Review: Leeroy Stagger with opener Rebecca Lappa at New Moon Folk Club

The geniuses behind the Winnipeg Folk Fest curate a series called Hear All Year and to some extent that is what the Edmonton folk clubs do for us. They bring a bit of that timeless August magic into the dreary grey, slush-filled prairie winter evenings. At New Moon the glimpse’s of summer aren’t just the music, or even the line-up for the door that wound through the lobby a few times at the final show of the 2016–17 season, it is the sense of community that permeates the whole scene. It seemed that more than ever people were stopping by each others tables to visit, catching up with a neighbour in line, or even striking up conversations with unknowns at their table. In many ways the last show of New Moon’s second season felt like the Sunday of Folk Fest — I, for one, was almost ready to sing “Four Strong Winds” and climb up a ski-hill at the end of the night.

After the perogy line finally abated Rebecca Lappa took to the stage. The Edmonton native charmed the audience with quirky stories about her childhood documentary obsession (the aviation pioneer Amelia Earhart) and even linked the reality TV show Millionaire Matchmaker to her original song “Crockpot Girl”. Lappa was joined by Nick Samoil on keyboards, creating a full sound that carried through St. Basil’s even with the simple configuration of just a guitar, keyboard and Lappa’s voice.

 

Following Lappa’s opening act, Leeroy Stagger’s four piece band came out with their own take on The Shmenge Brother’sCabbage Rolls and Coffee” as an introduction that brought Stagger to centre stage. “Cabbage Rolls and Coffee” was both appropriate (given the available cuisine) and hilariously executed even if the reference was missed by some. He told us that his wife phoned him just before he took the stage to tell him that their young son has heard dad on the TV and had been singing along with the la-la-las of “I Want It All”, eliciting a chorus of “awwwhs” from the audience. But Stagger wasn’t just about laughter and light topics. “Little Brother” was written after Stagger’s own younger brother was in a serious accident, which brought Stagger to his bedside during a week long coma. The evening also featured a number of other tunes off Stagger’s new album, Love Versus hitting stores on April 7th, including “Crooked Old Road” which Joel Plaskett appears as a guest musician on. Ending the main sets was the older “Radiant Land” which is about standing up for what you believe, asking:

What would you do?
What would you do if it all came down to them or you?
Would you stand tall and fight?

In the fields of this radiant land

Stagger segued seamlessly from his own words to Bob Dylan’s reminding us that “the times, they are a-changing.”

To say that all the musicians on stage with Stagger were talented, would be an understatement. Their performance was polished but that doesn’t mean it was stagnant. Keyboardist Michael Ayotte often held the in between song bits together using chords like glue, while drummer Nick Stecz was quick to jump in with a drummer roll for the door-prize draws at intermission & provided a vibrant rhythmic underpinning to the whole evening. Tyson Maiko’s (the bassist) fifteen years of playing with Stagger showed in his banter with the lead singer and Ryland Moranz was phenomenal switching between instruments — mandolin, banjo, various guitars, and likely some other instruments I missed — like it was a game of musical chairs (and he was winning). Together this quintet brought down the house for the New Moon Season, and all we can do is look forward to what is in store for next season.

Early bird season passes for New Moon’s next season go on sale June 1st, and the discounted rate continues until the 30th.

Review: Rose Cousins and Port Cities at the Arden Theatre

Rose Cousins knows when and how to deliver a comedic zinger. She has the perfect onstage proportions of self-deprecation, modesty, confidence, vulnerability, and authenticity when sharing her lyrical perspective on the world. These traits are woven throughout the fabric of her show. Whether she is demonstrating her Islander accent and colloquial phrases, deciding which dog each one of her band members should own, or giving a heart-felt thanks to the audience for supporting live music and allowing her to continue her career as a singer-songwriter, her genuineness shines through and you don’t feel like your city was simply another in a long line of shows.

