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Shady Oaks MOBS campout on the September 2014 Labour Day long weekend came and went with the usual jams, concerts and even a 2nd “annual” Square Dance. A great time was had by all, but hardly noticed or realized by most, that this would be one of the last times Uptown Grass would be performing as a band. With virtually the same band members during their involvement on the Manitoba bluegrass scene, Uptown Grass has been active for 23 years!
Today the band consists of Doris Verwey (vocals), Graham Towers (guitar/vocals), Don Metz (mandolin/vocals), Ed Byard (banjo/vocals), and Jim “Shavey” Gladstone (bass). So what causes a great band to call it quits? Don Metz and his family will be moving to Salmon Arm, B.C. to enjoy retirement in very beautiful surroundings.
Don has been active in MOBS over the course of many years. Having served as a Director and Treasurer, he was always active at many MOBS events organizing stage events, band scrambles, being the MC or even just helping with setup.
Don was raised in Kitchener Waterloo, Ontario, and left home as a teenager. He came to the big metropolis of Winnipeg in the 70’s. One of his first jobs was at a campground just west of Winnipeg. Here he had to dress up every day as Yogi Bear for some kind of kid’s activity (or so he says--I think he just liked it!!).
In Manitoba he earned his teaching degree and taught in Pine Falls. At that time school division was run by the local paper mill! His next teaching job in the early 80’s was at the University of Winnipeg Collegiate. There he met Ed Byard where they served together on a committee and got to know each other. Ed learned that Don was a bass player in a band (Barley, Hops and Rye) with Terry Hoover, a friend from Pine Falls. Ed invited him to join a group of guys that played together at the time. Although this group was very informal, they met once a week to play. This connection resulted in a band being formed, called Big Tilda. The band members were Gavin Baird (mandolin luthier), Paal Juliussen (free-lance writer), Don Metz & Ed Byard. Big Tilda played around Winnipeg for a while, and recorded a tape at U of Winnipeg in the Eckhardt Gramattee concert hall.
In 1991, after returning from a sabbatical to England, Ed discovered that Don had begun learning to play fiddle and mandolin. It was at this time Don had also discovered a new organization, the Manitoba Old-Tyme & Bluegrass Society “MOBS”. Members of MOBS would meet to jam once a month in various locations around Manitoba. Don took Ed to his first MOBS jam on the island at Portage la Prairie in the fall of 1991.
About this time, Big Tilda was breaking up and Doris Verwey, Graham Towers, Jerry Stasiuk, Jim Graham, Don Metz and Ed Byard (along with some others who were occasional members) formed Uptown Grass. Later on, Jim “Shavey” Gladstone was drafted to play bass. After some years, Jerry Stasiuk left the band, and Jim Graham died suddenly in 2007. What remained were the current members of Uptown Grass who are still together after close to 25 years from when the band name was first used on stage.
While working full time, Don studied and got his PhD to become a professor in the Education faculty at the University of Winnipeg. In addition to Uptown Grass duties, he plays regularly in the Winnipeg Mandolin Orchestra, has recently been playing the odd square dance on the fiddle, and has taken his mandolin to Costa Rica, Nicaragua and Europe while on research or student trips. Don has also organized fund raising events (Footprints in the Snow) for mission trips with his students. Well versed and a great player of the mandolin, fiddle and bass, Don is also a good songwriter. Uptown Grass has performed some of his material in their concerts.
Now that Don is off to his new home in Salmon Arm, BC, I have no doubt he will find other musical outlets. There are many players in the Salmon Arm area. Nearby Sorrento is home to an annual bluegrass workshop/festival each August that is well attended by players form the USA and Canada.
We wish Don well in all of his future endeavors and a happy retirement. Make sure you touch base with all of your MOBS friends when you return to Manitoba. As for Uptown Grass… who knows? – Stay tuned.
Submitted by: John Sawatzky (with a lot of help from Ed Byard & Doris Verwey).
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