Sunday afternoon at Starbucks

I must admit that, years ago, I pined for a Starbucks and an Indigo in Saint John. But that was before Java Moose and more recently, Inprint, came on the scene – a local coffee shop and a local bookstore that filled a void long felt by Saint Johners with a taste for strong, high-quality coffee and a good book store to browse through on a Sunday afternoon. Along came Indigo and Starbucks anyway, in spite of – or perhaps because of – existing local options that demonstrated a market was there for quality coffee and book shops.

Perhaps fitting for Saint John, Starbucks first opened a stand-alone, box-store-style outlet on the east side – a striking departure from their urban roots on big-city street corners. It comes as no surprise then that they would open uptown in a mall, rather than in an historic building with a street view. I spent this afternoon marking papers in the new outlet in Brunswick Square. Note to Randy and Glen: A loyal Java Moose person, I promise I won’t go to Starbucks during the week, and I’ll stop going at all if you open the Prince William Java Moose Sunday afternoons. – Mark Leger

Liberty celebrates ECMA nominations, 40th b-day

About a year ago, I wrote a commentary about the most intimate and unexpected music venues in Saint John: the old Sessions cafe in Rothesay, Shadow Lawn Inn, and The Blue Olive on Rothesay Avenue. And now you can add the Vintage Bistro in Hampton to that list. Behind many of the first-rate shows at these venues is promoter Jeff Liberty, recently nominated for two 2010 ECMA awards – Manager of the Year, and Media Person of the Year.

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Low-income residents encouraged by reforms

The following commentary kicked off the November 19th episode of ‘Serf City’, which featured an interview with Juanita Black, a Crescent Valley resident and community activist, about how low-income New Brunswickers will benefit from sweeping reforms to the province’s social assistance program. Listen to the interview here.

By Mark Leger

Last Friday, I led a workshop with women from Saint John’s low-income neighbourhoods. We were talking about how get media outlets to do stories on initiatives that would improve the lives of people living below the poverty line.

They aired a list of long-standing complaints against a provincial government that made it harder for them to get off social assistance and back into the workforce.

If you’re on social assistance, for example, you get health coverage for prescription drugs, dental work and eye care. If you get a job, you lose the coverage after a year. This is a big deal because most low-wage, entry level jobs have a health plan for employees.

If you and a friend are both collecting social assistance, you’re not allowed to live together. This makes life difficult because assistance rates are often not high enough to help get your life on track by paying down debts, saving money and covering day-to-day living expenses.

So here we have two impediments to living a comfortable, secure life, things most of us take for granted – adequate health coverage and economic stability. Continue reading

Dan Hill credits controling father for his success

By Mark Leger

When Dan Hill was 15 years old, his father burst into his room and demanded to know why he hadn’t yet “produced a sample” for his doctor. Hill had been diagnosed with orchitis, a painful condition that causes swelling of the testicles and can also render a guy sterile. Hill’s doctor asked for a semen sample so he could run a test. He hadn’t yet done that – hence the bedroom visit by his father.  

Hill begins his book, I Am My Father’s Son, with this story to illustrate the degree to which his father tried to control his life. This could be a good thing sometimes; Hill said he became successful as an adult largely because his father pushed him so hard. A memoir about his relationship with his late father, Hill’s book also explores his dad’s loving side. He was unfailingly loyal and protective of the people he loved, for example. One day, the family car stalled in the middle of the road after an accident, and Hill’s father immediately got out and pushed the car off the road to safety.

This book is not just for fans of Hill; it will speak to anyone interested in the complicated relationships between children and their parents. Not only did it make me reflect on my own relationship with my father, it also echoed other books I’ve read that touched on father-son relationships, such as Barack Obama’s Dreams of My Father and Ken Wiwa’s In the Shadow of a Saint. Continue reading

A marathon studio session with Mike Biggar

Mike Biggar’s music career started at the age of six when he was propped up on piano bench behind a church pulpit, and told to belt out a tune for the assembled congregation. Three decades later, the Rothesay singer-songwriter has released the EP, ‘Mike Biggar and The Big Breakfast Special’, and is looking forward to a showcase event at the East Coast Music Awards in Sydney, Nova Scotia, in March 2010.

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Saturday night songwriters’ circle

By Mark Leger

A songwriters’ circle is a rare treat that’s usually part of music awards weeks, and something you get to enjoy only if you happen to live in or travel to the host town. So don’t pass up the opportunity to attend The Canadian Songbook performance Saturday night at the Louis Vermeersch Theatre in the north end.

The line-up is truly impressive. Two of them are children of Canadian music legends, and great singer-songwriters in their own right. Catherine MacLellan is the daughter of the late Gene MacLellan, who wrote such classic songs as Snowbird and Put Your Hand in the Hand. Nathan Rogers is the son of Stan Rogers.

The other two performers are veteran Canadian singer-songwriters Bernie Bentall and Murray MacLauchlin. (One of his tunes was part of the soundtrack of my youth: ‘Try Walkin Away’. You can hear it on his myspace page.)

On Thursday afternoon, I chatted with Catherine MacLellan before her show at The Playhouse. We aired that interview on this week’s edition of Serf City. She talks about her music, the magic of songwriters’ circles, her family and her father. You can listen to the interview here.

The South End has the bear necessities

The following commentary kicked off the October 8th edition of ‘Serf City’. ECMA award-winner Dave Gunning was our guest this week. He was in town touring his new album, ‘We’re all leaving’. The full broadcast can be heard here.

By Mark Leger

I realized this week that I’m entering the Baby Bear phase of my life. You remember Golilocks and the Three Bears. She stumbled upon their house in the woods and wanted to take a nap. Papa Bear’s bed was too hard and Mama Bear’s was too soft, but Baby Bear’s was just right.

Growing up, I fancied myself a man of extremes. Either I was going to live in a big, bustling city or a really small town. No mediocre middle ground, which for me meant the suburbs. Now, I’m not about to move to one of Saint John’s bedroom communities, though I’ve softened my views over the years and no longer think of them as “mediocre middle grounds.”

I’m talking about making peace with the city centre of Saint John. I no longer long for it to be big and bustling like New York or Toronto, or even Halifax. I’m actually embracing its small-town character.

It’s not too big, it’s not too small. It’s just right. Continue reading