“And the black flies, the little black flies
Always the black fly, no matter where you go
I'll die with the black fly a-picking my bones
In north on-tar-i-o-i-o, in north on-tar-i-o”
Named after the iconic Wade Hemsworth song, Black Fly Jam has had a long and wonderful history in our community.
“We started presenting shows around 1980, when our bulk food buying club would get together for potlucks and musical jams,” says Robin MacIntyre, who along with her husband Enn Poldmaa have been active organizers in the group since the beginning.
“Musicians were coming through town that we had met at festivals, and our group of friends would invite them to play for us and build an evening around that.”
MacIntyre notes that the local bar scene at the time wasn’t ideal.
“There was so much smoke and there was never a listening room for the band. Live music was never the focus so we were basically making our own private events and having a guest musician in for a set along with our own band of music makers.”
Around 1986, the Ontario Arts Council, which at the time was accused of being southern Ontario-centric and not present enough in the North, approached the organization to propose possible funding.
“They had grant money and needed presenters in Northern Ontario to apply to take advantage of it,” she says.
“That’s when we became a full-fledged organization, ‘Black Fly Jam Folk Club’ with a board of directors and a bank account.”
In many ways, Black Fly Jam was ahead of its time creating what would now be seen as house concerts opportunities for artists, which have become popular.
“We have always used the word ‘convivial’ to describe what we want our events to be all about. We wanted an intimate social atmosphere, a comfortable room, often with food and always licensed and yet age inclusive for families. We encouraged the listening audience, give time for lots of meet and greet time with friends and also interaction with the performer.”
MacIntyre notes that years ago the term “folk” was a catch-all for the type of music they presented.
“That genre has swelled to many diverse and different styles, that we now prefer to label as ‘alternative and acoustic,’ but always with a level of virtuosity of performance that deserves a great audience.”
Like with many arts organizations, the COVID-19 pandemic made moving forward with programming feel more difficult or an impossibility.
“These past two years were the longest we have gone in almost forty years without a show. Even though we had pulled back on presenting in recent years, we still were flying ‘under the radar’ with several house concerts a year, with good returns for our performers without all the added expense of bigger presentation. Not an ideal situation, as you tend to end up with the same audience each time and so growth is limited,” she says.
“COVID times really did floor us, after a few years of struggle with suitable venues and dwindling audience.”
MacIntyre notes that being without live performances for those two years made it very obvious how important it is.
“Seeing music being made, being in the same room is a totally different experience than listening to a recording. Music becomes tangible, almost a visible entity, the energy is fed back and forth between audience and artist, and each moment of that experience is truly a ‘one of a kind’ shared experience, between everyone in that moment. Musical artists deserve that, and so do audiences.”
Black Fly Jam Folk Club recently announced a partnership with the state-of-the-art venue The Loft [at the Algoma Conservatory of Music].
“Since the property was initially under development by Justus Veldman, we were party to discussions about plans to build a studio/performance space in the Old St. Mary’s Paper buildings. We avidly followed the course of construction, which came into its own with the leadership of Guy Traficante and his team at The Algoma Conservatory of Music. If not for Guy’s perseverance and tenacity, Algoma University’s belief in his vision and his many supporters, the opportunity for this state-of-the art live performance and recording space may never have arisen,” she says.
“I can only imagine how hard it was to get to this point in the building of such a special place, and we want to do all we can to let people know it exists, and to see it used for the purpose it was built for.”
As part of the plan to begin booking shows again, Black Fly Jam has created a GoFundMe page to generate resources to help support the coordination of live performances.
“When COVID-19 hit, we had a small bank account which was used to guarantee expenses and fees for the ‘next’ show. Realizing it may be some time before we ever had an opportunity to present once again under the Black Fly Jam name, we donated our reserve monies to another local not-for-profit organization, with similar values, who were fundraising for infrastructure to support their local festival and teaching facility building. So to begin again, we need a small nest egg to guarantee artist fees for a first show, and the costs associated with rental and hospitality. Once solvent, we will re-establish our charitable status which will help us fundraise through grants and sponsorships.”
Black Fly Jam currently will be selling tickets singularly and The Loft has offered to handle sales.
“If things continue well we hope to offer an incentive program soon, in the form of a membership or sliding scale ticket price for supporters,” says MacIntyre.
The organization is well-known to have always brought in world-class entertainers, but it also plays a role in supporting local talent as well.
“We have always made room in our events to present opening acts of local talent,” she says.
Additionally, when the artists’ available time permits, Black Fly Jam has coordinated shows for students.
“It is invaluable experience for a young performer to have stage time early in a career, and for more seasoned local performers to share stage time with touring musicians and enjoy an appreciative audience … World-class acts occur all over the world, and Sault Ste. Marie is no exception. Algoma Conservatory of Music has given rise to some incredible talent, and music lesson facilities such as Cases Music, Arnill’s Music and Ed Gartshore to name just a few, have created some amazing musical talents. School music programs through the dedication of teachers such as Greg MacLachlan at White Pines HS and school bands like Mustang Sally all pave the way for people to excel. However, by presenting opportunity for people to view touring musicians and live music events, young people can visualize a career, or see a musician pursuing a profession, instead of putting popular music performance on an unattainable pedestal of international hype and excess.”
She notes that opportunities for school performances are also good for the artist in that it exposes them to a “wider” audience.
“Black Fly Jam Folk Club came into being through a groundswell of need, and cooperation between a group of great friends who also volunteered time and talent. That group is still our go-to for unconditional support and friendship, and many people have put their expertise and time over the years into every event. Although Enn and I took the lead in production and procurement of talent, we were always incredibly lucky to be supported by this group.”
Despite the pandemic, Black Fly Jam has no intention of closing the book on creating these experiences.
“Black Fly Jam is a succinct description of what we do … because when all the parts come together in an event – the performer, the audience, the presenters, the venue … even the publicity – all become a nice big buzzy mouthful of something tasty that has a life beyond itself, and can be brought out much later to be savoured, and remembered, a jar of goodness that lingers.”
MacIntyre’s allusion to jam as a food comes with a quick cooking tip.
“If you are wondering how to make ‘jam’ out of blackflies… just substitute whole black currants,” she laughs.
“No one will know the difference and it tastes a lot better.”
Black Fly Jam, in association with Algoma Conservatory Concerts, will host their first show at The Loft on Saturday, Oct. 1 with more details to follow.
Find out more about Black Fly Jam and the events they organize on their Facebook page.
Find out about The Loft and its schedule of events on the Algoma Conservatory of Music’s website.
Support Black Fly Jam’s return to the local entertainment scene on their GoFundMe page.