Wednesday, February 01, 2006


Self described as ‘a folk rock door with bluegrass hinges,’ One Big Smile is a musical collective based in Ottawa, Ontario. Centered around the duo of John Lloyd and Kera Willis, the group’s focus is on spontaneity, community and music’s ability to uplift and transcend. With a full acoustic sound that borrows from midnight kitchen jams and impromptu backyard concerts, the core of One Big Smile is joined by occasional banjos, harmonicas, drums, crystal bowls, flutes and multiple guitars when their players are able to escape from their day jobs.
The band has a long history of playing for children and people with special needs. Previously known as Karmic Underground, they changed their name after Dean Verger, owner of Rasputin’s Café, remarked they turned the entire room into ‘one big smile.’ The rest, as they say, is history.
The main emphasis of the group’s shows is interaction; be it the subtle, non-verbal communication that takes place between audience and performer, or a handful of children who are invited up to sing into the mikes, request their own songs, or tap out a rhythm on a drum. In 2004 John Lloyd began superimposing call-and-response Sanskrit mantras over the joyful, rock-influenced accompaniment of mandolins and guitars. With the addition of English lyrics, these songs have been added into the band’s regular material, and are played at regular Kirtan sessions around the city. With their distinctive original material and a repertoire that draws from folk and bluegrass traditions, Beatles songs, Disney movie soundtracks and rocked-up Kirtan chants, a show by One Big Smile promises to be full of surprises, split-second recognition, and moments of pure elevation as each song lifts and flies.


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The founding member and leader of the collective One Big Smile, John Lloyd has been playing concerts, parties and fundraisers for over 10 years. Through his initial search to find the right educational niche for his autistic daughter, Ayla Lloyd, he became an activist and supporter of people with special needs. Seeing music as an important means of communication and expression between people with disabilities, he has been active in the community ever since. John also volunteers his time every Friday at Grant Alternative school, giving interactive educational performances that act as the school’s music program. He also organizes the school’s yearly music festival, which gives the children a chance to showcase their talents.

Kera Willis is a musician, artist, photographer, writer and traveler who brings her diverse creative background to the dynamic thinkpot of One Big Smile. She grew up in rural Ontario surrounded by animals and fields and the arts, and left home at 19 to travel through Europe, Northern Africa, and Asia. On one of her intermittent returns to Canada, she met John Lloyd and became a member of the musical collective One Big Smile. Independently, she has worked with musical artists Harold Hellam (The Prince of Peace, Ottawa’s Centerpointe Theatre, 1996), Caroline Spence (Victoria, B.C.), and recorded with local artist Lloyd Frost.

Key Points of Interest

~ Volunteers, Grant Alternative School, 1995- present
~ Kirtan Facilitators, The Mirabai Devi Foundation’s events (Ottawa chapter), 2004- present
~ Entertainer/ Performer, The Governor General’s Christmas Picnic, 2005
~ Released a self-titled EP in fall of 2005, radio play on CKCU FM.
~ Volunteers, Autism Unit, Ottawa Technical Learning Center, 2002- present
~ Performers, Crystal Bay Center for Special Education, 1998- present
~ Performers, Tulip Festival, 2005
~ Performers, Down Syndrome Picnic, Hampton Park, 2005
~ Performers, Westboro Nursery School, 2005
~ Guest Musicians, St. Joseph’s School, Gananoque, Ont. 2005
~ ‘Musicians on Call’ Ottawa Lifeguards Assoc., City of Ottawa Wading Pools 2004-2005
~ Performers, McKellar Park Ribbon Cutting Ceremony, 2004
~ Performers, Cycle For Autism, 1999- 2004