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Rose Cousins & band

Audience emotions fluctuated between laughter and tears, while Cousins, with a smile, let us know that feelings were welcome. She is happy to assume the responsibility of providing a somber soundtrack for scenes of death in TV shows, a fact she expressed before she started into the heart-wrenching Go First. Introduced with the quip “We’ve just been through the ides of March, which is where Julius Caesar gets stabbed in the back by Brutus. This song isn’t about that, but is about getting stabbed in the back” My Friend aptly expressed the dichotomy between light and dark which was at the heart of Cousins’ performance.

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Rose Cousins

The rapport between Cousins and her band members exuded a quiet strength. Their instrumental offerings supported Cousins acoustic music-making without every over-powering her. They also played peppy transition music as she moved between her acoustic guitar and the piano, lightening the mood between songs before we were plunged into emotional depths. She warned the audience that things only get sadder when she is at the piano. She was not wrong since, in fact, her piano works were the most trance-like moments of the show. The translucent stage fog was lit like a funnel of light from the overhead spotlights. It created an intimate atmosphere for songs such as White Flag, Tender is the Man, Like Trees, and her Donoughmore encore off of her Natural Conclusion album. As much as a Cousins show can be a bit of an emotional rollercoaster, the dark and somber songs are always accompanied by a bit of hope. Leonard Cohen’s oft-quoted “there is a crack in everything … that’s how the light gets in” line, seems an appropriate description of Cousins’ show.

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Port Cities

Port Cities opened the concert with their stripped back harmonies. Cousins’ jokingly described them as “young whipper-snappers” and the trio does exude a youthfulness although they have also achieved success on the CBC Radio 2 chart and co-written songs with the likes of Donovan Woods.  Port Cities’ version of On the nights you stay home captured the darker edge of the Cape Breton phrase, while Sound of Your Voice demonstrated the complexity of the trio’s music. The opening set wasn’t their only contribution to the evening, as Cousins called them back out to act as the choir on Grace. The trio just released their first album, featuring their tight harmonies and it will be interesting to follow them wherever the future takes them.

The Arden’s eclectic schedule continues with groups like Delhi 2 Dublin, The Small Glories and John Wort Hannam please see their website for ticket details.

 

This article was co-written by Twila and Sable.

Review: Dave Gunning House Concert

Last week I was invited to attend a house-concert featuring Pictou County, Nova Scotia’s own Dave Gunning. I leapt at the opportunity not only because I have always been impressed by Gunning’s performances whenever I’ve managed to catch him playing at festivals, but also because the concept of house-concerts interests me. If you are like me and haunt your favourite folk-artist’s websites looking for opportunities to see them perform, you have probably seen listings like “Private Event/Concert” or “House Concert” and have been stumped by how to get invited to such exclusive functions — or you might be asking what a house-concert even is. For the uninitiated a house-concert is a performance held in a home. Usually it features a solo artist or duo and because it is held in a private residence it is often not advertised in traditional methods. Begging the question how do you find out about them? Slide1

Well first off because they are held people’s houses there is a level of trust involved — most people (and rightly so!) don’t just invite random people off the street into their homes — so the best way to get in the loop is to find a friend who already goes to a house concert series and convince them to let you to tag along for their next house-concert adventure. Suddenly you aren’t a stranger but a friend of a friend. If you don’t think that you know anyone who attends (or hosts) house-concerts you should ask everyone just to make sure. Many people know at least one person who does. It might end up looking a little bit like a game of Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon to wrangle an invite, but that is one route to finding out about house concerts. Also, consider volunteering for folk fest or a folk club, you would be helping keep folk music alive in your community and as an added bonus with an influx of new folkie-loving friends someone is sure to be “in the know” about the house-concert circuit. Another approach is to sign-up for mailing lists. This might seem obvious, but signing up for the local folk club’s and your favourite artist’s mailing lists and Facebook pages will allow them to alert you to when there is going to be an event in your area or check out the Home Routes’ schedule in your area. Home Routes is an organization that curates house concerts and acts kind of like an online dating site connecting their house-concert hosts with potential audience members. On their site you can see that an event is happening in your area and at what day and time, you fill in an online form including your contact information and then the host contacts you.

