For a moment, the world goes quiet. The only sound is the crackling of the fire before you. Then it begins.
A pluck of a guitar string and a voice that cuts through the night. It starts out softly, but soon the voice carries through the trees bringing the world back to life.
This is a bonfire session.
Nick & Benton are modern day troubadours, travelling around the Haliburton Highlands sharing their gift of music with cottagers and locals alike.
Inspired by the nature and culture of the region, Nick Russell and Benton Brown have created what they call “bonfire sessions”. Combining their love of performing, improvisation, and the great outdoors, these sessions are connecting cottagers with an experience unlike any other.
Listening to the pair croon in perfect harmony, you’d assume they’ve been performing together their entire lives, but the truth is that they only connected in recent years when they met on Boshkung Lake.
But the two share a special connection that binds them together: a love for their home, the people who make up their community, and music.
Both Benton and Nick grew up in the Haliburton region, now starting their own families in the midst of one of the country’s most naturally beautiful areas.
“Nick lives right by this stunning, rugged river, and I live right beside a big open lake. We don’t just work around nature all the time, what we come home to every day is nature,” Benton says. “The environment here allows us to discover and create our own unique genre, a mixture of jazz and pop soul that is fed by the outdoors.”
This inspiration is apparent in their music. Sweeping melodies, subtle strings, and soft vocals can shift to rapid, flowing verses in an instant.
Every performance is a response to their environment.
As Benton explains, “when people sit down and listen to the music, they are listening intently because it seems to be off the cuff, but we’re kind of listening to each other in the moment—improvising and using intuition to pull it off.”
And that’s where the magic lies: finding perfection in the imperfections.
Performing outdoors is what brought about the idea for the pair in the first place. The environment provides constant inspiration, and a stage to connect with families across the Haliburton region.
But the outdoors also provide the occasional challenge, something that keeps them on their toes.
They have to be flexible with their equipment, the location, and the weather. “Bugs can be a challenge, too,” Nick says, laughing as he does.
The duo have been performing across the Haliburton Highlands in what they describe as their “Abbey Road.”
“We feel so privileged to carve out a living, have great friends, in what is essentially a massive playground,” says Benton. “Haliburton is our studio, our Abbey Road. That’s where the best music comes from—it’s one big, massive studio with lakes and birds and trees.”
It’s why both Nick and Benton have settled in Haliburton. Nick is a fourth-generation full-time musician, while Benton is a contractor by day and musician by night. Both have young families that love the area.
The “lake culture” is a large draw for those who cottage in the region. And many end up settling in the area permanently. Nick and Benton attribute their creativity and desire to spread their roots in the Haliburton Highlands to the natural topography and culture.
Early mornings by the lake turn into hikes along the river into town. The Highlands are filled with local restaurants, activities for families, and friendly faces.
From cycling to canopy tours, outdoor sculptures and more, the Haliburton region is a playground that draws visitors from around the world, without losing its small-town charm.
Everyone is connected. It’s a place where you can escape to reconnect with your friends and family. And those around you want to help you do that.
For Nick & Benton, they use their music to achieve that.
“Almost everyone has heard of us through word of mouth. We don’t have any music you can buy at a store and yet all our gigs are full,” Benton says. “That speaks to something, that our music resonates with people.”
And that’s the magic of music by the bonfire. Connecting with loved ones and the environment around you through song.
Watch all the videos in The Connections Series to learn more about Ontario’s Highlands through the amazing locals who call this place home.
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