Reflections on cannabis legalization

Marijuana leaves (Shutterstock)

I was listening to a cannabis entrepreneur on the radio talking about his company’s THC-infused non-alcoholic products and their degree of intoxication the other day, when it suddenly hit me what a paradigm shift (I hate that term, but it fits here) Canadian society has experienced in regard to marijuana harvesting, sales and distribution, and consumption.

Almost overnight, the cannabis sector has become a legal multi-million dollar industry set to kick into operation throughout the land on Wednesday, October 17. Some provinces will have retail outlets – private or government-run – open for business, while others will sell cannabis online.

What’s more overwhelming is how many former “straights” like former Toronto and London police chief and former federal Cabinet minister, Julian Fantino, who have taken entrepreneurial leadership roles in the sector. This is the same guy who once compared legalizing weed to legalizing murder. WTF? I guess money trumps everything.

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Fantino, a longtime opponent of marijuana legalization, told the Toronto Sun in 2004 that legalization would not cut down on crime, adding: “I guess we can legalize murder too and then we won’t have a murder case. We can’t go that way.”

As someone who came of age in the 1960s when pot was very much a demonized illegal substance –  see movies like The Devil’s Weed and Reefer Madness – and usually only consumed by so-called fringe groups like hippies, artists and musicians (famous and otherwise), this change in attitudes in not only welcome but mind-boggling and a reminder of how old I am.

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The movie Reefer Madness, released in the 1930s, continued to influence attitudes to cannabis well into the 1950s and 1960s.

Indeed, I remember two infamous London narcs – Dave Tennant, who is now a big wheel in real estate development, and Brian Garroway – chasing teenagers around town and busting them for nickel and dime bags. Those were the days!

To be quite honest, I never thought I would live to see the day when it would be legalized.

Be here we are.

Let the great social experiment begin!

[To see how far attitudes have changed, check out this Link for the full length movie Reefer Madness released in 1936 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zhQlcMHhF3w%5D

The Wife is enthralling drama

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Just saw The Wife at the Hyland Cinema.

I didn’t know what to expect going in and was completely enthralled by what I saw on the screen.

The film is about an affluent older couple, celebrated author Joe Castleman and his supportive wife Joan, who seem to have it all . We learn how they met and fell in love through a series of flashbacks.

However, Joan questions her life choices as she travels to Stockholm with her flirtatious husband, where he is slated to receive the Nobel Prize for Literature.

While there it becomes obvious that they have a carefully guarded secret about their working relationship – which I will not reveal here in deference to those people who plan on seeing it.

The Wife has stellar cast led by veteran actress Glenn Close who gives an Oscar worthy performance. Other cast members include Christian Slater, Elizabeth McGovern, and Max Irons.

See it before it’s gone.

Directed by Björn Runge. Screenplay by Jane Anderson based on the novel The Wife by Meg Wolitzer.

 

Travel Blog: 12 Days on The Viking Trail of Newfoundland and Labrador

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One the places in Canada I have always wanted to visit is the province of Newfoundland and Labrador. Partially, I must admit, because of those beautiful promotional TV commercials put out by the province’s Tourism Office. You know the ones — red-haired children running along rugged coastlines and views of the Viking site L’Anse aux Meadows.

That wish became reality this July when my partner, Val Cavalini, and I, spent 12 glorious days touring the province by bus on Hanover Holidays’ The Viking Trail of Newfoundland and Labrador.

Rather than highlight each site and landmark we visited, I will structure this Blog under four headings: The Land, The People, The Culture, and The Tour.

The Land

Indeed, Newfoundland and Labrador is very much a wild, untamed region of Canada.

Calling it The Rock is not a derogatory stereotype, it’s a geological fact. We saw and visited many ports and seaside harbour communities and landmarks including St. John’s ( the provincial capital), Rocky Harbour, Cornerbrook, Signal Hill, St. Anthony, L’Anse aux Meadows, Gander, and many others.

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A highlight of the tour was our visit to magnificent Gros Morne National Park — a breathtaking geological wonder that should be on anyone’s itinerary if visiting the province. L’Anse aux Meadows, the site of the Viking Village believed to been settled by Leif the Lucky in the year 1000, is also a must-see.

Each location had its own identity and stories to tell.

Wildlife?