If this all seems like a bit too much hassle for you, I urge you to reconsider. There is something incredibly special about listening to world class musicians play to an intimate audience of under fifty people. On Saturday night, Dave Gunning had the crowd singing along to “A Game Goin’ On” (co-written with David Francey) louder than most theatre performances (with correspondingly larger audiences) I’ve attended in recent memory or how about hearing Gunning’s explanation of his dog staring at him while he wrote “To Be With You” from his album Lift while your host’s own dog darts between chairs. The venue of a house-concert lends the performance an air of immediacy and relevancy that tends to disintegrate at the larger festival level. Gunning was able to share, without rushing through it based on strict timings, the backstory (involving a motorhome billet, a festival in New York, and a recounting of an NPR broadcast featuring a Rabbi) for “Sing It Louder” co-written with Sally Spring.

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Dave Gunning at Saturday’s house-concert

 

With “Sing It Louder” Spring and Gunning remind us that we have to act on our convictions and not just mouth along with the masses “If we stand and rise together, There’s change within our power, I am preachin’ to the choir to sing it louder”. Gunning’s passion for his Nova Scotia home became more and more evident as the evening went on and he acts on his principles as evidenced through his involvement with the Clean the Mill project, and the IWK Health Centre in Halifax. Hearing Gunning perform in such a fantastic atmosphere makes me immensely grateful to the hosts, Gord and Lisa, for opening up their home. This was only my second ever house-concert, so I asked if there was certain behaviours that were frowned upon (I figured remembering that you were in someone else’s home and to behave appropriately was a given, but wondered if there was something else to keep in mind) to which Gord simply told me not to chat when the concert was happening. Sage advice for house-concert and folk club alike — the rest of the audience isn’t there to hear about your week — and such disruption certainly wasn’t a problem at Saturday’s show.

Keep your ear to the ground for murmurings about house-concerts and know that rumour has it that Dave Gunning will be back through Edmonton (at one of our folk clubs) this coming fall, so check your local folk club seasons when they are released … or better yet sign up for their mailing lists!

Some links for mailing lists of interest for Edmonton-based folkies (you can also sign-up for news in person at most folk club concerts):

Blues Double Bill Review: Joël Fafard and Michael Jerome Browne at the New Moon Folk Club

 

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Joël Fafard

Joël Fafard kicked off the New Moon Folk Club’s double bill of Blues offerings with gritty vocals and punny intersong banter. Fafard’s Jitterbug Swing had an agile bluesy swing, Woodshed Blues vocals had a tone of lamentation, while the instrumental track Sweet Mosquito Buzz showcased his slide dexterity. He shared aural glimpses into his family when introducing tunes like If I had a Boat where he noted his son’s wish to be a hockey player which was later replaced with aspirations to be a pirate. He reasoned that any good pirate would need a ship for pillaging, but a good pirate captain would require excellent swordsmanship skills, thus, that is where fencing lessons settled as the current pursuit.

 

 

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Michael Jerome Browne

Michael Jerome Browne’s set had an ethnomusicological feel to it as he would provide a historical backstory before each one of his songs. He brought an array of instruments such as a guitar from the 1940s, mandolin, 12-string guitar, and a gourd banjo with which to showcase his encyclopedic musical knowledge. His set list contained tunes spanning back to content he recorded back in the early 1990s but they still sounded relevant in our modern times. He played the tracks such as Got your Summer Shoes On and Living in the Whitehouse with class calmly switching out different harmonicas, stringed instruments, and updating tuning between each of the songs to offer an accurate performance of his work. Browne ended his set with a the title track from his 2016 album Can’t Keep a Good Man Down and he dedicated a heartfelt encore of Sam Cooke’s That’s Where It’s At to all the lovers in the audience.

 

Leeroy Stagger is next up at New Moon Folk Club on March 24, 2017 at 7:30 PM.

