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Have yourself a Merry Little Christmas · 24 December 2014 by colin newell

Every year around this time I have made it a tradition to quickly record a carol in my modest little studio. Only conditions: One take. No studio effects apart from a plate reverb and no overdubs.

I offer you a Christmas classic – “Have yourself a Merry Little Christmas!” – One of my favorites. Enjoy.

Have yourself a Merry Little Christmas! |

Click here for the mp3 download.


Bringing Max home for Christmas with the DeWolfes · 24 December 2014 by colin newell

Christmas with the DeWolfes |

Click here for the mp3 download.

On a sunny Christmas Eve at Caffe Fantastico on Kings Street I chatted with Cheryl DeWolfe. Over tasty macchiato and freshly baked peanut butter cookies we reflected over a decade and a half of internet adventures. Cheryl is, after all, one of the queens of the internet. Her experiences with the information super-highway go way back. Her specialty over the years has been frugal and locally sourced living, something she used to make her website a household favorite locally and around North America.

Bring Max home for Christmas

In the 15 years Cheryl and her husband Shawn have been working online she has raised a daughter and provided a home for several rescue cats. One of whom, simply named Max, is now 15 years of age and ailing a bit. As it turns out, it has been a tough year for the DeWolfes and, although they hate to ask, they would welcome (to quote the late Joe Cocker…) a little help from their friends.

Every little bit helps. So help bring Max home this Christmas. Please take advantage of the PayPal donate button below. A bit more about Max over here on Cheryl’s homepage.

Thanks in advance from the DeWolfes… and for the website, we all wish you a merry Christmas and a healthy and prosperous New Year.


Second Crack Coffee Lab on Bridge Street in Victoria · 22 December 2014 by colin newell

Aaron Tann of Second Crack Coffee Lab Victoria

Aaron Tann focuses intently on his pour over brew bar. He is in the middle of preparing a very tasty Ethiopian coffee with the Hario brew system. He slides it across the bar towards me, warning me to give it a couple of minutes to cool.

Aaron is a recent transplant to the city of Victoria. Born in Windsor, Ontario and a former mechanical engineer in Detroit with the Magna corporation, Aaron is pretty new to the coffee business. At the tender age of 37, he has lived in Sweden where he learned a lot about coffee culture. He also lived in Thailand where he met his wife Veronica.

Second Crack Coffee Lab is in one of Victoria’s vibrant industrial neighbourhoods. Aaron is very much into the airy, open and bright look that is available in his 100 year old warehouse space. Andrea and I compared it to some of the bigger cafe roaster facilities that we encountered on our last trip to San Francisco. Additionally, Aaron is making a lot of the necessary changes to the space to give it the required physical integrity appropriate for a seismically active location while at the same time maintaining a cool and hip vibe.

Brewing Hario pours at Second Crack Coffee on Bridge Street.

I asked Aaron about the name and its connection to his preferences on roast profiles. He pushes all of his coffees long and slow except for the delicate Panama Geisha beans. This philosophy sets Aaron somewhat apart from the rest of the pack in Victoria. The local coffee market, in fact, leans heavily towards first crack or medium roasts to maximize flavour impact.

Andrea and I finish up a shared mug of Ethiopian coffee that is impeccably balanced and yet roasted a tad darker than what is normal in the industry. The fruit flavours, however muted at the beginning, start to bloom as the coffee cools. Much to our delight, the coffee’s true complexity continues to develop and surprise our taste buds in the fifteen minutes we were sipping it.

Second Crack Coffee Lab is now open at 2612 Bridge Street. The cafe is across the Bay Street bridge. Travel one km west on Bay Street and turn right on Bridge Street. It is two city blocks down Bridge Street on the left.

Second Crack Coffee is an awesome and welcome addition to the Victoria coffee scene. Welcome Aaron, Veronica and family!

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The choir you have never heard of - Hans Steffen 2014 · 20 December 2014 by colin newell

In the late 1950s Hans Steffen, German born and struggling opera singer, moved to Victoria.

Hans enjoyed a modicum of success in the relatively young opera scene in Victoria.

Here is a newspaper quote from The Victoria Times 1961

Nov. 4, 1961: Operatic farce begins rehearsal

Giacomo Puccini was a mature master of operatic composition who had already written the great, tragic operas — “Boheme,” “Tosca,” “Butterfly” — when in 1916-17 he composed his set of three miniatures, “Suo Angelica,” “Tabarro” and “Gianni Schicchi.” Of these three, first produced in 1918, “Schicchi” (pronounced Skee-kee) his only farce opera, was an instantaneous success.

It is satirical, hilarious, fast-paced and full of clever, bewitching and melodious music. “Gianni” is this year’s choice of Victoria Musical Art Society directors for a three, and possibly four-night production at Oak Bay Junior High School.

Still to be cast is the part of a child which could be sung by either a girl or a boy soprano. Title role of Gianni will be sung by John Dunbar.

His daughter, Lauretta, by lyric soprano Erica Kurth. Others are Eleanor Duff, Adele Goult, Peggy Walton Packard, Michael Rogers, Norman Tyrrell, Ellis Todd, Hans Steffen, Lincoln Painter, Anthony Wilkins, Sandy Kirk, Michael Rose and L.L. Grieg.

Hans Steffan Choir 2014

Eventually Hans would realize that the world of opera was not going to be his thing. He would soon turn his attention to a new and arguably more reliable profession as an investment consultant. He concentrated on his professional career in finance and, in his spare time, turned his attention to what he could do with his voice and his connections to the music scene in Victoria.

