…with a little folking around

PHOTOS BY STEVE SMITH, VISIONFIRE STUDIOS

Jud, Dave, Gus, Sarah, and Will settle in for family movie night.

When Dave Gunning walks through the door of his cozy red rancher house after he wraps up the last of his 17 Christmas shows with fellow artist JP Cormier, he will unapologetically put his guitar away for a few days and crank up the holiday tunes, they just won’t be his own.
It’s been a year with few opportunities to put his feet up for the maritime folk artist but he’s not complaining. He’s grateful to be making a living doing what he loves to do but he says it’s getting harder every year.
Dave and his wife Sara, a teacher with her own musical talents, kicked off 2019 with a performance in North Carolina. From there it was a full year of Folk Festivals throughout the United States, western Canada, Ontario and the Atlantic provinces. Somewhere in his life as a self-described travelling hobo he managed to record and launch a new album. Dave Gunning Up Against the Sky has been gathering momentum on radio stations throughout Canada and south of the border and was positioned in the number two spot for the most-played folk CD in the US in September. To give a little perspective, Bob Dylan was number 22.
As with most busy young families Dave and Sara look forward to a few days of unplugged time over the Christmas break with their three boys Jud, Will and Gus. It’s often a race to the finish with Dave wrapping up shows and Sara still in the classroom until school dismisses for the holiday.
“I think our busiest Christmas was the year I did the George Canyon tour. I got back home on the 23rd and we moved into this house. Yup, that was a busy Christmas,” says Dave as he rubs his chin and thinks back about Christmases past.
This year, Dave says he and JP planned their shows not too far away from home so they could be back in their own beds most nights.

In the studio with Sara.

When the Gunnings pop their own favourite holiday music in the CD player, Dave is likely not thinking that his own music has become part of the holiday tradition of many of his fans. He has recorded two of his own albums simply titled Dave Gunning Christmas and Christmas Too as well as recording holiday albums with his good friends Bruce Guthro and Fleur Mainville who passed away at the age of 37 in 2015. He also played guitar tracks and handled the recording of a holiday album for the band Coig. He will have Coig back in his recording studio ‘Wee House of Music’ in the new year.
With a job that takes him far from home Dave likes to tune out from that part of his life for a few days and dial in to the most important part of his life with Sara and the boys. Together Dave and Sara have had fun re-living some of their own childhood traditions but have made a few of their own that they look forward to every year.
Being conscious of their environmental foot print the couple tries to make choices that cut down on waste. “It’s a tough thing to do when kids are young and there are still lots of toys coming into the house,” says Sara. For the last couple of years the family has tried to simplify their approach to gift-giving and make more time to celebrate the small stuff. All five Gunnings are movie buffs. They usually sit down to their first Christmas movie one day near the end of November. Elf, A Christmas Story and Christmas Vacation are favourites that get played more than once during the season.
“I think my absolute favourite is Emmet Otters Christmas,” says Dave. It’s a Jim Henson Muppet movie.
“I remember sitting with Sara in the little house in Pictou when we were first married. We didn’t have a dime and that’s what the movie was about. Not having much at Christmas but really having a lot.”

Dave received an early Christmas present with four nominations for the 2020 Canadian Folk Awards taking place in Charlottetown this spring.

Comfort foods like Sara’s Cheesy Potatoes and sweet potatoes with roasted pecans are a few favourite family dishes with no real recipes that top the list for Christmas dinner, Christmas Eve and after walks on the trail close to their home…one year the saw eight reindeer on the trail. Unquestionably, Santa’s crew taking a break, a night out for dinner, a drive to look at the Christmas lights, and a certain four-foot-something mischievous elf are a few of the Gunnings favourite things.
With a heart as big as his growing catalogue of music, Dave and Sara always find a way to give back to the community that has given them much over the years. From a private concert to help a friend who is ill, to annual family donations to the Pictou County Christmas Fund, and don’t forget his children’s book These Hands based on the song of the same name co-written with his childhood friend George Canyon (a portion of the book proceeds go to the IWK), the spirit of Christmas is alive and well in the Gunning household.

This elf on the shelf looks a little familiar.

Favourite Christmas Album
Dave – Harry Connick Junior When My Heart Finds Christmas
Sara – Muppets Family Christmas
Favourite Movie
Dave – Emmet Otter’s Christmas
Sara – Elf
Favourite Food
Dave – Sara’s Cheesy Potatoes
Sara with help from Gus – Toffifee
Most Requested Song at your Christmas Show
Dave – Daddy’s Beer
Favourite Tradition
Sara – When Gus dresses up as Elf on the Shelf
If you could record a Christmas song with anyone who would it be?
Dave – Elvis Presley but that can’t happen…or could it 🙂