Happy Shondi Festoon!?
You might think that’s a way of saying Happy New Year in another language. Or maybe it means happy birthday.
You might think that unless you’re a fan of the Born Ruffians — a locally grown Canadian indie rock band that formed at Midland Secondary School about 20 years ago.
When you’ve been in a band with your best friends — two of whom happen to be cousins — for that long, your creativity is second nature.
“Shondi Festoon is the biggest inside joke that we share with our fans,” explains Mitch DeRosier in an interview after playing their Shondi Festoon show in Toronto.
The band invented the holiday about four years ago when the Horseshoe Tavern invited them to play and asked them to include a holiday theme.
“It didn’t feel like us to do a branded holiday kind of thing, so we made up our own holiday,” says DeRosier.
The expertly crafted gag holiday is complete with traditions like dressing up as your best friend, and drinking warm beer. They even put together a video explainer about the holiday for those interested in participating.
After playing this year’s Shondi Festoon at the Horseshoe, their first show at an indoor venue in two years, DeRosier says it felt like a “welcome back to the life we used to know.”
He laughs when he says he thought the band was too loud when they first started playing. Then DeRosier said he realized that his ears had healed from not constantly touring and playing inside concert venues.
Over the course of the pandemic, the band stayed busy playing every kind of outdoor venue imaginable — on a beach, at a drive-in show, a show with people in individual pods.They even performed for a few livestreamed shows.
Proving that the Born Ruffians are nothing if not prolific, in 2020, the band released two records: Juice and Squeeze.They released Pulp, their third record in two years, in 2021.
“We were fortunate to have recorded before the pandemic hit in North America,” explains DeRosier. The band were getting ready to hit the road on tour when the world and work for touring musicians ground to a halt.
They had also just welcomed the newest member of the band, Maddy Wilde.
“Our first practice with [Wilde] was March 12, 2020, so that was great timing,” DeRosier laughs nervously because this was days before the first lockdown in Ontario.
“She’ll be on the road with us, and the shows with her have been fantastic. The band feels as good as it’s ever been to me, so it’s the perfect time to get back out there and tackle the world.”
Taking it back nearly twenty years to when the band first set out to tackle the world, DeRosier says he tries not to look back too often, “because it’s a pretty sweet life that we’ve stumbled upon.”
Like many things that are born from small towns, this band was a family affair.
DeRosier and guitarist Luke Lalonde are second cousins. They met Steve Hamelin at Midland Secondary School, and when DeRosier started playing bass in Mr. Bell’s music class, “it all just made sense to start a band.”
Simple as it may sound, the band has gone through some changes over the years. They were originally a four-piece when they self-released their first album in 2002 under another name. Then they made the move to Toronto as a three-piece. Now, they are a four-member group again.
“It’s tough to look back at the whole thing,” says DeRosier about the band’s 20 years together. “It is an overwhelming feeling. I still feel like I’m the same person I was at 16 losing the Midland Secondary School Battle of the Bands competition,” he laughs. “It feels like one straight line from then to now.”
The band had a singular focus while they were playing music, “holed up” in Hamelin’s parents’ basement.
“We didn’t want to do anything else,” says DeRosier. “We had that feeling as a band. We want to get out. Move to Toronto. Make it. Tour. Everything in Midland felt like no this isn’t it, we’ve got to go now.
“Coming back now as an adult, and maybe partly because it’s changed, but maybe partly because our eyes were so focused on one thing we see how beautiful Midland is.”
DeRosier takes an earnest tone when he talks about maintaining a successful band over 20 years.
“I’ve tried to be as grateful as I am, because it’s not the norm,” DeRosier says about making music with his cousin and their best friend for two decades.
In that time, the band met a lot of musicians on the road that struggled with their careers.
“We are quite lucky to have done it. I’ve tried to keep that at the top of my mind whenever things get difficult or hard, because that’s the truth.”
When asked if the band will be heading back this way to play a show and spread some touring musician joy and love this way again, DeRosier does not hesitate to say: “Hell yeah!"
“We felt like we wanted to get out of the small town and get to the big city, and now we’re all feeling like we want to get out of the city and move to a small town. It’s the cycle of life — maybe.”
The Born Ruffians play the Midland Cultural Centre on Friday, March 18, as long as restrictions are lifted.