Review: Old Man Luedecke with opener Ken Stead at Northern Lights Folk Club

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Old Man Luedecke

Family life is exceptional fodder for a songwriter attentive to their surroundings. Old Man Luedecke over the course of his set at the Northern Lights Folk Club shared some of his families own stories — ranging from his wife capturing a few moments for herself to hula-hoop after taking the compost out (“The Girl in the Pearl Earring”) to Luedecke’s desire to learn how to yodel being squashed by his father (the fruition of this dubious idea is found in the chorus of “Yodelady”). Likewise local singer-songwriter Ken Stead, who opened the show for Luedecke, had family tales to tell explaining as part of his introduction to “Oh Carolina” that he had his mother to thank for exposing him to folk music by taking him to the Edmonton Folk Music Festival as a form of punishment. Instead of grumbling about attending with his mom and her middle-aged friends Stead heard Eric Bibb entertain 20,000 people on a ski hill and was transformed. Apparently Stead shared this unusual bit of parenting with Bibb when he met him at an airport and Bibb has taken to sharing it with his own audiences.

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Ken Stead

The evening was easily captured by the title of Luedecke’s latest release Domestic Eccentric. Calmly speaking over his restless fingers picking away at the banjo, Luedecke regaled us with the domestic explaining how the chore of taking the compost turned into a sunset hula-hoop opportunity which he connected to the eccentric by associating the scene with a Renaissance painting titled Susanna and the Elders he had seen in an European art gallery, and brought the tale to a close with a reference to Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring.  The domestic was also highlighted in the hilarious “Joy of Cooking” which had the audience chuckling; the melancholy-tinged “The Early Days” the introduction to which Luedecke delivered with a perfect Dad joke “I tour the Maritimes in my private Jet-ta”; and, “Real Wet Wood” which uses the need for an ample winter’s supply of dry wood when heating your home with wood as a metaphor for life or at least that is how I heard it.

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Joel E. Hunt

 

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Erin Kay

The unconventional and the home elements found throughout the set, persisted in the evening’s encore with “Now We Have a Kitchen” describing markers of time within Luedecke’s family life shifting from meeting his now wife while living in a tent in Dawson City to their current home in Nova Scotia. Effortlessly fulfilling the eccentric category with the final tune “I Quit My Job” Luedecke managed to link his foot stomping out the song’s underlying rhythm with the drums of Valhalla.

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Old Man Luedecke

Luedecke’s performance took us through a whole range of emotions, yet his in between song banter was delivered deadpan which served to heighten our understanding of the songs by forcing us to focus more closely on the lyrics for whatever element he had previously indicated. As Luedecke sings in “The Girl in the Pearl Earring” “You can’t fake a work of heart” and through his spoken and sung stories at the Northern Lights Folk Club Luedecke shared a work of his heart with us. Luedecke was joined by Joel E. Hunt who switched between mandolin and fiddle and contributed vocal harmonies, while Erin Kay added her voice to Stead’s opening act.

The Northern Lights Folk Club season continues with Jory Nash and James Gordon sharing the bill on March 18, 2017 please see their site for ticket details.

Review: Winterfest 2017

With the long weekend of February just completed we are now officially past the halfway mark to lounging on tarps on a ski hill, while listening to world-class musicians. Winterfest now in its 9th year hosted by the Uptown Folk Club, marks this shift like a solstice to its summer counterpart. The event lasted for five hours on Friday, and many more than that on Saturday. If you need a pick-me up from the February blahs mark Winterfest on your calendar for next year (its always on the long weekend in February) and be prepared to be overloaded with all folk music, all the time.

Any good folkie will tell you that each stage at folk fest has its own feel dependent upon size, location and, of course, the musicians on stage. Some years it is as if the stars have aligned and every workshop I want to see happens on the same stage and I spend more time camped out on my little blanket than back at the tarp that I pegged on the Hill. Winterfest at the Uptown Folk Club is like that magical stage at folk fest, once you’ve got your spot sorted out you can just remain there and soak in all the wonderful music. Just like folk fest there are quick stage changes managed by a crack team of sound techs, and on Saturday afternoon there were two workshop sessions, one on songwriting and one for instrumentals that dissolved into the amazing jam sessions Canadian folk fests are known for.

