Onion Honey makes folk music, sharp and sweet and mixed in with banjo and mandolin, washboard and double bass, fiddle and warm five-part harmonies. It’s a recipe for a great time and good for what ails, home-cooked comfort food for the ears.
Dave Pike, Esther Wheaton, Leanne Swantko, Kayleigh LeBlanc, and Alison Corbett play new-time traditionals and old-time originals and all-time favourites: mountain music filtered through the Grand River Valley. They have performed in dim saloons and sunny cafés, folk festivals and country weddings, small-town castles and downtown galleries, fancy hat shops and antique train cars - and once for an audience of several thousand bees.
Onion Honey features all the instruments of a classic string band - banjo and guitar, mandolin and fiddle, double bass and washboard, many-layered harmonies - but turns the typical bluegrass lineup on its head with four women and one man, all of whom play instruments and sing. Influenced by bands like Foghorn Stringband, Della Mae, and Old Crow Medicine Show and inspired by country folk artists like Townes van Zandt and Gillian Welch, the Kitchener-based outfit brings a uniquely-Southwestern-Ontario flavour to original and traditional folk tunes. Like their name, Onion Honey’s music is sweet and sharp and savory, a remedy for many ills and recipe for a good time.
Esther Wheaton (banjo, vocals, washboard) and Dave Pike (banjo, mandolin, guitar, vocals) met in 2011 when their former bands (Banjo & the Bellows and A Yellow Field) shared a billing at The Boathouse - a Kitchener, Ontario institution. Dave insinuated himself into Esther’s band, and when The Bellows dissolved the two started their own old-time project. They recorded and released their first full-length album, Don’t Bother Me None in 2013.
In 2014 Onion Honey acquired two new band members - Michelle Horel (a long-time friend of the band) on banjolele and vocals, and Stuart Cybulskie (an amazing Kijiji find) on double bass. As a quartet they performed at Toronto’s Winterfolk Festival, Cambridge’s Mill Race Folk Festival, Kitchener’s Summer Lights Festival, and many other events as well as establishing their regular gigs at the Grand Trunk Saloon (first Wednesday of every month) and Seven Shores Cafe (second Sunday of every month). This lineup appears on their 2014 EPs Pocket Pair and Home Before the Snow, and 2017 album Raisin’ Heck.
2017 also saw a lineup change as Michelle and Stuart left the band, replaced by Keenan Reimer-Watts on fiddle (kidnapped from a new music ensemble), Leanne Swantko on guitar (another amazing Kijiji find), and Kayleigh LeBlanc on double bass (Esther’s old university roommate). As a quintet they recorded holiday EP Layers and performed all over Southwestern Ontario from Owen Sound to Niagara Falls, appearing at Jarvis Ontario’s Welcome Home Festival, the Balls Falls Thanksgiving Festival, Waterloo’s Belmont Village Bestival, the Goderich Downtown Shuffle, KW’s Hold the Line Festival, the Open Ears Festival of Music and Sound, and much more.
In early 2019 Keenan left the band for his own artistic pursuits and Onion Honey was joined by veteran fiddle player Alison Corbett of Emily Flowers, The Burning Hell, and the Pan-Canadian Folk Ensemble. The band’s third full-length album, Earthly Trials was recorded and released by this lineup in 2019.
Onion Honey has been heard on radio stations across Canada and both Raisin’ Heck and Earthly Trials charted on national campus radio. They perform regularly around Southwestern Ontario at festivals and fairs, parties and weddings, saloons and cafes, galleries and libraries, and pretty much everywhere else.