Country Lovin’ City Boys — The Sleeping Giant Folk Music Society Presents Union Duke

By Melanie Larson

When a band of five city slickers emerges on the music scene, one wouldn’t immediately expect their musical direction to consist of bluegrass and country. However, with the Toronto-based quintet Union Duke, that’s exactly what you should expect. Don’t believe me? See for yourself as these country lovin’ city boys will be bringing their energetic live show to the Port Arthur Polish Hall on February 20.

Union Duke was born from self-described “general hooliganism” as high school friends Matt Warry-Smith, Ethan Smith, and Jim McDonald got their musical kicks from skipping class in favour of jam sessions and sneaking into bars to see shows. However, after a history of playing in garage bands together, the three friends began to develop their own distinct style as they delved further into acoustic genres and instruments such as the banjo and ukulele. It was only a matter of time until musical connections were made and members Will Staunton and Rob McLaren were brought on board. With the full lineup assembled, Union Duke went on to release two albums, Bandits & Bridges and Cash & Carry, full of what guitarist Rob McLaren describes as “energetic foot-stomping electrified bluegrass country and lots of vocal harmonies.”

With their current and rather extensive tour, Union Duke has been working hard to establish themselves as a prominent live band. “We try to get on the road as often as possible to play in front of new audiences,” says McLaren. “This tour will take us through Northern Ontario and will also be the maiden voyage for our new van!” McLaren also notes that the band has “a lot of fun onstage and we love to see people dancing, clapping along, and having a good time.” Overall, the boys of Union Duke can’t wait to bring their enthusiasm to Thunder Bay and get those concertgoers’ feet stomping.