I really enjoy highlighting good Maine talent, especially when it’s new to me. Such is the case with the acoustic duo known as The Court Jesters, made up of John Hasnip and Tina Charest, who will return to Slates. They appeared there last year with a special guest guitarist, but this time ‘round it’ll be just the two of them. When I discovered their specialty is close vocal harmonies, I was doubly interested in chatting with them, and Tina Charest called one morning to chat about what folks can expect at their upcoming performance at the popular Hallowell venue.

The Court Jesters with Tina Charest and John Hasnip. Photo courtesy of The Court Jesters

Q: Now, you’re calling from Augusta, correct?
Charest: Yes. I work here, but I hail from Belgrade, and he hails from Manchester. We’re only a few miles from each other. We’re based out of Augusta. I was born and raised here, and we used to play in Augusta all the time, but a couple of the places we played either closed or they don’t have music anymore. We do tend to go out of town, but “out of town” could be Hallowell, it could be Winthrop, it could be Richmond, Waterville. But we do still play in Augusta, occasionally. Sometimes we go as south as Biddeford, Old Orchard Beach in the summer, Portland, Lewiston — central to southern Maine, I guess. We’ve played in Bangor once a year.

Q: Now, is this just a side gig or is it something you’d like to do full-time?
Charest: Well, John does it full-time. He is a musician, and that’s it. He moved to the United States nine years ago now, and that’s all he’s ever done. As for me, I’ve always worked a regular job, and sometimes a second job, and then I do this in between. So, as far as The Court Jesters go, it’s just the two of us, and we gig anywhere from four to five times a month to eight or 10 times a month. But John, as a living, gigs four or five times a week at least, sometimes seven days a week. So, it’s a little different for the both of us because this is his main income.

Q: Now, I assume you do primarily covers, but do you do original material, too?
Charest: Yes. We have a set of originals that we are sharpening and honing, and we’re making our first CD together this year. We’ve been working on it since January. We were kind of hoping that the next time we did a Slates’ gig it would be a CD-release show, but we’re just not ready yet.

Q: Any idea when it will come out?
Charest: We’re hoping by the end of summer we will have it all ready to go. And then we’ll call some of our regular places and ask if they’d be willing to let us do a CD-release there.

Q: Could you talk a little more about your musical partner?
Charest: He’s a fascinating fellow. It’s funny because he comes from Old England, and I come from New England. And we not only have two very different accents, but we were brought up on different styles of music.

Q: How so?
Charest: I was brought up on country, and they didn’t hardly have country over there. And he was brought up on The Beatles and that kind of thing. I still have a country feel for me, but I love classic rock — that’s probably my biggest love. But I love jazz and soul and Motown, and so does he. When I write a song, you can hear that country feel, and when he writes a song, it’s very English. (Laughter) For the two of us, though, our thing is harmonies. We’ve always connected well. We met at an open mic in the same music circuit, and the chemistry was instant. Our harmonies were spot-on, even when we were just guessing. He is, as he would say, a “great bloke,” and it worked out well— the friendship was very quick. Oh, and he also runs an open mic every Wednesday in Richmond at the Old Goat.

Q: Now, as far as where The Court Jesters perform, what do you prefer?
Charest: We’d really like to get into what Slates is doing: get into home concerts and private gigs. I don’t mind playing in a pub, but I mind doing that all the time. It’s a lot of noise, and I just feel like we’re singing to a group that may not be paying attention — it’s a different atmosphere. This Slates’ gig is just so intimate and personal. The atmosphere is unique, and the food is wonderful.

Q: And people go there on Monday nights to hear the music. That’s what’s so special, in my opinion, about that venue: It’s a true listening room.
Charest: You go there knowing that people are coming to hear what you have to give. “Oh, let’s go hear what they’re going to do!” Instead of us going, “Let’s feel out the crowd and figure out what we’re going to play.” Do you know what I mean?

Q: Yes, I do — all too well — and that’s the main difference between the bar/pub scene and Slates.
Charest: And that musical freedom is something that every musician longs for, whether they realize it or not.

Q: Just out of curiosity, what kind of instrumentation do the two of you bring to a show?
Charest: I do light percussion — like eggs and tambourine, that kind of thing. But I’m very proud of my tambourine. I’ve always had a natural rhythm. So, it’s amazing what an acoustic guitar and a tambourine together, if played right, can do along with our energy and with our harmonies.

Q: Is there anything, Tina, that you’d like me to pass on to the folks reading this article?
Charest: Just a reminder, to those who are not familiar with Slates and its uniqueness and wonderfulness, that this Monday Night Concert Series is a must-see of any musician. Because of the intimate setting. The sound man Brad Truman is the best around, and it’s worth opening yourself up to the creativity of people who have it in them to share themselves musically. So, whether it’s The Court Jesters or someone else, it’s so worth opening up yourself to that. I would appreciate it if people would come and hear what we have to offer.

Lucky Clark has spent 50 years writing about good music and the people who make it. He can be reached at [email protected] if you have any questions, comments or suggestions.

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