Review: Royal Wood and Jessica Mitchell at The Arden Theatre

The first musical stop on The Arden Theatre’s Made in Canada 2016 Professional Series, celebrating Canada’s upcoming sesquicentennial was Ontario with a performance by Royal Wood with Jessica Mitchell as the show’s opener. Mitchell may have been the opening musical act of  but there was nothing in her performance that suggested she was a novice to the stage. A fact also evident in her nominee nod from CCMA earlier this year for their Roots Artist of the year award.

fullsizerenderJessica Mitchell came on stage addressing the audience with a tone of familiarity that made her feel like she was already a close friend. Her performance didn’t merely invite the audience to be her friend, she engaged with us as if we were her personal confidantes. At times, she sang with searing clarity when her resolve was evident, yet other moments featured a breathy vulnerability. Whether she was sharing her insights on love, growing up, or how music has served an important role in her own mental health — she sang with honesty that asked us as audience members to know her as a person.

 

Royal Wood

A singular incandescent bulb glowed on the stage at the start of Royal Wood’s set. While the ghost light is normally lit after the theatre closes, Royal Wood decided to invite the spirits of the theatre to share the stage with him. The light would glow with varying intensity throughout the show or stay silent in the darkness.

imageFive white clothe panels suspended from the stage created a versatile visual backdrop for lighting effects. When lit from the bottom, the fabric displayed a rough texture not unlike concrete but when the backlight turned on to shine from behind the panels, the outline of tattered drapes hung as another layer behind the fabric. While such lighting theatrics could have easily turned into a haunted house effect, the vibrant purples and pinks projected created an inviting warmth. If there were indeed ghosts sharing the stage, they appeared happy to be present among the living musicians on the stage.

dsc_0270

Musicians entertain, they tell stories both through music and between songs. It can be a difficult balance to strike — How much banter is appropriate? Should I just sing the next song? Should I suggest a sing-along for this song? Would the audience even know what to sing if I did suggest it? Royal Wood’s performance didn’t seem hindered by such questions. When if came time for the audience to dust off our own vocal chords, for Woods’ “Forever and Ever” he taught us the part, rehearsed it with us and then cajoled us from a few people singing sotta voce into a choir that resonated the intimate ~500 seat theatre.

There is a sense of professional design in Royal Wood’s show: the flow of his set list alternating between solo numbers and arrangements with his full band, an appropriate amount of audience sing-along that felt inviting but not imposing, tdsc_0275he lighting design, even his styling was consistent with his trademark vest. While this artifice could appear disingenuous, his stories of preteen love and clear passion for sharing the stage with his band members made his generosity palpable. He recognized each one of his band members throughout the show. The audience developed quite an affection for Robbie playing the keyboard, who also happens to hold a Doctorate in Physics. During his encore, Royal Wood invited Jessica Mitchell back to the stage to share the spotlight with him for a closing duet. The congenial atmosphere cultivated on-stage by the musicians transferred to the audience as they spilled out into the St. Albert night.

For more information on The Arden Theatre’s Professional Musical Series visit their website. Some upcoming Artists include: Monkeyjunk, Terra Lightfoot, Andrea House, Fred Eaglesmith, and Fortunate Ones.

This review is co-written by Sable and Twila.

Art & Activism: An interview with Rosie & the Riveters

Completing a triptych of Saskatoon performers Rosie & the Riveters captivated the Saturday audience of the 2016 Jasper Folk Fest while a full rainbow emerged from the grey gloom and hung over the valley. The upbeat tunes and tight harmonies of the vintage-folk inspired quartet stayed with me all weekend, and on returning to Edmonton I was delighted to get in touch with Allyson Reigh of Rosie & the Riveters to ask her some questions about female empowerment, social change, education and the Riveters’ home province.


During your live show in Jasper a story about the inspiring vitality of one of the Riveters grandmother’s was shared, and on your band blog there are mentions of other inspiring women. It seems obvious that you feel that it is important to model this empowerment of women, how is being an all female musical group important in your goal to share music about the empowerment of women?

