All posts by twila

Cool contrasts: Review of Chris Ronald Trio & Sam Spades at Northern Lights Folk Club

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Chris Ronald

Edmonton is a city spoiled for choice when it comes to folk music, and at times that means a finite audience gets divided up into quite small segments—I’m guessing that unintentional subdivision of the usual folkie crowd is what happened last night when the Chris Ronald Trio and Sam Spades shared the bill at the Northern Lights Folk Club playing to an intimate audience.

While outside the evening began with a brilliant sunset it turned into a cool, damp October night, the same sort of startling contrast took place inside the hall.  The evening began with Chris Ronald who has the ability (likely honed from time as both a busker and a schoolteacher) to hold attention whether he be telling you about touring via Via, or defining halcyon. Mike Sanyshyn and John Ellis joined Ronald on stage, and with dramatic melodic fiddle flourishes (Sanyshyn) and guitar/mandolin/banjo/vocal harmonies (Ellis) aided an already skilled storyteller in sharing tales. Ronald’s songs take inspiration from everything between (and including) a photograph of his brothers, busking, finding a lost wedding ring (8 years later in the back of a basement storage space), and even the heart-attack of a championship curler. The trio had the audience singing and clapping, and relaxing into the intricate sounds of Ronald’s latest album Fragments.

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Sam Heine of Sam Spades

An intermission, set change-over and few minutes later the local Sam Spades—John Richards (bass), Greg Hann (drums), Trevor B McNeely (lead guitar), and Sam Heine (guitar & lead vocals)—took the stage with their brand of blues-soaked rock’n’roll noir. From the first chord, the difference was apparent, we were in for heartbreak accompanied by epic swathes of pedal steel and blisteringly fast (yet somehow twangy too) passages from the upright bass. The Sam Spades set felt like it would be at home in a dusty western bar (probably only found in my imagination) where the floorboards creak from age and, the scent of beer and whisky seem to permanently infuse the air.

The effect of the two sets was entirely different, providing both a cool contrast and demonstrating the fantastic range of styles found in folk music. This is just the starting leg of Ronald’s tour as he heads East to Ontario, Quebec and the Maritimes, if you can be sure to try to catch a show. Sam Spades plays frequently throughout the Edmonton area, including an upcoming (November) set of dates at Blues on Whyte, and Northern Lights is back with Hillsburn (whom we saw at the 2016 Jasper Folk Fest and thought were awesome) on October 21st.

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Garnet Rogers @ Northern Lights Folk Club

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Rogers reading an excerpt from Night Drive

Tonight marked the opening of Edmonton’s Northern Lights Folk Club’s 19th season, and it opened with a bang—Garnet Rogers commanded the stage for two sets (and an encore). In an unequivocal demonstration of support for live folk music, the line-up before the doors opened stretched out of the building and down the sidewalk. The show was sold out, just a few hopeful (and extremely lucky) folks got in when someone had an extra ticket because _________ friend/family member couldn’t come.*

Rogers cuts an imposing figure. He is a tall man, his voice is strong, and he selects his guitar from a rack filled with instruments possessing unique histories, which he happily shares. But the number one thing you take away from his concert has nothing to do with his height and everything to do with his stories. Whether it is through song or speech (or written down—now in the form of the book Night Drive) Rogers has an impeccable gift for telling a good story. With the song “Small Victory” he told us the tale of a mare rescued from slaughter, the very first stanza gives you a sense of Rogers’ attention to literary detail:

You’ve no business buying a mare like that
But buy her if you must
He bit the end off his cigar
And spat it in the dust
She’s old, she’s lame and barren too
She’s not worth feeding hay
But I’ll give her this, he blew smoke at me,
She was something in her day. 

Within seconds you are at that dusty horse auction buying that mare. Although the song has a melancholic air, it also conveys the hope in the title. Rogers succeeds in sharing a part of his emotional connection to his horses with his audience, and it set us up for a hilarious tale (FedEx and artificial insemination) about that mare’s offspring. Rogers’ tales read from Night Drive drew the audience in as much as his musical offerings did and he took us from being all of fourteen on a beach in Port Dover to a workshop stage on another coast line in Vancouver.

 

David Alan Eadie from their days in the Stan Rogers trio joined him on stage for the encore—beginning with a rousing sing-a-long chorus of “Michael Row Your Boat Ashore”, once again set up by a reading from Night Drive.  Seeing as I can’t even approach Rogers’ dramatic story-telling prowess, I’ll just say get the book, read it, and imagine a room filled with folkies singing along at the conclusion of Chapter 9. This is Rogers farewell tour of the West, so if you are from Edmonton and want to see Rogers play live then you are going to have to be the one to do the travelling. Check upcoming tour dates on his website,

*If this was you (or someone you know) I’d advise signing up for the Northern Lights Folk Club mailing list, HERE. They send you handy reminders so you aren’t standing outside the show in the cold hoping for a miraculous ticket to appear.

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Dave Gunning and JP Cormier are up next at the Northern Lights Folk Club on September 30th, 2017 and there are still some tickets available.

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