We saw plenty including three moose, one black bear, thousands of puffins, several whales, foxes, harbour seals, and gulls. One thing we learned is that there are no skunks or groundhogs on the island.

For two people who were primarily raised in an urban environment, the landscape of the province was simply breathtaking.

The People

To be sure, one thing visitors to Newfoundland and Labrador should do immediately is toss out all of their lingering preconceived stereotypes of dumb, indolent “Newfies.”

Nothing could be farther from the truth.

The Newfoundlanders and Labradorians we encountered were intelligent, resourceful folks who all expressed extreme pride in their province. All of them were natural-born story-tellers  with wicked senses of humour.

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Most were old enough to remember when the bottom fell out of the province’s local fisheries economy when the federal government halted the cod fishing industry in 1992 due to over-fishing. They remember leaving the province to find work elsewhere and using all of their resources and resilience to survive the hard times.

Many have returned home with skills and tools they are now employing in their native province.

Younger entrepreneurial Newfoundlanders like Jen, the young woman we met in Gros Morne Park, who owns and operates a Newfoundland Wildlife Interpretative Centre with her husband, are proof that the province is in good hands for the future.

By the way, just about everyone we met thanked us for joining Newfoundland in 1949.

The Culture

Music, storytelling and beautiful crafts account for most of the province’s culture.

We listened to several live musicians and groups, all of whom brought their style to the traditional music of the island. East Coast music is infectious and you can’t help but stomp your foot and sing along.

It may be a bit of an overstatement, but every “Newf” we encountered seemed to have a story to tell — usually one that was self-deprecating and had a twist. Many were politically incorrect, but who cares?

On the bus, we listened to one of the province’s leading comedians, Jimmy the Janitor, who had us in stitches.

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Newfoundland crafts are, in a word, beautiful. Handmade items like socks, quilts, hats, silk screens and wood carvings were scooped up by our fellow bus-trippers.

Oh, and the food and drink. We ate our share of local cod, salmon, crab cakes, and lobster, all of which was delicious.

We were introduced to a local beer — Iceberg Beer — brewed with water from 20,000 year old icebergs. It was delicious, but unfortunately it is not available out of province.

We also became members of The Royal Order of Screechers with our shot of Screech Rum and obligatory Kissing of the Cod.

The Bus Tour

I know many people prefer to set their own itineraries and pace when traveling, but we have always preferred to let professionals familiar with the location introduce us to the sights of places we have visited, especially for the first time.

This is why we chose Hanover Holiday’s 12-day Viking Trail of Newfoundland and Labrador bus tour.

Our Tour Guide, Jan, and Bus Driver, Ron, were born and bred Newfoundlanders with a wealth of knowledge and anecdotal stories about every one of the sites we visited. Both were professional, approachable and very personable.

The hotels were for the most part excellent with all the amenities one would expect on a 12-day bus tour. Jag Hotel in St. John’s deserves special mention for its classic rock decor.

In terms of ranking, we would give the tour 5 out of 5 Stars. Highly recommended!

Cost: Twin – $4695.00, Single – $5699.00

For more information about the tour, visit http://www.hanoverholidays.com/

 

 

Review: Lisa Brandt’s Make The Media Want You

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Got a charity fund-raising event coming up and you want to get some free publicity for it?

Got a book release scheduled for the local Chapters store and you want people to know about it?

Are you a member of a new band playing its very first show and you want to publicize it without spending any money?

If you answered YES to any of these questions, have a I got a book for you.

London media veteran Lisa Brandt has compiled a small, but very informative book, on how to make your pitch to the media about your event in Make The Media Work For You: An Insider’s Guide To Creating Persuasive Pitches.

Brandt pulls no punches in telling readers what to do and what not to do in pitching their events to the media.

In her Preface, she begins by stating: “We [media] don’t owe you airtime or an article.” This may not seem obvious to would-be pitchers, but it is the hard cold truth.

Brandt proceeds to tell her readers that media folks don’t have time to meet with pitchers to discuss their event.

But, probably the most important word of advice she gives is “Your idea needs a story,” in that it needs to teach something worth knowing, introduce listeners/readers to someone or something extraordinary, or bring a solution to a common problem.

In her first chapter, From Idea to Airtime, Brandt explains in blunt, straightforward language the art of putting together a successful pitch. Without giving away too many details, let’s just say that it involves timing, content and approach.

