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Welcome to the thirteenth instalment of Monday #MusicMatters as part of the JAMS Canada PRO Series – “Here’s What I Know”.  Joe notes: ‘What I believe” to be important which is not quite the same as ‘What I Know””

We caught up with Joe Callahan for his insight on Song Circles & Group Performances


What are some of your top tips for musicians participating in a song circle or group performance setting?

Tell people you’re nervous if you’re nervous.

Invite people to play with you as often as you can, but don’t let anyone take your song away. And when joining others, wait until you’re invited before trying to take a lead break or add a harmony. If no one invites you to take a lead break, ask them to in between songs if you feel ready.

Always tell people whose song you’re playing and what key you’re playing in. Also give the chord progression if possible and if you know the Nashville numbering system, use it. If you don’t know it, learn it.


What are your feelings about using lead sheets in a group performance?

If you have a poor memory, work on it.

Try hard to remember complete lyrics to songs. If you feel you need a lead sheet, try not to rely on it unless you absolutely have to.

Bring three or four songs that you feel that you know how to play without lead sheets. Practise them at home by yourself.

Song circles are opportunities to get experience playing in front of others and it’s much easier if you have remembered lyrics and chord progressions. Then when people join in with instrumentation or harmonies, you can keep your “train on the track.”

What are some rehearsal tips you can share?

Rehearsals are for working out arrangements and exploring the dynamics of a song. Know the lyrics and the chord progressions and if appropriate, your lead break. Have them committed to muscle memory.

Never be late. It is the most disrespectful thing you can do to bandmates.

Be open to new ideas.

If you have a new song, let your bandmates know in advance so that time can be left to introduce it at the rehearsal.


How about some tips for the gig?

Be early. Allow time for technical surprises and or glitches.

Watch the clock. Honour your contract. 3-45 minute sets in a 3-hour show, means you don’t have 20 minutes to chat with a couple fans or friends at every break. Go to the bathroom, get a drink or snack, be polite and then get back on stage.

Warm up for at least 30 minutes in a separate room if possible. Don’t make your first three songs in your set be the warm-up.

Ask about the sound after the first song. If you’re doing a sound check, tell audience members it’s a sound check and respond to the feedback.


How has COVID-19 affected you – and perhaps even changed the way you approach music as a writer/performer/recording artist/host?

Covid-19, like anything that challenges our ability to do things in a predictable way, is really a good opportunity to examine what is important in our life as artists. It might require a different discipline in order for us to be productive, but we need to learn how to embrace the change. As we have seen often, professional musicians will find ways to get their music in front of new audiences and using new online technology seems to be the obvious answer. The parameters for excellence might have changed technically, but the essence of music is still honest, open and emotional expression through sound, coupled with a compelling story.

Everything else is a distant second.



Joe Callahan is a folk/roots/blues singer-songwriter who first performed professionally over 40 years ago as a singer and drummer in a country-rock band called The Rivermen.

Continuing to develop his finger style guitar playing and writing songs with social justice underpinnings, in 2011, he co-produced his first CD Watching the Light (available on I-Tunes and Apple Music) with friend and collaborator Tim Campbell and released it independently to positive reviews, but limited distribution.

In 2013, he elected to devote most of his time to producing and performing live music and he was invited to help create, host and co-produce Night Kitchen Too, a musical variety show at the Pinnacle Playhouse in downtown Belleville. The show is in its fifth season.

In November 2017, following the success of live presentations of “Live is Where it Lives” for audiences at the Roy Bonisteel studio in the Old Church Theatre just north of Trenton, Ont., Joe finalized plans to have the show produced for TV with YourTV in Belleville at Signal Brewery. The show is broadcast weekly in the Quinte district of eastern Ontario.

Joe recorded new original material with multi-instrumentalist Peter Snell and bass player Mike Acerra and under the direction of co-producer Rett Wills his second CD, Street Level High will be released in September 2018. To hear tracks and order downloads,

Find out more about Joe on his Facebook page @joecallahan and his website:



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