Winnipeg entertainer Al Simmons and his son think they have the cure for the weary winter blues: a repurposed train car full of homemade musical instruments.
The Sounds Crazy Caboose is one of the warming huts selected to be built this year along the Nestaweya River Trail at The Forks.
Every year, The Forks holds an international competition, inviting architects to design creative spaces where people using the walking and skating trails along the Red and Assiniboine rivers can stop to warm up.
At a media event with the local builders on Thursday morning, the Juno Award-winning singer unveiled the Sounds Crazy Caboose in true Al Simmons fashion: with a performance. Dressed in a bright red plaid suit, he serenaded the audience with an old 1929 Ted Lewis tune.
“I’m the medicine man for the weary blues,” he sang.
“With musical thrills, I’ll amuse!”
Inside the hut, you’ll find all the bells, whistles, pots and pans you need to make your own musical thrills.
“We just thought it would be great to have a building that families can go into and have fun, make music and play, and have a little jam session,” Simmons said.
Musical experimentation a family tradition
Simmons and his son, Karl, have been making instruments for years. When Al was asked to create a warming hut, they wanted to create a space for people to have fun and make some noise.
At first, the father-son duo thought about using a garden shed, but Karl wanted to do something more creative, and the elder Simmons was all aboard with the idea.
“When my wife and I first got married, we actually lived in a train car. So this is sort of appropriate,” he said.
Simmons said he’s been creating and playing “crazy musical instruments” his whole life, and so has his son, who started on pots and pans at a young age.
The Sounds Crazy Caboose came to life last week with the help of Simmons’s friend of 40 years, Gary Dealey.
Dealey offered up his manufacturing company’s large shop so Karl, whom his dad credits for the design, could put it all together.
It’s not the first time Dealey has helped Simmons give life to his eccentric ideas.
The two worked together on his famous human jukebox, and again at Expo ’86 in Vancouver.
The musical train caboose was just the natural progression of things, Dealey said.
Warming huts from around the world
The international warming hut competition has become a yearly tradition for Winnipeggers. Winners are announced at the end of the year with artist renderings of the installations.
Some of the winners from past years are already on the trail, and the newest huts are expected to be there in the coming weeks.
This year, organizers asked for entries that were “whimsical,” and received 100 submissions from 27 different countries.
Competition veterans Luca Roncoroni and Tina Soli, a duo from Drøbak, Norway, are inviting people to sing in the shower, while on a frozen river.
Their bright pink Singin’ In The Shower installation was the jury’s top pick, and the pair’s third winning entry. There are four large individual showers with bright pink shower curtains.
Other international installations include Sunset from Democratic Architects, who are based in São Paulo, Brazil.
Inspired by a setting sun, the smooth yellow sculpture is meant “not only to shelter visitors from the cold winds, but also to provide a place in which they can watch the Canadian sun setting every day until it warms once again,” the São Paulo group wrote in their submission.
The third international winner, from Popper Zhu of Shanghai, China, will let visitors interact with a soft, giant inflatable hand.
Joining the Simmonses in the local category are the University of Manitoba Faculty of Architecture with A Warmer Place and Frontier School Division with Blossom.
Simmons passed along some musical teachings for those who will stop by the Sounds Crazy Caboose.
“If you’re playing the loudest instrument, you have to keep a steady beat and allow room for other people to play.… Don’t hog the spotlight all the time,” he said.
“And, you know, if you’re going to play, be loud and proud!”
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