Winterfest boasted everything from bluegrass to Beethoven and even some pyrotechnics, both literal and musical. Friday night kicked off with “Legion” of Folk showcasing the talents of many of the Uptown Folk Club volunteers who would spend the rest of the weekend devoted to manning the audio-visual equipment. These performers turned volunteers linked their songs back to inspiration gathered at previous Winterfests and shared part of their own musical journeys. In a similar vein “Legion” of Folk was followed up by the local Family Folk featuring Chris and Matt Gosse with their father Steve. Literal pyrotechnics ended Shane Chisholm’s set on his gas tank bass, when the salvaged-Chevy-van-part-turned-musical-instrument met his musical metal grinder. Rounding out Friday evening were performances full of musical pyrotechnics by American’s Molly Tuttle and Bluegrass Etc. their hands were a constant blur, and both Tuttle and Bluegrass Etc. were called back to the stage for encores.

Saturday started out with workshops before Edmonton’s Lara Yule Singh took to the stage sharing a number of fairy-tale inspired tunes. Performances by Rick Garvin and Chris Ronald both hailing (now) from the West coast bookend a brief supper break. Garvin drew song inspiration from family history in “A Hundred Dead Buffalo“. Ronald took us back to his beginnings as a singer-songwriter re-living one of the two songs his music teacher at school had him play to accompany the choir with “Streets of London“. The Great Plains (Saskia and Darrel) had borrowed instruments from the two Steves (Gosse and Spurgin) and started their set out with a borrowed tune too, having everyone singing along and miming the explosive snare drum in “The Boxer“.

One of the best things about live music is hearing the stories that accompany the songs, gaining some insight into the performer’s song writing process. Over the weekend Tuttle described struggling with wanting to make something perfect, and how sometimes it was “Good Enough“. While with “The Busker” Ronald explained that the opposite is also true and that at times songs appear in nearly complete form in your head. Steve Spurgin with Bluegrass Etc. noted that songwriters can become associated with songs not written by them such as was his experience with “Moonlight Motor Inn” (actually written by John Malcolm Penn) and “Walk in the Irish Rain” (written by Spurgin and NOT a traditional Irish folk song).

Winterfest was a great mix of local and imported music, and perfectly timed to cancel out the despair of a long winter with no summer music festivals on the horizon. The Uptown Folk Club continues its season mixing local and other performers with an open stage on March 17th and a concert featuring the Lonesome Ace String Band on April 7th, please see their website for information on tickets. If you were wondering where Beethoven came into this mix this weekend — listen out for to the “German folk song” in Bluegrass Etc.’s “Dueling” about 7 minutes and 20 seconds in.

Interview Preview with The Slocan Ramblers

The Slocan Ramblers — Frank Evans on banjo, Adrian Gross on mandolin, Darryl Poulsen on guitar and Alastair Whitehead on bass — are consistently described as one of Canada’s up-and-coming bluegrass acts to watch. We wondered how they got their start, their musical taste, and how they go about writing their tunes. Whitehead of the Toronto based group answered some of these questions for us prior to their visit to Edmonton.

The Slocan Ramblers had a whirlwind start, practically booking an opening gig before you even had played together. What prompted the formation of the band in the first place?

Yea, it’s funny to think back on it now. Adrian and I (Alastair) were living together while at music school, Darryl, Adrian, and I had started jamming at our apartment, and had bonded over our mutual enthusiasm for bluegrass and folk music, something not all that common for a few jazz school guys. I had met Frank at work and heard he was a great banjo player. We upgraded our jams to the garage to make room for him. The four of us hit it off both musically and socially pretty much from the get go. We were offered a gig before we had even really decided to be a band let alone chose a name. It went really well, and we were offered a monthly gig, then a weekly gig. Eventually we made our first album, started touring, and now it seems to be a full time occupation. We’ve definitely been really lucky with how it has all worked out.dsc_0121


How did you guys become a bluegrass band given the diverse musical backgrounds of each of the members as individuals?

