Category Archives: Commentary

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.

dave gunning
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):

Top Picks from EFMF 2016

Twila: This week has been tough – no live banjo music serenading my daily activities, which have included packing up the tarps for another year, washing industrial amounts of both DEET and sunscreen out of my clothes,  editing a ton of festival photos and drinking black coffee like it is going out of style.

I’m not sure if the 16-18 hour days on site (Saturday and Sunday) were what did me in this year, but it has been an extra rough Folk-Over. So as we return to our previously scheduled lives, let’s take stock of what awesomeness happened at EFMF 2016.

Sable: Folk Fest is equal parts of thrilling and exhausting. I was able to bike down to the festival all four days and I didn’t have to rainproof all my electronic equipment! It was a waning on the hot Saturday afternoon with hours of intense sun but I gained momentum with my consecutive interviews on Sunday with Chloe Albert and The East Pointers.

Thank goodness for the annual tradition of Folkover Brunch with Twila and friends on the Monday following EFMF. I think it’s one of the best methods of recovery from so much musical enrichment.

Favourite Festival Moment:

Twila: At Matthew Bryne‘s concert on Saturday he described the moment that made his festival – Jason Wilber playing a songWatching Picasso” he wrote for Ron Hynes at the “Men of the Deep” workshop (it was pretty special).

It is a series of these sort of moments that touch us individually that makes up the magic that is a folk festival. My festival moment was at the “Losing Traditions” workshop on Saturday afternoon on Stage 3. In real life I’m a musicologist, who studies Western classical music, imagine my surprise and delight when Rune Tonsgaard Sørensen the violinist of Dreamers’ Circus stood up and started rocking out with some unaccompanied Bach only to be joined by Ale Carr (cittern) and Nikolaj Busk (accordion). My love of folk music was instantly combined with some of the most gorgeous Western classical music around. I was hooked, and haven’t stopped talking about them or that moment to anyone who will listen.

Imagine this being performed on the corner of a workshop stage in the middle of Gallagher park –PURE MAGIC!

 

Sable:

Nathaniel Rateliff
Nathaniel Rateliff

My favourite festival moment was dancing with the majority of my tarp mates during Nathaniel Rateliff and The Night Sweats Mainstage act on Sunday night. The four day EFMF can feel like a long haul with many hours in the sun and stepping over bubbling, muddy grass, but there is that cathartic release when you can just dance all that energy out. The hill was hopping on Sunday night. I mean, how can you stay still when a hit like this comes on?


Favourite New Discovery:

Sable:

Sarah MacDougall
Sarah MacDougall

I was a fan of Sarah MacDougall. She has this soulful warmth in her vocal tone that really resonated with me, especially in her Swedish rep. It also didn’t hurt that she had some of the best festival fashion I saw at the festival.

 

 

DSC_0496
Dreamers’ Circus

Twila: Unsurprisingly Dreamers’ Circus is my top fest pick. I was at all their performances this past weekend, I even re-jigged my schedule on Sunday to catch more of their music. Not only was there the J.S. Bach influence, on further listening I wonder now if I  hear shades of minimalism – Philip Glass or Terry Riley? And other composers like maybe a little Aaron Copland? Fantastic stuff.  As far as I can tell these fabulous musicians are only performing in Denmark and Japan for the foreseeable future, but I will definitely be keeping tabs on them.

 

Favourite Workshop:

Twila: “Nashville”, Stage 3, Saturday, 3 PM: Tom Russell, Mike Farris, Lera Lynn, Maura O’Connell and Karan Casey

I was waffling between the “Ancestors” workshop and this one. But the stage-wide jam of Johnny Cash’s Folsom Prison Blues put this one over the top for me. Tom Russell and Mike Farris’ interactions made this workshop all the more enjoyable.

Sable: “Desperados Waiting for a Train”, Stage 6, Friday, 6 PM: Rose Cousins, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Dar Williams, Lisa Hannigan

I am always a fan of a good workshop host and Rose Cousins led the way with the perfect balance of wit and admiration for her musical colleagues. I loved this sisterhood of  vocal power on stage. Cousins was able to round it all out with comedic banter and getting them all to think of their Olympic events which ranged from sleeping to tarp rolling.

Favourite Festival Food:

Sable: I’m so glad Curry N Hurry is back because I absolutely love eating curry that looks like it has been stewing all day in a large pan. Seriously, there is something so comforting to have large spoonfuls of bubbling curry over coconut rice, crispy samosas, and fresh nan.

Twila: Coffee from Kicking Horse Coffee, now also being served at the bottom of the Hill (my legs thank you).

