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How to throw a kitchen party and alienate your neighbours

By John Swartz

Freeman Dre and his band, The Kitchen Party, play at The Brownstone Saturday night.
Submitted photo

Freeman Dre and his band, The Kitchen Party, play at The Brownstone Saturday night. Submitted photo

Freeman Dre remembers well the last time he played a gig here.

“That was fun. We didn’t realize it was happening during that night where everybody was having their art out and there was this sort of street party going on,” said Dre. 

He’s referring to Starry Night two summers ago. For a guy who leads a band called Freeman Dre and The Kitchen Party, that atmosphere fit nicely with what the band tries to create.

“Yeah, it was right up our alley,” said Dre.

East Coasters know well what a kitchen party is. That’s where the band plays at a house party. In Dre’s case, he wasn’t borrowing a term from long-ago events he’d heard about.

“My brother, when he moved, had a piano in his house and he didn’t want it, so I ended up getting a piano and I had no room for it anywhere except right in my kitchen,” said Dre.

Dre and a friend would sit in the kitchen of his Parkdale apartment and make music.

“It was just two of us, me and Lonnie Knapp, who plays mandolin, guitar and a bunch of stuff. There was no band, really. We were just playing, it was just for fun,” said Dre.

Then things started to escalate.

“I had written a bunch of songs and I was just sort of showing them to him and it happened, one day, a few people came by unexpectedly,” he said.

Over time, those friends brought their friends until it started to feel more like they were staging concerts.

“I have a big back deck that we all kind of hang out on and drink beer in the summertime. Within a few weeks, more and more people started coming around — I think for the deck and for the music. By the time it was too crowded, that’s when we realized we should probably book a venue at some point,” said Dre.

So, what started out three years ago as two friends jamming grew into a five-piece band and graduated to clubs. Occasionally, they still meet in Dre’s kitchen.

“We still have (kitchen parties), but we have them quietly. Some people still come over and we still play. It was a matter of the neighbours and the landlord getting upset. They were like, ‘You’re having full concerts and we’re trying to do stuff over here.’ It was more about having to change locations for their sanity,” said Dre.

The band is returning to Orillia Saturday night to play at the Brownstone. There have been a lot of smaller clubs the band has played since its last show here.

“It’s sort of a throwback to the way they used to do it. We selected a region. We have a bit of a triangle, New York, Montreal and Toronto and everywhere in between that. It’s really simply because we can drive. We’d love to go out East, we’d love to go out West, but it’s a bit of a hike,” said Dre.

They do a fair bit of playing New York City clubs like the Rockwood Music Hall, the Living Room in Manhattan’s east side and Café Vivaldi in Greenwich Village.

“We have an agent down there who picked us up the first time we ever went down. It was somebody who just happened to be in the bar, a random bar in Queens, N.Y., in an Irish neighbourhood. We made friends and he’s been booking us gigs down there ever since,” said Dre.

The Living Room is a favourite spot for Dre.

“It’s often a smaller gig, but it’s often cool people in those venues. Last year, when we were there, David Duchovny was in the crowd and he ended up becoming a fan. He went to a bunch of our New York shows. That really helped because people saw that this ‘celebrity’ was into it,” said Dre.

With two albums recorded and a third in the works, the band has received critical acclaim and a good fan base. Dre’s songwriting style is story-like. The presentation of some tunes could remind you of another Canadian songwriter-storyteller-poet.

“I love Leonard Cohen, for sure. He’s one of the big influences for me. I saw him live this year. It was amazing,” said Dre.

“I like all those kind of storytelling, troubadour-type writers. I like that whole sort of genre. Three chords and something funny and something cool to say,” he said.

The music isn’t all introspective and personal.

“We play rock ’n’ roll, too. I generally call it rock ’n’ roll with a folk attitude,” said Dre.

But, the most recent album, Old Town, is a concept album, in which he was telling a story.

“I think the songs are still songs on their own. Just to hear them, you wouldn’t know (they were part of a concept album). The inspiration for it was a trip that I made back to Europe to rediscover my own personal heritage; my mom’s side was Irish and my dad’s side was Polish. Just some wild stories of how they came over here and it got me thinking about just how basically everyone in Canada and America, everyone has some sort of immigration story depending on how far it dates back and how well they know it,” said Dre.

His heritage extends to his adopted stage name. Dre is short for Andre, and Freeman is his mother’s maiden name.

“It’s also a pretty interesting story in that it isn’t actually the last name that we had when we came over from Ireland, but the story goes, according to my grandparents, when their grandparents came over from Ireland, in the U.K., they had some sort of criminal record,” he said.

“They were on a ship with a bunch of people who had a similar criminal record that wouldn’t be carried over once they came to Canada, so, on their passports and their immigration notices, a lot of them got stamped ‘free man.’ I guess that name stuck with some of those families.”

“There’s a whole contingent of Freemans in Canada, particularly on the East Coast, that all have the same name but are not actually related.”

Tickets to the show are $10 and the band plays two shows tonight at 8 and 10 p.m. Joshua Lawlor is opening.

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