Review: Brodie Dawson & Luke Blu Guthrie House Concert

Not to jinx anything but spring has finally, maybe, almost certainly sprung in the city of champions and Brodie Dawson and Luke Blu Guthrie played to a packed house (literally) of exuberant Edmontonians finally free of the shackles of winter. Just as spring’s sudden arrival juxtaposes with the bleakness of an interminable winter, Dawson and Guthrie’s songs on Saturday played off of one another, switching between light and dark, heavy and light.

LukeBluGuthrieAs the audience drifted into a basement space to hear the concert Guthrie jammed away on his guitar providing a musical underpinning to the sometimes awkward portion of a house concert, the in-between space where people are still searching for the drink they put down, grabbing that final snack and nabbing a seat in a room where the detritus of daily life has been moved aside for the evening. No longer a party and not yet quite a concert.

Once everyone had found a place Guthrie started with “Keep On Shuffling” which acted as a fantastic introduction to Dawson’s “I’m Moving On”. Throughout the night the two switched off on lead vocals (based on who wrote the song) but the contrast and similarities between the song pairings continued to be one of the most intriguing aspects of the show. With “Halfway There” Dawson allowed us a glimpse of her experience living and then leaving Yellowknife, while Guthrie’s “Canadian Clearly” (even with his quirky bigfoot references) struck a chord about tensions between and within Canadian culture(s).BrodieDawson

Ending the first set was a cover of “Love Has No Pride” which Dawson knew from Bonnie Raitt’s version (Bonus Fact: it was written by Eric Kaz and Libby Titus) the crowd then dispersed up the stairs and around the house, refreshing drinks, refilling plates, and meeting the musicians in a kitchen filled with the scent of warm apples and cinnamon. Soon enough it was time for the second half, and again Guthrie bridged that transitory time between party and concert with guitar riffs. In the second half the audience was brought into the performance as back up singers for tunes like “Words/Divine Soul” and “Begin Again”. Guthrie illuminated the current housing crisis in BC and the recent great recession in the Southern US with the haunting and serious “Blood from a Stone”, which was paired with Dawson’s cheekily irreverent “Paycheque to Paycheque”.

The constant contrasts between two equally talent and yet very different musicians kept the concert entertaining and the show felt very balanced, somewhat surprisingly since they only started playing together around half a year ago. If you weren’t at Saturday’s gig and will be in southern Alberta or the interior of BC in the next few days you can catch them for a few shows on this tour, or you can find them on Facebook to find out the next time they are through town.

MON MAY 1st – Cochrane @ My Greek Plate
TUES MAY 2nd – Golden @ Rockwater Grill & Bar
THURS MAY 4th – Peachland @ Beach Ave Cafe & Tapas Bar
FRI MAY 5th – Keremeos House Concert @ The Noteworthy Muse

Review: Maria Dunn Trio at Northern Lights Folk Club

Maria Dunn has a knack for story-telling. She gets to the heart of an event or memory of a person and brings that narrative alive — her grandfather in “Shoes of a Man”, the workers of the Great Western Garment (GWG) clothing factory in “Speed Up”, senior citizens living in rooming houses during the 1980s in Edmonton’s downtown in “Flora” and “Hans’ Song”, or “When I Was Young” inspired by the stories of Dorothy McDonald-Hyde of the Fort McKay First Nation.

Last night the Northern Lights Folk Club (Dunn’s self-professed “home” folk club) hosted Dunn for a sold out celebration of her latest album Gathering, which won an Edmonton Music Prize and was nominated for a Juno Award. But Dunn, joined by Shannon Johnson on fiddle and Jeremiah McDade on a vast array of musical instruments, didn’t restrict herself to selections from that album, pulling from all six of her albums and her other projects (Packingtown, On The River, The Carol Project, GWG: Piece by Piece and Troublemakers) as well. She shuffled through the stories with mastery, moving between the connection between McDonald-Hyde,  Alberta’s first elected female chief, and the Athabasca River to the labour history of Edmonton’s meatpacking North East to depression era trains. Dunn’s gift of exploring recollections and history is not limited by time or place as is evidenced by her award winning song “Malala” inspired by Canada’s most recent honourary citizen Malala Yousafzai. The song’s potent chorus:

Malala, where are you going?
I’ll walk beside you
I’ll meet you there

rang out for a final time with no musical accompaniment, just a joining of the musicians on stage and the audience’s voices, pulling the audience up into a standing ovation and heralding an encore of “God Bless Us Everyone” from The Carol Project.