*N.B. Although this is a post about festival favourites, I need to state a regret. I didn’t get to see The Steep Canyon Rangers due to scheduling conflicts. This made me incredibly sad and I live in the hope that they are back in town soon, so I can catch them then. – TB

*N.B. I am sad to say I was absent for Saturday afternoon to early evening. Folk Fest is a sacred time, but alas, when friend plans a wedding, they don’t always take a folkie’s priorities into consideration. I have serious regrets for not making the “Losing Traditions” workshop with The East Pointers, Dreamer’s Circus, and The Stepcrew. I heard there was jamming on Bach! – SC

There Will Always Be a Place for Storytelling

Matthew Byrne
Matthew Byrne

Amongst all the technology that is a necessity for many touring Artists from unique electric instruments to loops pedals, there’s still something magical about the simplicity of a cappella singing. One can forget that a single voice has the power to generate images in the minds of listeners.

One such musician at Edmonton Folk Music Festival this year is Matthew Byrne. In his opening Friday workshop, Byrne introduced himself to the audience by putting down his guitar and stepping forward to the microphone to offer a sad folk tale of a maiden who had a fleeting romance with a sailor. His voice had a strength that sounded like it was forged from many evenings sharing stories around a kitchen table in Newfoundland. There is an honesty in his tone that moves me to listen to tales of loss about characters I have never met although they feel real to me through his words.

There is something familiar when listening to folk melodies. They have such an ancient resilience about them after so many years of repetition. I can think of no better way than to deliver that message than through the vocal medium. Byrne is a refreshing reminder that there will always be a place for storytelling when there is a voice that urges ears to listen.

Folkie Picks for EFMF 2016

The hill & Main stage
The hill & Main stage

Another Edmonton Folk Music Festival has arrived and we have our picks of the festival.

Most Anticipated Artists

Sable: I have always had a soft spot for close knit vocal harmonies and that is what I hear in this trio of Staves ladies.

As well, I have enjoyed watching the folktastic rise of The East Pointers comprised of Tim Chaisson, Koady Chaisson, and Jake Charron on fiddle, banjo, and guitar respectively. Who doesn’t love a good reel and jig?

Twila: Considering that as a kid that I begged my parents for flute lessons after listening to albums by the Chieftains, I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to hear Matt Molloy & John Carty with Arty McGlynn this coming weekend.

 

Most Anticipated Workshop

Sable: Influences-Saturday Stage 6 3:05-4:20 PM

Artists: Passenger, The Staves, The Tallest Man on Earth, Sarah MacDougall

There should be smooth tunes from these singer-songwriters from the UK and Sweden in this joint session. I hear the delicate hint of vocal vulnerability in these voices which I love for storytelling. Fingers crossed for some excellent melodic and harmonic collaborations that will hopefully result from this workshop.


Twila: Looking Back in Anger–Friday Stage 6 7:20–8:25 PM

Artists: John Wort Hannam and the Blue Collars, Matthew Byrne, Sarah MacDougall, The Mae Trio

Not sure about the session name – I briefly wondered if it was a reference to the David Bowie song from 1979 with the tense changed, but really why change the tense? Regardless of the session name, I am excited to see what magic this workshop cooks up. Workshops are at their best when everyone jumps in and jams together, making the whole stronger than the parts – and I’m excited to see how these musicians from all over the British Commonwealth (in case you were wondering: Hannam – Alberta/Jersey, Channel Islands; Byrne – Newfoundland; MacDougall – Yukon/Sweden; The Mae Trio – Australia) help one another tell stories with song.



 

The Return of Old Favourites

Sable: Sunday Main Stage 7-8 PM

Folk Fests are always great for new discoveries but it is always heart-warming to see old favorites return. I can’t wait to hear the soaring and emotive vocals of LP.  Her last performance at EFMF left quite an impression on me and I look forward to her Sunday mainstage time with excitement.

Twila: Saturday Stage 2 11 AM; Saturday Stage 5 4:20 PM; Sunday Stage 2 5:45 PM

Bluegrass is a MUST for Folk Fest. So the Steep Canyon Rangers return to EFMF is excellent news.

Workshop of the Day

Workshops

It’s challenging to understand workshop etiquette. It’s a format unique where musicians who have never met are supposed to make music together for an hour and a half. There was a reason that Stage 6 was packed on Friday evening with names like Bears Den, Danny Michel, Jenn Grant, and John Smith. The talent is all there together on stage; whether it succeeds or fails is dependent on the participating Artists.

I find the most successful workshops are ones where there is an Artist or host that is the right balance of being bossy yet friendly. That way they can decide on a song and also indicate who should be the next Artist in the progression of solos. Watching a workshop where is no interaction is like watching kids move the skipping ropes for double dutch but nobody is brave enough to jump in.