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In the following chapters, Brandt includes advice from other broadcasters and media people, including Toronto broadcaster Erin Davis and London publisher Barb Botten, the lady behind the Villager publications.

She also covers Off-Site Events and Interviews. The latter is very informative as it explains how to prepare for an on-air interview and how to handle yourself while on-air.

This is a very informative book and it is written in Lisa Brandt’s signature witty conversational style.

It should be required reading for all publicists, event planners and artists/musicians interested in pitching their events.

Rick Young, July 9, 2018

 

Cruisin’ Classics is perfect summer theatre

It’s 2018. Picture a 1950s drive-in diner that’s seen better days, with a For Sale by Owner sign on its boarded-up windows, and half of its neon lights out or inoperable. Throw in a couple of diner booths, resplendent in red and white leather and chrome trim and you have the set for Cruisin’ Classics, now playing at the Huron Country Playhouse until July 7.

Joshua Warren and Company, Cruisin Classics, RGAMedia Inc., 2018

Onto this set appears The Man in the Diner (presumably Chuck the name on the drive-in’s facade), an older gentleman who starts talking about how school is out and how he hopes the kids who patronize his establishment will return. He says that he opened the diner in 1955, the same year his daughter was born. The one that married a musician — not even a real musician, a drummer — and left the diner behind. He tells the audience that he is waiting for a real estate agent to discuss the sale of the diner.

While cleaning up the diner’s facade, The Man in the Diner (played convincingly by Paul Lewis) begins reminiscing about what things were like back in the 1950s and early 1960s when Chuck’s was a-rocking.

Bursting onto the stage at that point is the production’s six talented featured vocalists with a collection of songs related to the theme of School’s Out, including Bill Haley’s Rock Around The Clock, At The Hop by Danny and the Juniors, and Brian Hyland’s Sealed With A Kiss.

It’s just the beginning of a whirlwind two hours of continuous music and nostalgia featuring poodle skirts, ponytails, rolled-up jeans, jiving and posturing.

The Man in the Diner plays the role of the narrator guiding the audience through the times, talking about the trials and tribulations of the kids who frequented his diner, while introducing the ten themes around which the numerous tunes are grouped.

The stellar six piece band, dressed in matching gold satin suits, is driven by drummer Ken Post who propels the production forward aided by the likes of Robert Martin, an accomplished reeds player who plays every sax solo you remember from this period’s music. Rounding out the band is guitarist Eric Mahar who provides some tasty licks, Rich Levesque on bass, Rob Asseltine on piano, and Rob Christian on keyboards. Madeline Champagne and Lloyd Lawrence provide background vocals.

But it’s the show’s six featured vocalists — Kyra Mastro, Connor Meek, Brooklyn Roebuck, Meghan Shanley, Joshua Warren and O’neil Watson — who are front and centre throughout the show that really bring the music alive.

Dressed in an apparent bottomless drawer of period costumes, the six young singers gyrate, dance and posture their way through the show’s fifty songs (yes you read that right, fifty), bringing each one to life.

Especially notable is Watson’s rendition of Sam Cooke’s You Send Me and Little Richard’s Good Golly Miss Molly. Roy Orbison’s Crying gets a great workout by Shanley and Warren. But, perhaps, the tunes in which all six vocalists are featured stand above the rest.

By show’s end, The Man in the Diner has decided to keep his drive-in open for another generation of kids, and the cast closes the show with a rousing rendition of Neil Sedaka’s Breaking Up Is Hard to Do.

To be sure, Cruisin’ Classics is everything one looks for in Summer theatre. It’s fun, not too challenging to the old noggin, nostalgic and brimming with talented singers and musicians.

Make sure you cruise down to see it before it moves on.

Rick Young, June 29, 2018

Kings & Queens of Country: Pure Enjoyment from Start to Finish

Company of Kings and Queens of Country, Drayton Entertainment, 2018 Season

You don’t have to be a country music fan to enjoy Kings & Queens of Country, now playing at Huron Country Playhouse II until June 30.

Indeed, the onstage performers and non-stop music is so irresistable, you will find yourself singing along and clapping your hands to such classic favourites as Roger Miller’s King of the Road and Tammy Wynette’s Stand By Your Man.