Roddy Campbell of Penguin Eggs Magazine called Gathering as “essential listening” and I would argue that that description can be applied to all of Dunn’s work. Last night’s show concluded the 2016–17 Northern Lights Folk Club season, but until the fall there are still folk music events going on throughout Edmonton. PEI’s Lennie Gallant will be at Rio Terrace Church on May 19th see here for more details, and Maria Dunn has a local show earlier that week (details will be sent out to her mailing list so be sure to sign-up).

Review: The Small Glories & John Wort Hannam at The Arden

Songs, whether we are the performer or the audience, can help us to make sense of the world we live in. Last night a packed house at St. Albert’s Arden Theatre had perennial prairie favourites John Wort Hannam and The Small Glories (Cara Luft & JD Edwards) to help us unravel ours. When Wort Hannam described the imminent sense of home he felt when he saw the Dairy Queen in Claresholm while introducing “Good Night, Nova Scotia” I immediately was able to translate that to my own experience of cresting the Obed summit on the Yellowhead as I moved back home from a few years on the coast — I didn’t know the sight that Wort Hannam related but I certainly understood the feeling.

This deep sense of understanding permeated my experience of the evening at the Arden. When Edwards recounted introducing “Old Garage” to UK audiences including a heckler who apparently shouted that he had sheep that were older than Edwards’ garage, again I was transported to another time. A time which included me attempting to explain to my Welsh friends that back home there was a living history park (Fort Edmonton) that housed historical buildings — preserving things from the 1880s or 1920s — at which point inevitably someone would point at a building and say “oh, did you know that was built in the 11th century?”. Luft also stirred up memories when she described herself as a third generation Albertan (me too!) who got to share our beautiful province with the UK folk musician Bella Hardy a visit that resulted in the powerful “Time Wanders On“.

The evening addressed ideas of tradition and culture and was at times light and joyful, and by turns profound and dark.  Wort Hannam’s musical reaction to Edmund Metatawabin’s memoir Up Ghost River cracked open not only the devastating history of residential schools in Canada, but the repercussions of them in an individual’s life. While The Small Glories take on Sacred Harp singing with “Wondrous Traveler” embodied the American tradition’s emphasis on exuberant participation (you can typically hear a “sing” from outside the building it is being housed in) even if it did stray from the strictly vocal nature of it.

The double bill of The Small Glories and John Wort Hannam reminded me about what it meant to live in Alberta and Canada at this time, and helped to refocused my understanding of the world.

Review: Pharis & Jason Romero at Northern Lights Folk Club

I can only tell you what anyone in the standing room only crowd at the Pharis and Jason Romero show at the Northern Lights Folk Club would — the Romeros are phenomenal musicians and performers. Perhaps the best way to explain the essence of the show is to say what wasn’t there. It didn’t feel like the Romeros had adopted some sort of worn-out stage persona, they were themselves. Simply put there was no artifice.

Family was a big part the show last night, in the songs from the silly “Grandpa Bob” written about Jason’s father,  to “Long Gone Out West Blues” commemorating Pharis’ family’s move from Quebec out to Horsefly, BC generations ago, to “It’s A Sin To Tell A Lie” an old-timey tune which Jason’s grandmother danced to with her father; and, in the stories the Romero’s shared of their children. A laundry list of the tunes heard yesterday wouldn’t be helpful. Everything that was played and sung was executed with meticulous attention to detail (I’m guessing its the same assiduousness that makes them excellent luthiers). Some highlights from last night, however, were the title track off 2015’s A Wanderer I’ll Stay and their take on the Woody Guthrie tune “Oregon Trail (That Oregon Line)” which appears on the 2017 Smithsonian Folkways’ compilation Roll Columbia: Woody Guthrie’s 26 Northwest SongsThey also shared some new tunes written in the wake of last year’s devastating workshop fire that destroyed all of the couple (and their daughter’s) instruments except for Jason’s banjo and guitar. Pharis explained that she wouldn’t wish a fire on anyone, but that she did wish everyone could feel the same wave of support, of having their community behind them, that they did after the fire. The evening ended with a standing ovation demanding an encore for which the Romeros sang the appropriate “Goodbye, Old Paint.” Old tunes mixed with newer ones, along with other people’s tunes that the Romeros have adopted, creating a timeless evening — that would be as much at home in the 1930s or 40s as it was in 2017. My photos may be black and white but my memories of their lyrical duets are in full colour.

The Northern Lights Folk Club has added an additional show to this year’s season with the Maria Dunn Trio performing on April 22, 2017 and their upcoming season will feature thirteen shows. Season tickets for next year (2017–18) can be purchased directly from Northern Lights Folk Club (not another distributor of their tickets) prior to this last April show, and will be slightly cheaper than if you wait.

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):

One Summer + Two Folkies + Five Festivals