.

Perry decided to return to the music scene in 2016, but she remains realistic about her chances for success.

“I will be the first to say the music industry is so unstable that I’m hedging my bets — on a very grand scale of a billion to one. I totally get that,” she said. “But at the end of the day I want to be able to look back on my life and know I did some really cool things, fulfilled what was in my heart and my soul, and I was happy. I did what I wanted to do, I followed my dreams, and everyone should.”

Last summer The Truth Untold achieved a significant break when they were invited to be the only Canadian performer at Summer NAMM — a major American music industry showcase — in Nashville, Tenn.

That was an opportunity, Perry explains, to make connections in the U.S. music industry. One result of that exposure was the recruitment of Mapex Drums Canada and Blackstar Amplification as official band sponsors.

Both companies invited the band to participate in the Winter NAMM showcase, which was being held in Anaheim, Calif.

In conjunction with Perry’s new sponsorship status with Blackstar Amps, The Truth Untold was invited to showcase themselves with an opening spot on the same stage shared by the biggest names in rock ‘n’ roll history.

The moment was — to say the least — a little overwhelming.

“We got to the five-minute mark before going up on stage . . . and I turned to Tyler and Amber . . . I almost started to break down,” she said. “We had a little group hug session to get our energies up. The atmosphere was just so cool and welcoming, the way it should always be. I wish every venue was that way. We played 40 minutes and then they demanded an encore. It was amazing.”

YOU breakfast to set record while sharing youth challenges

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YOU executive director Steve Cordes and youth speaker Madi Parks will be appearing at the 12th annual Breakfast for YOU, Thursday, Feb. 8 at London Convention Centre.

Madi Parks used to stand on the street outside Youth Opportunities Unlimited (YOU)’s Cornerstone building, too nervous to walk through the doors to receive the help that was waiting inside.

On Thursday, Feb. 8, she will bring that experience full circle as she stands up in front of an expected crowd of 1,200 people as youth speaker at the 12th annual Breakfast for YOU. Doors open at the London Convention Centre open at 7 p.m. with the program getting underway at 7:30 a.m.

Parks will be sharing her experience of homelessness and vulnerability in the hopes it will “engage, educate, and empower” the audience.

“I think it’s important to raise awareness in our community. I don’t think everyone knows what’s going on or this is happening in our backyard,” she said. “I just want to be careful that everything I say up there is meaningful. I’m not saying it for the sake of pity or just for the sake of saying it.”

This year’s breakfast will be a record-setter with typical crowds in previous years reaching upwards of 650 people. With only days left for people to get their tickets, more than 1,100 people have already signed up.

Having a record number of people signed up for the breakfast — there is a limit of 1,200 tickets — has Steve Cordes understandably excited.

Cordes, YOU executive director, said the leap forward in support for the event was a little surprising, but is something that makes sense given the rising profile of the organization within London.

“I think there is more community buy-in into community issues. You look at health care issues, you look at homelessness issues, you look at poverty issues, those have all been massive threads in our community over the past year,” he said. “People have rallied their heads around how they can be part of this, how can they be part of the solution to these big community issues.”

Cordes will also be speaking at this year’s breakfast, but he acknowledges Parks’ story is the one that will captivate the audience.

Having served as executive director since 1988, Cordes has always been a strong proponent of the breakfast and the role it serves in pushing the YOU message.

Hearing from young people with lived experience of poverty and homelessness is a “powerful way,” he explains, for YOU to offer something he feels is often an “eye-opening experience” for those who take in the breakfast.

Parks added her hope is participants will come away with a greater awareness of the reality many young people face.

“I don’ think it’s just about my story, or really even just YOU, it’s really about the people who are attending,” she said. “They want to be engaged, they want to learn more, or else they wouldn’t be coming.”

Cordes said he also hopes Breakfast for YOU sends the audience away with a strong sense of hope that something can be done to create change in the community.

That change can be in supporting large community efforts such as YOU’s New Addition campaign — the $8.2 million effort to develop a new, 40-plus unit building for youth and young mothers across the street from the Cornerstone — or simply buying a coffee from the YOU Made It Cafe.

Parks agrees. After all, she didn’t know anyone when she moved to London three years ago, but now has a strong network of people she can count on.

As that change was created through the support provide through YOU, she’s not going to let a little thing like standing in front of 1,200 people stop her from supporting the organization in any way she can.

“I used to stand outside the building and now I’m speaking for the building. So that shows you that YOU can make a pretty big difference in your life,” she said. “This is important to me and outweighs everything else. Of course, I get anxious about it, but the benefits of speaking in front of that crowd outweigh the risks.”

Civic Engagement Fair offers window into city hall

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Some 100 Londoners turned out to chat with city staff during the inaugural Civic Engagement Fair, held Jan. 25 at Goodwill Industries.

For many Londoners, city hall can be an intimidating space, particularly when someone is reaching out for the first time.

To help ease that sense of anxiety, The Urban League of London decided to reach out to the civic administration around the idea of doing something they already do on a regular basis — engage the wider community.