We all got to bluegrass in our own separate ways, and perhaps for different reasons, but I think we can agree that our love of the music was solidified by the very vibrant bluegrass scene in Toronto. We get asked a lot how a bunch of young guys in Toronto got interested in bluegrass, the truth a lot of people don’t know is that there is a world class bluegrass scene in Toronto, with top notch bands almost every night of the week. Bluegrass is definitely a music best appreciated in a live setting. Having such a wealth of live bluegrass in Toronto was always a great source of inspiration.

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A lot of your interviews mention the Foggy Hogtown Boys — how has this group has influenced your group?

As I mentioned before, Toronto is a great city for bluegrass with weekly gigs on almost every night of the week. One of the longest running and best known of those shows was the High Lonesome Wednesdays at the Silver Dollar Room. It ran for almost 20 years and was a major institution in Toronto, not just for bluegrass fans but all kinds of folks from all walks of life. For the majority of the High Lonesome Wednesdays existence, the Foggy Hogtown Boys, a well known Canadian Bluegrass band were the entertainment, performing under the name Crazy Strings. We all used to go to that show regularly. The Foggy Hogtown Boys are a great band, and set the bar high. They were a great source of inspiration for us, and in many ways helped shape the sound of our band. We have gotten to know all of them over the years and they have really supported us. Chris Coole one of the groups co-founders was kind enough to produce our last album. A couple of the Slocan Ramblers also perform somewhat regularly with another Foggy Hogtown Boy John Showman. I think the Foggy Hogtown Boys really helped establish the Bluegrass scene in Toronto and inspired a whole bunch of younger aspiring musicians to get into the genre.


Some of your songs are written by you and some are traditional tunes — what does the process of writing a tune look like for The Slocan Ramblers?dsc_0105

We started playing bluegrass because we loved the genre. There’s a pretty rich repertoire of songs in the bluegrass canon, and the best way to learn the music is to learn as many of those songs, and listen to as many recordings as possible. We really took that to heart when the band first got going. I feel like we will always enjoy digging up old songs and finding ways to adapt them to our sound. However, as the group evolved from our bar band roots we definitely wanted to challenge ourselves and find a sound we could call our own. Writing original music seemed like the natural progression. We have all really embraced composition and song writing, and I feel it has definitely become a strength for the band. In terms of our writing process, I feel like it is still continually evolving. We still draw a lot from the traditional roots of the music, but we are also a lot more confident to stretch the boundaries and challenge our listeners. The process is pretty fluid and often different from tune to tune. We try not to self analyze too much.

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Reviews of your gigs constantly praise the vibrancy and excitement of your performance — how do you keep the enthusiasm levels of your shows high night after night on a tour?

Bluegrass is a really infectious and energetic music to begin with so that definitely works in our favour. It is also a music that is best enjoyed in a performance setting. Often people that had no idea they would enjoy bluegrass see the show and are total converts. There’s a lot of factors that play into it, the improvisational aspect of the music, the energy of playing live, the energy you get back from the crowd, when it all clicks it’s something really special. For me I think the biggest factor is that as a band we all still get along really well. I think the longevity of a band, and its success is largely based on whether or not the members still enjoy each others company after 5 years of touring, spending time together in the van, sleeping in hotels etc. Ultimately we all still get along really well, we still laugh at each others dumb jokes, and most importantly we are still inspired by each other musically. We all feel pretty lucky to be able to go on stage together every night and play our music for such great audiences, the energy seems to provide itself.

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There are couple opportunities in Edmonton to hear and/or be a part of this infectious and energetic music for yourself:

  • February 22th The Slocan Ramblers will be the backing band for Bluegrass Karaoke hosted by the Northern Bluegrass Circle Music Society (NBCMS) at Pleasantview Hall (10860 – 57 Ave Edmonton). Admission is $2 and homemade pie is $3.
  • February 24th The Slocan Ramblers play Edmonton’s New Moon Folk Club.  For ticket information please see New Moon’s website.

*The last time we saw The Slocan Ramblers was at the Edmonton Folk Fest in 2015, we searched our archives and found the in-text photos that accompany this interview.

One Summer + Two Folkies + Five Festivals