(The 519 Band performing on New Year’s Eve at the Verna-Q-Lar cocktail lounge in Windsor, Ontario, January 31, 2019. Photo above by Robert Tuomi / Eyes On Windsor.)
Twenty years have gone by since that feared New Year’s Eve night of December 31, 1999. Cataclysmic events were about to unfold at midnight because it was believed computers would be unable to adjust to a new century (Y2K). It didn’t happen, but party like it was 1999 became synonymous as another way to say party hearty.
That was no less evident Tuesday evening at Via Italia’s Verna-Q-Lar, the area’s newest and most elegantly decorated cocktail lounge. It is next door to the Bacchus Ristorante known not only for its rich Italian culinary cuisine but also the serious attention to detail of the building’s spectacular facade.
But, most of the merry-makers weren’t at the new lounge for architectural beauty. They were there to end the year by joining the region’s acclaimed 519 Band with its play list of the blues augmented with solid rock and roll all shaken, not stirred. And with the new year in sight, the band itself has 2020 vision on where it is headed. It turns out, it is Detroit.
Bassist Rob Balint tells Eyes on Windsor the band has made some inroads recently by making new friends in the motor city. Much of these friendships were nurtured in October. The 519 was one of the contestants in the Detroit Blues Society’s Blues Challenge. In 2014, the Band won the local Canada South Blues Society’s similar Challenge thus earning the right to compete in Memphis, Tennessee’s annual very worldly International Blues Challenge.
It was a seminal moment for a band that just keeps on getting tighter and tighter. Much of this tightness is simply a never-ending devotion to be everything it can be. This constant devotion to precision has prepared it for its newest mission, the conquering of Detroit.
Motown’s blues aficionados are much larger in size meaning larger audiences. But, there is a price to be paid. They are also very hard to please. Explains Balint. “You really have to know your stuff, people there are expecting something different. You have to show your passion and originality.”
Practicing religiously since the Memphis trip has convinced the band it is a contender. There are few, if any, on this side of the river who would argue that point.
Most of its current members were on that voyage, and new members, like drummer Mark Steven, fit the band like a new glove.
On the originality front, the band has released a CD of new group-written tunes but the real excitement remains its front man, Jaimie Thompson. He tells Eyes on Windsor that possibly he’s a late bloomer but he has a lot to do and is squarely enjoying the doing.
Although he shines on every song the Band plays, there are crowd favourites, particularly his version of I Shot the Sheriff. What is most interesting is the band is always adding new material. Sometimes it is polished and only performed after almost endless hours of practice. Other times it seems magical, coming out of nowhere.
Balint mentions the Rolling Stones Miss You. It was one of those things occurred as the band was carrying out a sound-check. Instead of counting numbers, the musicians broke into Miss You. By the time the song was finished, says Balint, the Band members collectively knew had something special and new.
It was, of course, nothing less than a collaborative effort uniting the implicit talent of its full complement of musicians, being guitarist and lead singer Jamie Thompson, bassist and backup vocalist Rob Balint, saxophonist Dave Belch, drummer Mark Steven, lead guitarist Ryan Thompson and harmonica and percussionist Giles Provost and keyboardist Brian Jones.
For more about the 519 Band visit https://www.the519band.ca
For more information about Bacchus Ristorante or Verna-Q-Lar Cocktail Lounge visit http://lowmartinmansion.com
Article by Robert Tuomi
For over a decade, Robert has covered local news and community events. Initially as a contributor to CBC Radio’s local morning show and then as the long-time producer and host of CJAM’s The Rest of the News and as a journalist at the Windsor Square. A graduate of the Nikon School of Photography he enjoys illustrating his reports with what he sees through his camera’s lens.