The Magical Moments Friday session on Stage 6 finally hit its stride once they realized that doing cover songs was a good place to start. Bears Den started the series of covers with Bruce Springsteen’s “Dancing in the Dark.” Everybody from the fiddle player to the trumpet players from different bands jumped in on some solo lines. Even singer/songwriter, Danny Michel, put his guitar down and hopped in behind the drum kit. John Smith followed up with “I’m on Fire,” and when it came Jenn Grant’s turn, she held her smartphone and referenced it to sing the lyrics of Leonard Cohen’s “Lover, Lover, Lover” with confidence. The final sounds of the workshop were the interwoven voices of Bears Den and Jenn Grant looping the word, Lover.

It was another example of spontaneous music-making that exists in a fleeting moment of time.

A Homecoming

There is a sense of homecoming when returning to a folk festival, and especially the Edmonton Folk Music Festival, which is my hometown festival. The view from Gallagher Hill calms my heart as I see the last remaining traces of sunset glow on the edges of the downtown skyline. It’s small moments like having the perimeter security wishing you a happy folk fest as you walk on site, the crinkle of plastic tarps underneath your feet, familiar faces of friends, and the smell of deep-friend maple syrup smelling goodness in the air.

YEG Skyline

Of Monsters and Men beckons the surrounding crowd to rise soon after the start of their set and the audience claps in tandem with the percussive drums that echo into the night. Folk Fest has just begun.

@misssable

Folkie FAQ

Where did July go? I swear it was just yesterday Twila and I were on the road headed to Orillia. The folkover (a.k.a. Folk + hangover) hasn’t been too bad since arriving back in Edmonton. I almost made it out to Canmore Folk Fest this past weekend but I just missed it. I was actually checking out #UncleJohn at the Banff Summer Arts Festival instead so I took a folkie weekend off to hang with my friends from the Opera Chorus.

I thought I would address from Frequency Asked Questions I’ve been getting from my friends coming back in case anybody else is interested:

Aren’t you and Twila sick of each other?

After a month of travel and almost 10,000 km on the road, you probably have to ask Twila to get a balanced perspective. However, after living in such close proximity for a long time you start to recognize each others cycles pretty well. You know when to say something and when to hold off. Sure, there are moments of cabin fever rounding hour 30 in a vehicle, but you realize it’s not really the other person that’s making you antsy but the overall travel fatigue. We also have a lot of alone time once we get at the festival since Twila is off session hopping and taking photos and I’m usually in the media tent doing interview research, transcribing, or writing if I’m not watching sessions.

How bad did you miss your bed and/or pillow?

Strangely enough, while there were moments where I did miss home, it wasn’t for my mattress. I seemed to adapt quickly enough to make a temporary home wherever I was. Plus, I am a travel narcoleptic and I can sleep anywhere pretty much instantaneously. It also helped that in Vancouver and Calgary I was staying with good friends that I don’t often see so it was a reunion time! I find that familiar people make a place feel at home since it was easy enough to find replacements for other voids like a good coffee place etc.

What did you eat?!?!

It means a great deal to me that my friends were concerned with how I satiated my voracious appetite. Firstly, I had to adapt from my structured three meals a day routine since Twila doesn’t eat full meals. She successfully subsists off a diet of black coffee, rice crackers, fruit, veggies, pepperoni sticks, boiled eggs, and chips. There were no sit-down meals during any of our travel days. For the most part, I just ate crackers, fruit, cereal, granola bars, chips, and candy. In the mornings, I would get hot water from the first pit stop to make oatmeal or use hot water to make instant noodles in the evenings. It was handy to have a utensil set that included a pair of chopsticks. When arriving in a city, we would both hit up the grocery store to replenish food stores for the rest of the festival. However, once I was at the festivals, I just ate at food trucks. Since the food is pretty well-curated and local, the eats were pretty good. Every festival had a wood-fire pizzeria option, there would often be some kind of Asian Thai food option, donairs/pitas/tacos were standard fare; however, there would be great opportunities to eat at the tasty local food truck options. A few stand-outs were the steamed white bun pulled pork and ginger beef tacos from Taiko Taco at Calgary Folk Fest, the sweet and spicy chicken karage from Mogu in Vancouver Folk Fest, the kale and quinoa salads and pulled pork from the Men with Knives food truck at Mariposa Folk Fest, and there was a tie between the chana masala from East India Company and the empanadas and watermelon/mint/feta salad at Corrientes at Winnipeg Folk Fest.

Perhaps there are more questions people are curious about? If so, they can ask me on Gallagher Hill at Edmonton Folk Fest or ask in the comments below and I will update this post with new answers.