To be sure, this is not the genre known as New Country with its bare mid-drift tops and bare-chested Cowboys, it’s the classic stuff heard at the Grand Ole Opry and on TV shows like Hee Haw.

Conceived and directed by Drayton Entertainment Artistic Director, Alex Mustakas, Kings and Queens is pure joy. Speaking to Mustakas during the Intermission, he told me and Joe Belanger from the London Free Press that the play has had a large emotional impact on its Company, some of whom have been drawn to tears by audience reception.

And it’s easy to understand why.  For people of a certain age and background, Kings and Queens is the soundtrack to their lives.

The sheer number of songs the talented and versatile Company plays prevents any listing of them. Let’s just say, if you’re a fan of classic country you won’t come away disappointed.

The play’s 9-person Company,  Al Braatz, Kevin Dempsey, Earl Filsinger, Tyler Check, Chelsey Duplak, Kelly Holiff, Michael Cox, J. Sean Elliot and Steve Thomas, channels all the biggest stars from Johnny Cash to Glen Campbell to  Patsy Cline to Hank Snow to Dolly Parton and everyone in between.

Close your eyes and you will swear the Real McCoy is onstage.

Full Disclosure: Neither I nor my partner Val Cavalini is a big country music fan, classic or new, so we didn’t know what to expect from Kings & Queens of Country.

We were pleasantly surprised and drove home to London singing the tunes we had heard that evening.

You will, too.

Rick Young, June 15, 2018.

 

Happy Birthday The Voices of Broadway Show Choir!

Perfection and fun.

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These are the two words that immediately came to my mind after last night’s Our First Five Years concert by London’s Voices of Broadway Show Choir at a packed Wolf Performing Arts Centre.

Narrated by Jim Swan, the concert took the audience on a guided tour of the 35 member choir’s first years of life. And, oh, what a five years it has been.

Under the leadership of its animated Artistic/Musical Director, Julie Pietrangelo, VOB concerts have become must-see events on people’s Calendars.

Five years ago, I wrote the following in a Review of VOB’s very first show, Broadway Blitz in January 2014:

“Indeed, if its inaugural concert is any indication, Londoners will be hearing and seeing a lot more of The Voices of Broadway Show Choir and its Artistic Director in the months to come.”

Well, Londoners have indeed heard a lot more of VOB and its Artistic Director. According to the program for Our First 5 Years, the choir has logged 2,628,000 minutes of music over the past five years. That’s a lot of music!

Our First 5 Years began with a most fitting number — A Musical, a number which literally outlined why musicals are so popular with audiences.

This was followed by Broadway Blockbusters, a medley of tunes like One, and Do You Hear The People Sing. Next came Newsies, featuring the founding members of VOB who are still with the group.

A flag bearer accompanied the choir on Anthem from the musical Chess. Tansy Dinn was the soloist.

Two whimsical tunes from Mary Poppins followed. Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious gave audience members a chance to join in as the lyrics were projected on a back-screen.

The choir absolutely killed Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody from the musical We Will Rock You. Samantha Brocksom was a fantastic soloist and choir member Mel Atkins presented a most ambitious dance solo during the number.

Act 1 closed out with numbers from the musicals American Idiot, The Book of Mormon and Grease. Hello from The Book of Mormon included an in joke which re-appeared throughout the rest of the night.

Act 2 opened with a medley of tunes from crowd favourite Hair, complete with period props and wigs. Songwriter/songstress Carole King got the spotlight with a medley of hits from Beautiful: The Carole King Musical.

The Men of the Voices of Broadway were featured in the always popular Always Look On The Bright Side from Spamalot.

Soloist Janice Oldham elicited ample audience participation for You Can’t Stop The Beat from Hairspray. A medley of Motown hits followed in Motown: The Musical.

A number of VOB soloists were featured in a stirring medley of tunes from the Broadway smash hit, Hamilton.

Welcome to The Rock from Come From Away did Canada proud.

Coffee (In a Cardboard Cup) from 70, Girls, 70 closed out the program.

In keeping with VOB’s devotion to audience participation, choir members walked off the Wolf Performance Hall stage and thanked audience members for coming and engaging them in conversation.

In short, it was a great evening of Broadway choral music — exactly what people have come to expect of VOB.

Here’s to the next 5 years.

Reviewed by Rick Young, June 9, 2018