Stompin' Tom celebration brings fresh attention to music legend

TORONTO -- Celebrating Stompin' Tom Connors' legacy is starting to take on a life of its own.

Marking what would have been his 80th birthday on Tuesday, a band of longtime friends -- including Canada's former governor general Adrienne Clarkson -- will strum their way through Connors' most memorable tracks for their third annual tribute concert.

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The event, which takes place at the folk music venue Hugh's Room in Toronto, is one they hope will help elevate Stompin' Tom's reputation as the writer of Canada's cultural songbook.

"If he was around he'd still be singin' and stompin'," says Clarkson, taking a break from a recent rehearsal.

"It's the people who love Stompin' Tom, and people who would come in from all over the place ... to hear him while he was playing. That's what we're trying to replicate -- something he would be doing."

Three years after his death, the man known for "Bud the Spud," "The Hockey Song" and "Sudbury Saturday Night" still has many adoring fans.

Clarkson, who counts herself among them, met the singer when she was a CBC producer. The two immediately clicked when they realized their birthdays were only a day apart -- hers is on Feb. 10.

"He was completely timeless and ageless," she says. "It was a shock when he was dying."

Clarkson, who turns 77 Wednesday, took the stage last year alongside the Whiskey Jack band to pay homage to the singer. The performance went over well, which convinced her to make another appearance this year.

Whiskey Jack's history with Stompin' Tom runs much deeper. The seven-piece bluegrass and country band worked with Stompin' Tom on his 1993 album "Dr. Stompin' Tom, Eh?" which sparked a collaborative friendship that spanned two decades.

"We saw ourselves as kind of the house band," says Duncan Fremlin, co-founder of Whiskey Jack and one of the organizers of the tribute show.

"Over the years if he needed a band to play at his barbecue or birthday parties, or whatever, he'd call me and say, 'Can you bring the boys up?' So, of course we did -- we loved to do that."

When Stompin' Tom died of kidney failure those "good, ol'-fashion Maritime kitchen parties" he hosted began to fade away.

"We realized we weren't going to get called up to the birthday party anymore, so we said, 'Why don't we host our own?"' Fremlin remembers.

The tributes were an instant success, he says, attracting Canadian performers like comedian Sean Cullen and Tragically Hip guitarist Paul Langlois who both tipped their hat to Stompin' Tom with special appearances. This year, Fremlin promises another big Canadian performer will hit the stage as a surprise guest.

Clarkson hopes she too will be a part of future Stompin' Tom festivities, which she sees as growing in size each year.

"Certainly we hope there will be bigger ones when he's 85," she says.

Fremlin has an even more ambitious plan.

He hopes Canadians eventually celebrate a Stompin' Tom Day just like they do for Scottish poet Robbie Burns.

"Robbie Burns is associated with Scotch, haggis and 'Auld Lang Syne.' Well, I want Stompin' Tom to be associated with 'Bud the Spud,' 'Sudbury Saturday Night,' and room-temperature beer and potatoes," Fremlin says.

"He's going to be deified in the Canadian music establishment over time. I'm seeing it happen now."



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