Mrs. Russell’s: Music, Food, Friendship

Lee Foote
4 min readDec 3, 2023


There was going to be a homegrown music fest so I started thinking about food.

Southern foods fall somewhere between subsistence and haute cuisine. Recently a holiday feast was preparing itself in a crowded kitchen and lovely wife put out a nice soft cheese and some fancy crackers as an appetizer. With me so far? Well, there wasn’t sufficient taste BUT right behind was a bowl (called a “mess” south of Missouri) of spicy and soft-cooked collard greens. A dollop of collards on cheese and cracker made that mouthful just leap up on your tongue! Collards — who expected to find them here in the Pacific Northwest? Yep, deepest green I have ever seen, almost purplish, and with twice the flavor of kale.

Collard Green Cheese Crackers? Who knew?

And that feast? Well guitars, banjos, mandolins and basses were moving up the BC coast like a salmon run. It was a congregating, coalescing, convening, coming-together of acoustic musician from around Vancouver, Vancouver Island and a lesser island or two swarming up to Nanaimo (Yes, home of Nanaimo bars). I just heard someone say “What goes into a Nanaimo bar . . . loggers, dock workers and fishermen”. Now, I would add musicians.

We piled into that early 1900’s house formerly owned by a character known as Mrs. Russell, and now by a beautiful bass player named Kate and this is her 6th Mrs. Russell music weekend. People were claiming the 3 bedrooms, couches, cots, camper vans, a pair of tents erected for spillover and even hotel rooms nearby.

Ostensibly it was to play bluegrass and folk music but it became clear that this was about sharing of self, food, time, memories, songwriting, laughter, and a deep enfolding sense of belonging that largely replaces judgement with acceptance; conformity with exploration, and overall a sense of musical discovery.

Back to the turkey — I had been eyeing a pasture-raised flock that my neighbor Adele tends, making her the turkey shepherd or flockerd, so I got on her list for a fresh bird.

Like a wandering flock of dinosaurs

I picked out a promisingly intelligent bird who almost smiled at me racing up to see what cracked grain I might offer. Do not get friendly with the very bird you will need beheaded Lee!

Why so happy Earl?

We named him “Earl” after the Dixie Chick’s song in which “Earl had to die”. Then there was this famous banjo player . . .

That’s Kate — house hostess and 4th down on the right- who just throws open the doors, pulls some tables together and points “There is the kitchen, the washroom, the BBQ pit and a bunch of places to sleep” We sorta did the rest.

A massive cheese tray of the sweetest, richest, and stinkiest cheeses imaginable came from Lorraine, our local turophile, Tim and others brought fun wines and beers, and many a side dish appeared. Warren created a bread stuffing that was awesome and rare (and quickly went extinct).

Then we got serious about eating.

Brave of those folks to eat ANYTHING a Louisianan cooks. Just recently I had to subdue one of the invasive exotic Vancouver Island gray squirrels that was making a nuisance at the birdfeeder. But that wasn’t the only incentive . . . southerners know that gray squirrels fed on acorns, seeds, and fruits are DELICIOUS!

Quick skin, clean and quarter, fire up the old Instant Pot with a few handfuls of spices, and bay leaves and bouillon; toss in squirrel quarters and back & served Mr. Chucklehead over rice with a side salad for lunch 45 minutes after his last feeder raid. Kill it — you must eat it. I sometimes wonder why my wife ever married someone with such vestigial redneck tendencies?

Earl too made an encore the next day in turkey gumbo as we extracted the last bits of goodness from his pastured carcass so maybe a little southern is tolerated.

There was music and stories, and food and a little Woodstock happened, heavy on the “Wooden” instruments.

There are many bonding things that happen when people dance, talk the night away, or play music together. Maybe it comes from repeatedly trusting each other for words, harmonies, back up music, and gifts of embellishment and helping each other mask or recover from the inevitable mistakes. In the purest sense, the feeling of love seeps in in ways that transcend age, gender, instrument or betrothment. I understand the cliché of the female vocalist running off with the drummer in rock bands.

Thank you Kate and all pickers, fromagers, oenophiles, harmonists, humorists, and vocalists. It was a lovely weekend!



Lee Foote

Southerner by birth, Northerner by choice, Casual person by nature.