The results was the inaugural Civic Engagement Fair, held Jan. 25, at Goodwill Industries.

Urban League of London President Wes Kinghorn said the city has been doing “some really great engagement,” especially around the strengthening neighbourhoods process, so it made sense to do something to build upon that momentum.

“If you are a citizen approaching city hall, it can be daunting. There are multiple buildings, multiple departments on multiple floors, but for this event, we’ve compressed city hall into one room,” Kinghorn said. “You can literally walk from department to department and chat and learn. What we created is a miniature city hall, which is really cool.”

Some 100 people turned out for the fair, which feature nearly 30 staffers from various city service areas offering a mix of short presentations and casual tableside conversations.

The idea, Kinghorn said, is to offer participants the chance to learn more about “who does what” at the city and how people can get further involved.

Getting involved is something Barry Coulter has done a lot of in recent years.

A self-described “interested Londoner,” Coulter attended the fair because the more he has found out about how the city operates, the more impressed he has been with the work that is being done on a regular basis.

And while he feels comfortable in the building, he recognizes not everyone necessarily would feel the same way.

“I think city hall is actually pretty inviting. Any time I’ve been in there I’ve felt warmly welcome,” he said. “But around any government people, there would be hesitation by some. I think something like this, in a neutral location . . . this is a good setting.”

John Fleming, City of London Managing Director Planning and City Planner, welcomed the opportunity presented by the fair.

He lauded the Urban League for bringing the idea forward as it offers yet another way to engage the public, something Fleming said is essential in building community.

“We’re always looking for new and meaningful ways to reach out to people. It’s a chance to get outside the bureaucracy of places we normally reside and into the community to have an informal chat with folks,” he said. “I think something like this humanizes the services we provide. It’s really more of a chit-chat.”

City of London CEO Martin Hayward agreed the fair offered staff the opportunity to talk about “a lot of the good stuff we do,” while also providing that face-to-face interaction often essential in building relationships.

It’s an experience, he added, that was learned through ongoing efforts to provide Londoners with greater engagement around the budget process.

“We found through the budget process, where we did something similar, it demystified the budget for people, they were able to ask questions . . . when they heard the answers, it made sense,” he said. “This one-on-one, asking questions of staff, it’s a good thing. We do a lot of good work in the community and the staff are proud of what they do; they want to share that.”

Hanna Kim, a member of London Youth Advisory Council, said the fair offered participants the chance to become better educated on a number of subjects.

For example, she found the fair offered “a good representation” of what’s going on in the city, including highly visible topics such as ranked ballots, bus rapid transit and poverty — just three issues represented during the course of the evening.

“I think engagement is important,” she said. “It is important people know what their government is doing, and that they are open about it, not doing things behind closed doors. I think this is a good environment.”

London Music Office, Fanshawe College partner on Music Cities Exchange

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The London Music Office is partnering with Hamilton’s music office and Fanshawe College for the Music Cities Exchange on Friday, Jan. 26.

Building a strong Music City is about breaking down barriers, opening doors for musicians, and helping the local music industry grow.

One way the London Music Office is doing that is by hosting Music Cities Exchange, a program designed to give emerging artists an opportunity to perform and build an audience outside of their hometown.

Working together with the City of Hamilton’s Hamilton Music City, the London Music Office is bringing Steel City and London together for the next edition of Music Cities Exchange on Friday, Jan. 26.

“Creating practical opportunities for musicians, students and the local industry is at the centre of the Music Cities Exchange program,” said London Music Industry Development Officer Cory Crossman. “Through the Music Cities Exchange, musicians gain exposure in new markets, students gain hands-on experience, and the local industry develops.”

Hamilton artists Emay and Basement Revolver will join the Forest City’s own Anela and The Early Hours, as well as Brighter Green, in performing at Fanshawe College’s Centre for Digital and Performance Arts Theatre.

The event is being organized in partnership with Fanshawe College, giving students in the Theatre Arts Technical Production program a hands-on learning opportunity managing production for the event including lighting, audio and front-end office work.

“We love being able to collaborate with our community partners, such as the London Music Office,” said Centre for Digital and Performance Arts Supervisor Michelle Giroux. “The learning opportunity that exists with this type of collaboration allows for the students in the Theatre Arts – Technical Production program to build their skills and experience first-hand what it takes to put together a live music showcase. We are looking forward to a night of live music and welcoming the community into the centre.”

This is the second Music Cities Exchange event hosted with Hamilton Music City.

Previously, London music groups Mountain of Wolves and The Pairs performed in Hamilton. Music Cities Exchange events have also taken place with Sudbury, Kitchener, Toronto and Mississauga, with eight London artists having the opportunity to perform at high exposure concerts in new markets through this program.

“This is another way we’re fostering collaboration and growth through our music city initiative,” said Mayor Matt Brown. “We want to showcase what London and our region has to offer, all while helping young people realize their potential in this industry.”

Admission is free to attend the event, but non-perishable food donations will be accepted for the London Food Bank.

