Mark McDonell loves his job.
In a coffee shop earlier in November, the talented father of two talks with awe about his work as a professional musician.
“I don’t take it for granted,” he said, “I’m from a small town and I didn’t have a lot of money growing up. Now, I get to travel to different countries and perform. I’m 48 years old and I keep wondering, “When are people going to find out it’s all smoke and mirrors?”
A professional singer and guitar player since high school, Mark is the face of AMBUSH, a popular band in Kingston and Frontenac County.
Known for their new country sound, the band has played to sold-out crowds from coast-to-coast.
“We’re very busy as a band,” he admits, referencing the band’s rise to fame in Canada since he arrived in Kingston approximately 20 years ago. “We’re going to Canadian Forces Station Alert next week to perform for the troops. We’ve done some crazy stuff.”
Nowadays, Mark divides his time between performing for big crowds and singing for smaller groups such as residents of retirement and long-term care homes.
“It’s kind of interesting,” says Mark about performing at the homes with just an acoustic guitar and speaker. “The band has had a lot of big shows, performing in front of thousands of people. My performances at the retirement and long-term care homes are smaller and more intimate, which is very rewarding. Music is a healer.”
Growing up in a musical family, Mark began playing with his father for seniors in Perth when he was just 10 years old. He is now doing the same with his son.
“The old folks love the kids. It’s like I’m not even in the room,” he says with a laugh about the reaction his son receives when he starts to play the drums.
He also talked about the pleasure he derived when he played for his mother-in-law, Nancy Langs, when she was battling cancer.
“A lot of patients would gather outside her hospital room when I performed for her,” he says quietly. “A lot of the classic country songs I’m singing now for residents is what I was singing for Nancy.”
Before her death earlier this year, Nancy leaned down and told Mark, “Keep doing this.”
Those three words left a lasting impression on him.
“I find it low-key, but I leave the homes feeling more fulfilled as a musician,” he says with honesty. “It’s just giving back really.”
Opening with the song “You Are My Sunshine”, Mark talks about his enjoyment performing for residents & staff while accompanied by Nancy’s 78-year-old husband, Garry.
“He’s my roadie,” says Mark with a chuckle about his father-in-law. “He would prefer to be out doing something, rather than being home alone. He loves to see the reaction of the people. He loves these shows. I have never gone into a home where the reaction hasn’t been fantastic.”
A regular performer at dance halls across the region, Mark is hoping to play for more seniors in Frontenac County.
“I try to make them smile and laugh,” he says kindly about his popular show for seniors. “I truly, truly enjoy it.”