By the late 1960s or the early ’70s, Hans had collected a small group of male singers (many of whom were professionals in their own right along with aspiring musical amateurs) to gather during the Christmas season to bring joy to shut-ins and seniors in elder care. The goal was to perform one night only once a year in a selection of seniors residences in the Victoria area. Hans chose to keep it simple: no rehearsal, no practice, and no fuss. His collection of musical journeymen took the Christmas songbook to a very informal level stripping away the pretense and boiling the music down to the bare essentials.

Rolf Uhlrich, a local German immigrant, successful businessman, hotelier in Victoria and friend of Hans, graciously hosted an after-choir party every year, complete with recorded German music, kegs of beer, wine, German sausage and bread. All of the men have unforgettable memories of his kindness.

Hans continued his musical Christmas tradition until the 1980s when he was struck down by an incurable form of leukemia. Many of the young men that had joined the choir in the passing decades carried on the tradition bringing joy to folks living in care. In 2014, we give credit to gentlemen like Robert Hall, Frank May and David Leeming. These three men, along with the others, have been keeping this dream alive through the years. David’s son, Graham, has been participating in the group since he was 5 years old and now has children of his own.

I have been in this choir for 5 years now and have just convinced the group to make some of the first recordings ever. Chances are, you have never heard of us – but do enjoy our performance.

Track One: Silent Night |

Click here for the mp3 download.

Track Two: Fa la la la la |

Click here for the mp3 download.

Track Three: Because of Christmas Day |

Click here for the mp3 download.

Track Four: God rest ye merry gentlemen |

Click here for the mp3 download.

Track Five: Oh Holy Night |

Click here for the mp3 download.

Track Six: We wish you a merry Christmas |

Click here for the mp3 download.

Enjoy. And see you next year!

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We interview Joey Kramer of Rockin Roasting Coffee · 16 December 2014 by colin newell

Bonus audio interview |

Joey Kramer and his new cafe!

We spoke with Joey Kramer of Rockin Roasting Coffee from Austin, Texas. This is our second conversation with the man who has taken his steady rhythm with the band Aerosmith to the world of specialty coffee. You can read that interview over here

A man of virtually limitless energy, Joey has been tackling the challenges of building a successful coffee business from the ground up. And as Joey makes it abundantly clear, there are no short cuts to success. It is all about putting in the work. Celebrity or no, Joey and his equally energetic partners, Ron Mann and Frank Cimler have discovered that the road to the top is paved with every imaginable challenge.

I think that Mister Kramer was more astounded than I with the achievements over the space of one year; placement in thousands of grocery stores, a partnership with the trusted food company SYSCO and now a bricks and mortar coffee shop in the works.

A coffee shop alone, as any cafe owner will tell you, is a lot of work in terms of development, placement, branding and just getting great coffee into an appreciative audience.

But for Mister Kramer and his tireless dedication to the cause, an actual cafe is a natural extension of his brand of organic coffee beans. Hard work or not, it is just another milestone in what will obviously be a long career in caffeinating the nation.

Hats off to Joey Kramer, and his line of coffee and his dedicated team of professionals.

Listen to the interview |

Podcast – If you cannot see the audio player above, click here for the mp3 download.


We interview jazz diva Maureen Washington - home at Christmas · 11 December 2014 by colin newell

Bonus audio interview |

Maureen Washington - Jazz singer

It was a windy and wet Thursday night at Habit Coffee & Culture on Yates Street at the Atrium in downtown Victoria when we spoke with the lovely Maureen Washington – Jazz singer, mom of five, vocal coach, and mentor.

Born and raised in Prince George, British Columbia, Ms. Washington draws upon roots in frontier Canada with connections to Mississippi. The granddaughter of a musician, a singing cowboy no less, her musical fabric draws upon influences as diverse as Etta James, Holly Cole, and (to my ears) a very young Momma Thorton.

There is a certain purity, drive and laser focus in the work of Ms. Washington that defies explanation. It’s visceral, heartfelt, uncompromisingly grounded and targeted directly at the heart.

Some of the greatest music of all time is born of pain and is germinated and cultivated in disparity and conflict. Examples include some of the best works by the likes of The Police, Fleetwood Mac, the Beatles and others. Ms. Washington has certainly had her share of challenges but she processes life differently than most of us. She takes life’s most unpredictable curve balls and turns them into positivity. She then distills that positive energy into a musical phrase and the amalgam of this life experience is a beautiful sound, boiled down to its rhythmic essence. For the ears and the heart, it’s a wonderful thing.

Our conversation moved towards Christmas and why, according to Ms. Washington, “it’s the best time of the year and the toughest time of the year.” Her voice takes on a very special strength when tackling some traditional and seasonal material, as it does in her latest Christmas album (available over on CD-Baby). What could have been a painful journey is, in fact, a love story to her husband, her family and the world around her. In her latest CD, “Christmas Is…” Maureen Washington offers up a compendium of seasonal favorites. When taken as a whole, it illustrates a woman’s journey through adversity, guiding us into the now and is a pure celebration of the moment.

Christmas Is... by Maureen Washington

I love the overall sound of this CD. It has timeless classics delivered by a skillful vocalist. Ms. Washington comes across as everyone’s next door neighbor during a time of need with a hug and a hot cup of coffee on a snowy Christmas eve.

Ms. Washington is an artist to watch and performs locally and throughout British Columbia. You can visit her webpage over here. Catch her while you can!

Listen to the interview |

Podcast – If you cannot see the audio player above, click here for the mp3 download.