Rosie & the Riveters was formed back in 2011 when Farideh Olsen had the idea to get a group of female singer-songwriters together who were interested in collaborating and building something unique and different. We initially came together to support one another and hone our craft and things sort of just grew from there.

On one hand, it works really well that our band is made up of all women and as a group we’re very vocal about the importance of women supporting women. We know lots of men who would be great additions to the band – in fact we did a big CD release tour last fall and brought three men from Saskatoon as our backup band – but arranging more than four individual schedules is tough so we’re sticking with just the four of us for now!dsc_0434

What do you hope to communicate to your listeners by portraying women in this way through your music?

One of our biggest goals in putting ourselves out there is to show that women can and do work well together. All you have to do is turn on the TV or read a magazine and see how common it is to criticize and tear people down, particularly women, rather than build them up. We’d love for people to see our band perform or hear our music and know that there is genuine love and respect for one another; that it’s possible to admire and be happy for another woman’s success without questioning your own value or talent.

We take turns singing lead while the other three sing back up and we’re having a helluva time doing it!
dsc_0386
Twenty percent of your merchandise sales go toward supporting women’s projects at www.kiva.org. Where did this idea come from?

We wanted to use what we’ve been given and help other women around the world, particularly those working in the arts. A lot of research has shown that investing in local female entrepreneurs can have the greatest social and economic impact because women play so many different roles in their communities. Essentially, the empowerment of women has the ability to support entire communities in the long run.


Do the Riveters get together to pick which Kiva projects to support?

We take turns choosing which projects to support. Generally speaking, they’re usually arts or textile-based businesses.

Have you seen first hand your support of Kiva makes a difference in women’s lives?

Kiva posts updates on projects fairly regularly, so in that sense we can all keep updated on projects we’ve lent to. I spent six months living in rural Ecuador a couple years ago in a community that has benefited from investment through Kiva. So I’ve seen some of the direct benefits of microfinance loan initiatives firsthand, also within the arts and textile sectors.

Education through music is another element that permeates Rosie & the Riveters online presence. What kind of music education experiences as young musicians did you have?

Between the four of us we’ve got all kinds of musical experience. Two musical degrees, countless years of picking up instruments in our homes and teaching ourselves, a musical parent who still tours and performs in different groups, semi-professional choir experience, classical vocal training, musical theatre training, years of jamming with other musician friends, and probably a million campfires where someone passes around a guitar and everybody learns the tune. We’ve got a pretty eclectic background but we all just genuinely love music.

As for education through music, we’re all big fans of songwriters with something to say. I definitely believe that art and activism go hand in hand and Buffy Sainte-dsc_0416Marie and Joni Mitchell are two of my personal favourite artist-activists who both just happen to be from the prairies!

Have you modelled your own teaching after any particular instructor/mentor? If so, how?

We like to say we take our inspiration from a lot of places – the sweetness of The Good Lovelies, the soul of Mahalia Jackson, and the vintage touch of The Andrews Sisters – combine all that with our very own sass and charm and voilà! You’ve got Rosie & the Riveters.
Music is often about universals. Song lyrics will typically speak about love, heartbreak, family and place. Rosie & the Riveters songs seem to focus on the positive as the universal, and not necessarily the scenario or situation of the song. Has this always been a conscious choice?

 

We choose to focus most of our energy and song writing on positive things in general. It’s so easy to feel sad for all the horrible things going on in the world, including our own backyard. The Husky Energy oil spill that polluted our beautiful North Saskatchewan River this summer was heartbreaking and incredibly maddening all at the same time. We do sing songs about the environment (covers and original music), and we have a song or two about ex-boyfriends, but in general we want people to come to our shows, forget their troubles, and leave feeling happier than when they walked in.
Does the Rosie & the Riveter approach to song writing differ from your solo music projects?

