Frank-Newland: a folk reunion a decade (or so) in the making
David Newland once joked that he and Andy Frank “were not exactly Lennon-McCartney” but they made a good team.
He was referring to the era when the two men launched the original Roots Music Canada on Gordon Lightfoot’s birthday in 2009.
And I think David is selling himself a little short here.
Maybe their union wasn’t quite as globally significant as the one that gave birth to the Beatles.
But in the lonely, sparsely-populated halls of global roots music media, Newland and Frank are giants, let me tell you.
So when Roots Music Canada celebrates its fifth anniversary at Toronto’s Tranzac Club on Sunday night – the fifth anniversary of its rebirth, that is – one of the most exciting moments will take place before the first performer even hits the stage.
That’s because Frank and Newland are reuniting to MC the show.
The story of how Andy and David came to launch Roots Music Canada has already been documented here.
The short version is this: David was a full-time editor for Canoe.ca, Sun Media’s web portal, and a folk singer and board member of organizations such as Folk Music Ontario (then the Ontario Council of Folk Festivals) and the Shelter Valley Folk Festival. He had purchased the RootsMusic.ca domain from a Kingston musician named Bob MacKenzie.
“What I knew based on my experience was that that was a valuable URL,” he said. “And that if our scene wanted to do anything, or if anyone wanted to do anything in our scene that was collective, that that was the URL that made sense.”
Andy meanwhile, had just launched a new video production business, Frankcasting New Media, and David recruited him to be his partner in a proposed new multimedia enterprise – if you could call it that.
But the why of all of this is another matter.
Why they did it
“My 1960s/70s childhood dream was to become an AM radio personality,” Andy told me via Messenger while working overseas.
“However, there was no clearly defined path to follow toward realizing that goal, and sh*t got real in my life at a very young age.”
Instead, he spent 25 years in the hospitality sector and didn’t learn to make radio until his 40s, when he discovered CIUT, the campus station at the University of Toronto.
During the famous CBC lockout of 2005, the station hosted Andy Barrie’s CBC morning team for a daily morning program called Toronto Locked Out. And when the CBC staffers went back to work in their building on Wellington Street, it built on that momentum by launching its own daily morning current affairs program hosted and co-produced by Andy.
“I fell so madly in love with it that I flamed out after four years of putting everything I had into it,” Andy said.
“I splattered into a brick wall; I was exhausted. So I reluctantly said goodbye to radio in 2009 and decided to share content in a new digital way, which became Roots Music Canada.”
For David’s part, he had just launched a popular event called the Uke Jam, he recalled on the phone from his garden in Cobourg.
But he was also in a relationship that was teetering on the edge of collapse.
“I think Andy and I both really needed to believe in something,” he said.
“I think our friendship, the Roots Music Canada growing platform, the excitement that came via social media, the involvement of some people we respected and admired – I mean, Shelagh Rogers took a liking to what we were doing, we wound up, you know, at Mariposa for their 50th anniversary doing behind-the-scenes videos and chit chatting with all the big deal people – it got very intoxicating, It seemed like we were in constant growth.”
The website and Andy’s business collectively began sharing office space with the Borealis Recording Company, where they built a set and began shooting a video interview and performance program, the Woodshed Sessions, that attracted big names like the late Ron Hynes.
“Neither one of us is a very big deal, but people knew us on the local scene,” David said. “And we had some charisma. I mean, we were excited, and we knew how to get other people excited, and we did. And so I think that’s a big part of what happened. Energy increases itself on that basis, right?
But as we’ve also reported previously, Roots Music Canada ran on little more than that energy – the hard work of its principals and the excitement of the community.
“I remember coming back – I think it was from the [Canadian Folk Music Awards] or a different conference” David recalled.
“We were riding with one of the financial whizzes from the [Folk Music Ontario] board who I knew pretty well… And she said … ‘What’s your business plan?’ And the two of us were so embarrassed and just, like, suddenly grounded by this reality that this really smart person was kind of questioning whether this thing had any basis in reality.”
The foundation of the site would be tested soon enough.
How it ended
David was laid off from his job at Canoe.ca and was cobbling together work from other media outlets.
His previous relationship had ended. He was now married to Meghan Sheffield, and they realized they could no longer afford to live in Toronto. So they moved to Cobourg to be closer to her family and to situate themselves in a town where David also had connections.
Andy, meanwhile, was diagnosed with colon cancer and could no longer sustain his business, never mind his volunteer commitments to the site.
That was at the start of 2012, a little more than two years after the site’s launch.
From there, it slowly faded to black and stayed dormant until its relaunch in 2018.
Andy, thankfully, recovered and went on to build a career at AMI, Accessible Media Inc.
“I remain happily immersed in the content delivery business,” he said.
“I make the occasional on-air appearance but only as an emergency fill-in or promo reader. It’s not about me.”
David got a grant to write a novella and then went on to become a brand ambassador for Adventure Canada, which led to a new collection of songs, which became his album, Northbound.
The pandemic, however, ended his career with the organization, so he went back to school and earned an MA in English at Trent University.
He’s currently pursuing a PhD in Canadian Studies while continuing to write, make music and do speaking engagements.
Both men have fond memories of their time at the helm of Roots Music Canada.
“Perhaps my fondest RMC memory is Mariposa’s 50th anniversary in 2010, filming Ian and Sylvia’s on-stage reunion, Gordon Lightfoot’s closing set, and Jim and Greg’s incredible acoustic surprise performance of Blue Rodeo mega-hits,” Andy said.
“I hung out with David, Shelagh Rogers and many other amazing folks, slept in my car, and had the greatest time ever. All thanks to RMC.”
David recalled the Roots Music Canada era as one that was exciting and fulfilling and propelled by positive reinforcement from the community of artists and industry people that surrounded it.
He was particularly proud of the Woodshed Sessions video series.
But he also recalls the era involving “a lot of time in bars and not a lot of sleep … a lot of music and not a whole lot of sense.”
“I think both of us were in places in our lives too where we were trying to figure out, like, what’s become of our dreams,” he said. “When I look back, it seems to me a manic time. And it’s hard to make sense of that, except to say, we were carried along by the spirit of that moment.”