The Shiverz Magazine - September, 2000
John McDermott Wows Gananoque Again
By Janet Reed
Gananoque loves John McDermott and I can see why. It was my distinct pleasure to talk with him while Kelli Trottier warmed the crowd with her rousing fiddle tunes and sparkling voice at the Festival of the Islands on Sunday evening, August 13th.
Being of both Scottish and Irish descent is certainly part of his appeal, but there is definitely more. A sensitivity emerges even in a brief conversation with him. Amid numerous backstage comments as to how good Ms. Trottier was, Mr. McDermott spoke to me of his own music. " We don't get alot of airplay, but we have a wonderful audience. There's a loyalty that a lot of artists, I think, don't understand and should pay more attention to. Our music tells a story and 'brings up a smell in the house' of various memories."
Indeed, most of his work does evoke a feeling, a love or a place, probably because it's usually based on factual events.
Songs like "The Wall" , or "When I Grow Too Old To Dream" certainly do stir up a lot of emotion.
His apparent quick rise to fame does not seem so quick to him. What we perceive as sudden, he sees as gradual, hoping to use this "education" to help others. "We were not twenty years old when we started out and we've all been together since day one. We knew the expectations of this industry and in seven years we've learned a tremendous amount about how to overcome the hurdles that artists may come across. We're setting something up to create better opportunities for them (other musicians)."
This former Toronto Star employee has himself, become a truly international star with performances in such places as Belfast, Los Angeles, Baltimore, and Sail Boston 2000 with the Boston Pops. Still, he remains very genuine and true to his roots which is especially evident when he speaks of his parents, who were the greatest influence on his life, both musically and otherwise.
Because his dad served in the war and his mother lost her brothers in a prison camp in Malaysia, McDermott's cause became veterans. He considers the naming of McDermott House, a home in Washington, D.C. for twenty-seven homeless veterans on the road to self-sufficiency, the greatest honour of his career. The Hope McDermott Fund, in memory of his mother who passed away in January, is a vehicle through which he continues to initiate and promote veteran assistance programs.
"You can see the results. I'm getting
goosebumps just thinking about it," he recalls. " I remember the first
homeless guy I'd ever met . He had no teeth and you could smell him a mile away.
He'd lost his dignity, but he had so much pride, and it was that pride that was
keeping him away from help. We convinced him that it would be a good thing for
him to stay, not as a charity case. He'd have to pull his own weight .... The
next time I saw him, he was working hard to get back on his feet."
McDermott then expressed concerns that the younger generation is not taught enough about wartime history to develop a sense of pride in veterans and what they did for us. "If it's not there (in the history books), then it didn't happen. How ludicrous!" he states firmly. He feels strongly that we need to instill in our children a sense of respect by teaching them what happened.
It was very easy to see what a compassionate and caring person he really is. In October, look for a new CD of all love songs, he told me. Fans will be delighted to learn that he hopes to do one of just hymns and another of Big Band sounds. Also, he's working on a PBS special in November or January.
As Ms. Trottier was enjoying her standing ovation, I anxiously took my place under the full moon and almost cloudless sky to simply listen. I knew we were in for a treat as the first song asked, "Did you ever go Across the Sea to Ireland?"
McDermott was truly entertaining with more than his music, as the witty anecdotes rolled in, one by one.
You could tell that he enjoys Gan and he loves what he does. He knows how to create the proper mood for each and every song, some with humour, and some, even with all the lights off. Although he took several "digs" at his band members, they displayed their outstanding talents in a couple of instrumental pieces like the "Orange Blossom Special", which I'm sure had never been played at such a speed.
McDermott sang a varied selection of pieces including "Morning of the Carnival", "One Small Star", about a mother who's child was murdered in a school massacre, and my personal favourite, "I'll Be Seeing You". He recounted an endearing story of his mother and dad's fifty-five year old marriage, clearly demonstrating the high regard in which he holds them.
As he sang of his father and what he had learned from him as a lad, I thought what a wonderful man he must have been to have his ninth child of twelve speak so fondly of him. Then, in that sweet, Irish, tenor voice that we had savoured for the past two hours, he delighted us all with "Danny Boy". What could match that?
He too, easily, earned a standing ovation, the audience being anxious to show their appreciation. After his sincere thanks to those of the festival, he graciously offered to sign autographs and also to return again next year.
The crowd liked that idea.
They liked it a lot.