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Take a trip to the 1920s jazz scene with the Boxcar Boys this weekend

When you spy a bunch of 20-somethings setting up on stage for a concert, most people foreshadow a raucous indie rock show full of jumps, leg jerks and sweaty moshpits.

But when you see Toronto’s Boxcar Boys set up all over town this weekend, it won’t take you long to figure out that you’re in for something a little different.

Maybe it’s the massive brass sousaphone you see on stage that tips you off; perhaps it’s the sexiest accordion player you’ve ever spotted; or maybe it’s the dude sitting on a plastic bucket, scratching an old washboard that will confirm that this ain't no regular show.

They may all be in their 20s, but they play songs that were written long before they even had ears.

And they nail it.

“I think a portion of where the sound comes from is the instrumentation,” says band leader and clarinet player John David Williams.

“We all play acoustic instruments and it sort of all just comes together to create that sound.”

The band is full of young players in their early and late 20s, an odd age to be playing original, 1920s jazz in a world bursting with DJs, EDM festivals and electro popping beats. But it’s the love of New Orleans jazz culture that can’t keep Williams and crew away from that organic sound.

“I think there is something in the simplicity that draws us to it. It’s just fun and honest.”

“A growing number of people are finding appeal in the sort of roughness of folk and acoustic music, versus the super sharp and clean sound you can come up with on a computer or mainstream pop music. There is a lot of beauty in the roughness and all the mistakes that comes with this sort of music.”

He’s right. There is a certain un-robotic feeling you get when listening to old-style acoustic music; a gratitude and appreciation knowing the song was crafted by weathered and withered human hands and puffing lips.

While he talks about simplicity in the sound, there is zero simplicity in the composition of these old-style songs, most of which are original tunes crafted by the Toronto six-piece. There is tons of improvisation and communication going on live on stage, as the band moves through odd time signatures and solos that will tickle your ears the right way. It has taken years and years of classical training, years of rehearsing with trusted bandmates, but perhaps most importantly, a decade or so of listening to the jazz greats who took over the airwaves from the 1920s to the early 70s.

While the rest of us were rocking out to Nirvana, Alice in Chains and Soundgarden, Williams was in his room, calmly listening to guys like Benny Goodman and Artie Shaw – those original jazz cats from the 1930s and 40s that later paved the way for jazz greats like Miles Davis, Charlie Parker and Herbie Hancock.

The band also dabbles in folk, Klezmer and wild gypsie music ­– tunes that will get hundreds of Ottawans moving and grooving this weekend at their stacked schedule of free weekend shows as part of Chamberfest.

The Boxcar Boys are playing six absolutely free shows over the weekend – everywhere from the ByWard Market to Lansdowne Park.

It’s the perfect opportunity to see a great band live with the family, the kids or that special someone you are in the midst of wooing. Take her or him to a vintage jazz show and who knows where things will go.

So strap up those suspenders, don that 40s era fedora and snap your fingers for a weekend full of great acoustic music.

Boxcar Boys shows

Saturday August 1 (“Ottawa Markets Tour”)

  • 11:00 AM, Main Farmer’s Market @ Canadian Museum of Nature
  • 12:00 PM, Parkdale Market
  • 1:00 PM, Ottawa Farmer’s Market @ Westboro
  • 5:00 – 7:00 PM, ByWard Market

Sunday August 2

  • 11:30 – 12:30 PM, ByWard Market
  • 5:30 – 6:30 PM, Lansdowne Park Summer Art Series (Water Plaza)

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