FRESHWATER, NL — One Newfoundlander was proud to represent the province at the recent Canadian Folk Music Awards in Ottawa.
Gerry Strong, a lifelong musician from Freshwater, recently received the Slaight Music Unsung Hero award at the Canadian Folk Music Awards, held on Nov. 18-19 in Ottawa, Ontario.
The Slaight family, a Canadian family with a deep history in the Canadian music scene, presents the award to any musician who has made significant, behind-the-scene contributions to traditional and folk music over the years, but has received little recognition for their efforts.
Strong, a musician with a long-lasting appreciation for Newfoundland and its traditional musical influences, said he was honoured to be presented with the award.
“I was nominated by a good friend of mine, Jean Hewson, who’s associated with the CFMAs, and she thought that I fit the criteria fairly well. I think she was pretty instrumental in me getting the award,” said Strong. “It was never on the radar for me to have anything like that, but I appreciate it so much. I just really enjoy playing music, entertaining and meeting people, and just passing the music along to anyone who’s willing to take it up. So to be recognized for that in such a way was really nice, I must say.”
Strong attended the CFMA gala at the Bronson Centre in Ottawa, where he was presented with the award. He explained to the Compass that the entire experience was something he won’t soon forget.
Strong has been an avid musician for nearly his entire life, with a particular interest in folk and traditional music. Favouring the tin whistle and the Irish flute, Strong has had the opportunity to travel the world, playing for audiences across Canada, the United States, and even Australia with different bands – namely, Tickle Harbour, A Crowd of Bold Sharemen, What Odds, and Cotillion.
However, Strong also takes great pride in his association with local festivals and musical events, such as the Carbonear Folk Festival and the Freshwater Coffee House.
“In 2011, we started a coffee house here in Freshwater, one of the first ones in the bay actually. It was an open mic – musical ability or style made no difference to us, it was just a social thing with music. It worked really well,” explained Strong. “We’ve had various concerts throughout the year, with people from all over the country coming to perform – some of which were also award-winners at the CFMAs, so it was nice to see them again.
“A lot of the time, it’s folk, or classical music. Things that tend to draw a good crowd in Newfoundland, and it’s just been a wonderful experience ever since.”
Though Strong worked as an x-ray technologist for many years, his love for music has presented him with unforgettable opportunities and experiences. He counts playing alongside some of his biggest influences, such as Newfoundland musicians Emile Benoit and Ed Doucette, as well as esteemed Irish violinist Seamus Creagh, as some of his fondest memories from his musical career.
Strong said he would never have been able to see and experience these things were it not for the support and encouragement of his family and co-workers.
“My travelling about for music was never an issue, and that’s something that’s very important in all of this,” he explained. “When an opportunity came up for us to go somewhere like Australia or Europe and perform, it was never problematic at home or at work.
‘If the band and I wanted to go on tour for a month, then I would be able to get the time off from work, and just do it. It never caused any problems at home or anything like that, because I think everyone saw how passionate I was for music. I owe this to everyone who let me chase that passion.”