The overall goal with our solo projects and Rosie & the Riveters is to create meaningful art that impacts the listener in some way. So in that sense, writing and performing solo or as Rosie & the Riveters is very similar.dsc_0406

Rosie & the Riveters proudly hail from Saskatoon – what is your favourite thing about Saskatchewan and what place should we check out the next time we are in the land of the living skies?

One of the things I love most about Saskatchewan, other than the gorgeous sky, is that it feels like a hidden gem that hasn’t ever been really been properly appreciated, which means it’s not flooded with tourists. Whether you’re here in summer or winter you’re never far from an outdoor adventure – kayaking, camping, paddle boarding, skiing, snowshoeing – the list is endless!


Rosie & the Riveters have shows lined up through 2017, check out their tour dates here!

Jasper Highlights

The 2016 Jasper Folk Music Festival was the chillest folk fest I have ever been to. Unlike the Edmonton and Winnipeg folk fests where a chimerical community of folkies rise up out of the mosquito spray haze and find one another for a few days during the year, you don’t necessarily know your festival friends in “real life”, in Jasper everyone seemed to know one another. Jasper’s festival was a celebration of a year-round community of musicians and music lovers, making it unique as it wasn’t the imaginary city of the larger prairie folk fests. Although the weather was a bit rainy, and a tiny bit on the cold side (I was wearing enough wool that I could have been mistaken for a sheep and ALL of my Welsh rain gear) nothing seemed to dampen the Jasperite’s need to dance and sing. All and all it was a fantastic time, and I’m already rounding up friends for a return roadtrip next year.

Highlights from the weekend include:

Awesome MCs: I’ve never been at a folk fest where the MCs both sang – “Colors of the Wind” (Disney) and “For he is an Englishman” (Gilbert & Sullivan) – for the crowd. Both MCs were fantastic at keeping the audience informed of what was happening and providing a little bit of entertainment between sets. It’s a typically thankless job, so let me say a big thank you!

Local Talent: The number of Jasper musicians (or previous Jasperites) was great. The festival really supported the local acts, giving them a venue to showcase their awesome talents.

Sound Guys: Jasper had some of the best mixed live music at a folk fest that I’ve heard. It is something you notice when it is bad, but not necessarily when it is great – again, a huge thank you is deserved.

Roving Packs of Children: Jasper kids know how to party and were always at the hoola-hoops, jamming with Kiki the Eco Elf’s musical instruments, or dancing their hearts out. It seemed like it would be a great event to bring a family to.

Atmosphere: Can I state one more time how relaxed the festival was? Stress – what stress?

… and  a few more photos …

“Want to see a magic trick?”

With a line-up as dynamic as the weather, Saturday at Jasper’s Folk Fest was the place to be.

Formidable Friday Folk Fest

I left Edmonton and headed west, stopping only for fuel and hot springs (obviously a key component of any mountain weekend) before heading into town for formidable Jasper’s Friday of Folk Fest!

Let the Mountains & Music Meet!

Fun fact: Folk on the Road is headed to the Jasper Folk Music Festival tomorrow, well to be 100% correct I should say half of Folk on the Road is headed to the mountains (Sable has to stay in the city). The weekend promises to be an amazing time “where music and mountains meet” and boasts a pretty awesome line-up.

Personally I’m eager to see Delhi 2 Dublin who in my experience are always a good bet when it comes to fantastic dancing times. I am also excited to hear Saskatoon’s Rosie & the Riveters who I only know from extensive CBC Radio listening, but am looking forward to seeing in person.

A group that I hadn’t heard of before perusing the schedule but through the wonders of the internet am now rocking out to is The Brevet, who are scheduled to play just before Scenic Route to Alaska (also ranking high on the list of exciting performers at JFMF 2016). I’m sure there will be more musical discoveries in the next few days, and can hardly wait to get on the road to Jasper … I just need to make a few playlists before then.

 

One Summer + Two Folkies + Five Festivals