Visit www.londonmusicoffice.com for other Music Cities Exchange events and opportunities for musicians.

Temporary Overdose Prevention Site to open in downtown London

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The site for London’s first Temporary Overdose Prevention Site, 186 King St., was announced on Jan. 19.

A new tool in the struggle to solve London’s opioid drug crisis is closer to reality.

One week after submitting an application and two days after police announced three deaths and two hospitalizations from suspected drug overdoses this week, it was announced at a media conference Jan. 19 that a Temporary Overdose Prevention Site (TOPS) has been approved to open in the downtown core.

The Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care has approved the application for a TOPS with one-time funding of $130,700. The TOPS will be located at 186 King St. and will share space with Regional HIV/AIDS Connection.

As the Counterpoint Needle and Syringe Program currently operates there, the TOPS location is already familiar to people who use injection drugs.

“This is a turning point in how we respond to the crisis that has gripped the London area for years,” said Dr. Chris Mackie, Medical Officer of Health and CEO at the Middlesex-London Health Unit. “This isn’t the only change that needs to happen, but it represents a significant step in turning the tide and supporting vulnerable people who struggle with addiction every day.”

The facility is expected to open in mid-February, and will provide people who use injection drugs with a space where they can use those drugs under the supervision of health professionals in order to prevent overdose deaths.

“I know my community in London has been concerned by this growing crisis, and I am proud that we will be the first city in Ontario to have an overdose prevention site,” said London North Centre MPP Deb Matthews. “Thanks to the thoughtful collaboration of London’s strong community and health partners who have worked quickly and diligently with the Ontario government to make this possible, we will help save lives.”

The creation of a TOPS in London became possible in December of 2017, when the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care announced an expanded response to Ontario’s opioid drug crisis.

In addition to equipping police and fire services with the overdose-reversing drug Naloxone, Health Minister Dr. Eric Hoskins wrote to the federal government requesting that Ontario be allowed to approve and fund overdose prevention sites.

In response, the Health Unit and Regional HIV/AIDS Connection began considering suitable locations and drafted the application for a facility in London, with the support of partners including London Intercommunity Health Centre, Addiction Services of Thames Valley, the Southwest Ontario Aboriginal Health Access Centre, and London CAReS.

“We’re at a critical time in the fight against these drugs,” said Regional HIV/AIDS Connection Executive Director Brian Lester. “There is increased awareness about how bad the situation has become and opinions are changing about what can be done. This facility will save lives.”

Once it opens its doors, London’s TOPS will be open Monday to Friday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Saturdays and Sundays from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

While the announcement of the TOPS is important, work to prepare an application for one or more permanent Supervised Consumption Facilities for London will continue.

Ontario commits up to $170 million for London BRT plan

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London North Centre MPP Deb Matthews, along with provincial transport minister Steven Del Duca, have announced the province will provide up to $170 million for London’s BRT plan.

The Ontario government has announced it is investing in the London Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) — a new transit project proponents say will connect people in the Forest City with work, school, appointments and activities faster, while increasing transit ridership and helping manage congestion.

Transportation Minister Steven Del Duca and London North Centre MPP Deb Matthews were in London Jan. 15 to announce the province is funding the new transit project.

“The Ontario government is providing up to $170 million to support London’s BRT system,” Del Duca said. “We want to ensure that neighbourhoods in London can thrive and prosper through better and more efficient transit infrastructure that will help get people where they need to go faster and easier. Our government’s investments in public transit will help us manage congestion, curb emissions, create more jobs and build better communities.”

The BRT system will provide commuters with 23.7 kms of rapid transit along London’s busiest corridors, connecting neighbourhoods, businesses and post-secondary institutions in the city to the downtown core.

The project builds on other major transit projects across the region, including continued progress on a new high-speed rail line that would cut travel times between London and Toronto to 73 minutes.

Together, Matthews said these investments will help create a rapid transit network in London that connects key hubs of economic, academic and social and cultural activity.

“Today’s announcement is great news for Londoners and our economy,” Matthews said. “This investment in our transit system will make London a more competitive and attractive location for business. Having access to rapid transit will improve the quality of life for those that work and live in London.”

Ontario is investing $170 million to build the new London BRT system. The total estimated cost for London’s BRT system is $498 million. The City of London has committed $130 million towards the capital costs.

The City of London will be responsible for all the ongoing operating and maintenance costs of the project.

“It is a huge day for London. This is going to provide Londoners with better transit everywhere, this system is the cornerstone of The London Plan and will change the way we move and grow,” Brown said. “This $170-million represents the single largest investment our provincial partners have ever made in our community. Thank you to our partners at Queen’s Park for sharing council’s vision for our city.”

Construction is phased and estimated to begin on the east corridor in 2020 and on the north corridor in 2022, with the opening of these corridors in 2023 and 2026 respectively. Construction would then begin on the south corridor in 2023 and on the west corridor in 2025, and open by 2026 and 2028.

Under the Gas Tax Program, Ontario also provided the City of London with more than $119 million for the improvement and expansion of public transit since 2004.