Local Musicians Find New Stages
Story by Michael Seguin
They say you can’t keep a good musician down for long. Well, they don’t actually say that. But they might start, especially after hearing about how some of Windsor’s greatest bands found ways to deliver their amazing sounds during the COVID-19 pandemic.
A couple of these determined musicians include newcomers Leave Those Kids Alone and well-established mainstays like Mark Mailloux and Bigg Wiggle.
Leave Those Kids Alone
In some ways, for teen and preteen classic rock band Leave Those Kids Alone, nothing has really changed.
“We played so much during this pandemic,” Leave Those Kids Alone manager John-Paul Bonadonna states. “Last weekend, we played Friday, Saturday and Sunday. This weekend, we’re playing Friday, Saturday and Sunday. We haven’t stopped since mid-June! We’ve just been zigzagging across Windsor and Essex County. It’s awesome.”
Leave Those Kids Alone was formed in 2018. The band consists of Timothy Hole, John Dorman and John-Paul’s kids, Alex and Addisyn.
“They all take lessons together at Pete Palazzolo’s Canadian Conservatory of Music,” John-Paul explains. “Pete puts kids together for bands, so that come recital time at the end of the school year they can go out and play together. Being in bands since my teen years, I wondered what would happen if we got serious about this.”
For the last two years, Leave Those Kids Alone has graced stages all across Windsor and Essex County, at events such as the Strawberry Festival and the Harrow Fair. Leave Those Kids Alone has even been called the Windsor Spitfires’s “house band” because they played more than 10 games during each of the last two seasons.
John-Paul and Leave Those Kids Alone had planned on this being the biggest summer of their lives. The band even obtained their work visas, which would have allowed them to play gigs across the river. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic threw a wrench in those plans.
However, not ones to twiddle their thumbs, Leave Those Kids Alone took to the driveways.
“Instead of going to these other engagements, we decided to bring the entertainment to people,” John-Paul explains.
And despite everything, these outdoor neighborhood concerts have been some of the most rewarding experiences the band has ever had.
“The sincere thank yous that you get,” John-Paul marvels. “Someone last night said, ‘I have not done a single fun thing since March 13th.’ And for us, there’s something about setting up your PA on a driveway and seeing how engaged people are. We get people who hear the music in the distance, come investigate and are just blown away by these kids who aren’t even old enough to drive!”
So, despite a few hurdles, John-Paul was right. For Leave Those Kids Alone, this has been the biggest summer of their lives.
“I can’t wait to play tonight at seven o’clock,” John-Paul laughs. “And I can’t wait to play again tomorrow!”
Mark Mailloux and Jen Knight
Mark Mailloux began his musical journey with some reluctance.
“I played guitar but never thought that I could sing,” Mark explains. “I was never really too sure of myself in that regard. Then I got thrown into the pool, so to speak, when a friend of mine was playing out in Tecumseh. I told him I was going to go up and play the guitar while he sang. So, he called me up, handed me a guitar… and then walked away! So, I had to sing in front of friends and strangers. Afterwards I thought, ‘Hey, I wasn’t that bad.’”
Ever since, Mark has become one of the Windsor music industry’s most familiar faces. He’s primarily worked in acoustic-singer duos, most recently with Jen Knight.
However, when COVID-19 arrived on the scene, Mark and Jen were unwilling to part with their guitar and microphone. Using Facebook Live, the two have streamed a series of remote concerts for their legions of fans to enjoy.
“It’s really strange to be sitting in a room with a camera pointed at you,” Mark states. “It appears as though no one is listening. But, these events have actually been far more fulfilling than I would have guessed.”
Mark is overwhelmed by the community’s response to his streamed events.
“We can’t believe how many people are tuned into our Facebook Live shows,” Mark admits. “And of course, all the comments we’ve been getting. We assumed people would just be watching on their phones or laptops or tablets. But we started getting photos of people sitting in their living rooms with us on the big screen TV!”
Currently, Mark and Jen have performed six of these satellite concerts. Thanks to their Facebook shows, they’ve been able to raise $7,500 for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF), the Windsor Essex Food Bank Association (WEFBA) and Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA).
And when asked what he finds most rewarding about these exciting new venues, Mark turns towards the homestead.
“It means a lot that families were watching us, together,” Mark states. “One of the things that I’ve found interesting about the COVID experience is the amount of time families are spending together now. Kids aren’t doing dance lessons or soccer. It’s amazing to see the number of families you see just walking in the neighbourhood. You never saw that before! The idea that families were bonding while listening to our music is just amazing!”
In a music scene as storied as Windsor’s, Bigg Wiggle is something of a local legend.
“I formed the band 28 years ago,” Mike Cooper states. “It’s been under the same name, with essentially the same guys, ever since. We’ve had a real good run of things. We do 70 to 100 venues each year.”
Bigg Wiggle is currently comprised of musicians Mike Cooper, Dave LaBute, John “J.D.” Drew and Luc Michaud.
Like so many other local musicians, when the pandemic hit, Bigg Wiggle’s calendar suddenly cleared.
“We had many events cancelled,” Mike admits. “We play a lot of different venues. We do corporate events. Festivals. Weddings. Bars. It’s been tough! Having all those jobs get cancelled was understandable, but still stung.”
Bigg Wiggle even had to cancel their August 22nd Bigg Wiggle Fest 12. This year, the band was partnering with the Rotary Club of Windsor-Walkerville.
However, not content to let their instruments collect dust, Bigg Wiggle took to the outdoors in a series of live concerts.
“The first concert that we did was on my driveway,” Mike states. “We had to be respectful of the COVID conditions. I think people are just dying to get out and have some form of entertainment. I constantly get people telling me how much they enjoy these shows.”
And while finding appropriate live venues does pose a challenge, Mike plans on experimenting with the drive-in atmosphere.
“The drive-ins are pretty big in the States right now,” Mike explains. “You just set a stage up, people pull up in their cars and enjoy the music. It’s a bit limited around here, but there are some possibilities! And some of that is in the works.”
But now that Windsor has ambled into Stage 3, Bigg Wiggle plans on returning to some of their previous gigs.
“People need music right now,” Mike states. “People always need music. And we’re happy to provide.”