Category Archives: Photo Essay

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.

Cross Pollination: Karen Savoca & Pete Heitzman and the Shari Ulrich trio at NLFC


Karen Savoca & Pete Heitzman shared the bill with the Shari Ulrich trio at the Northern Lights Folk Club. Sharing a show equally, rather than having an opener play a short set to start, usually means that there are a number of songs that get cut from the set list — sacrificed to the reduced stage time. Although choices certainly were made as to what to include (and what didn’t get played) Savoca, Heitzman and the Ulrich trio took it as an opportunity to visit old friends and explore one another’s songs.

The friendship forged between the two groups was obvious. Ulrich recounted her first meeting with Savoca when many years ago Ulrich’s young daughter Julia Graff (who is now grown up and was on stage as part of the trio) gave Savoca some sweet tarts, quipping that “they’d been friends ever since”. Ulrich joined Savoca & Heitzman for the last three songs of their half, adding her voice and violin to Savoca’s percussion and Heitzman’s guitar for “Five Old Men”, “You Gotta Love” and “I Shook the Tree”.

This cross pollination continued when Savoca & Heitzman joined the Shari Ulrich trio, which includes Graff and Kirby Barber in addition to Ulrich, and they finished off with the bluegrass tune “Cluck Old Hen”. After a standing ovation the quintet of musicians returned to the stage to perform “(Fear of) Flying”.

Both Savoca and Ulrich’s songwriting showcased the grim and mirthful sides of life, as well as, the enormity of some decisions, and how they can echo through our lives and others. In “By the Grace of Goodbye” Ulrich told the story of reuniting with her son that she had given up for adoption years prior.


While Savoca when introducing “You Gotta Love” written for her father, described how one morning in the last months of his life her father in the care home had played dead — this story brought full out laughter from the crowd and as Savoca sang the song’s final words “oh, it’s a joy and it’s a curse, it’s wings and it’s a hearse, it’s water and it’s thirst, but you gotta love” we were reminded of the connection between life and death. Like the best workshop stages at folk fest from the cross pollination of these two groups grew an evening of spontaneity, and a genuine love for sharing music and stories.

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Up next at the Northern Lights Folk Club, Old Man Luedecke and opener Ken Stead will take to the stage at on March 4th, please see the NLFC website for ticket details.

Review: Tim Isberg and Ben Rogers at New Moon Folk Club

 

 

Drawn by the warmth of St. Basil’s Edmonton folkies shuffled their feet across icy surfaces in search of the secure grip of gravel into the venue. As incongruous as it might seem the grittiness of Edmonton’s January streets was matched by the stories and sounds of New Moon Folk Club’s two headliners, Tim Isberg and Ben Rogers, who played full sets to the cozy audience of 300. It wasn’t simply an evening of pleasant entertainment, as both Isberg and Rogers brought provocative subjects to the foreground and challenged the audience to consider their roles in the world.

Isberg’s service in the Canadian military has taken him to conflict torn areas such as Rwanda and Afghanistan. Readily admitting that he left a piece of his soul overseas as he bore witness to the devastation in those areas he also notes that he has gained a lot of perspective. Yet the turmoil that one might expect to manifest from witnessing such extremes of human behaviour does not surface on Isberg’s face, instead, he displays his emotions in his music. An energy of contemplation is present in Isberg’s music even when his lyrics grapple with challenging subject matter. He suggests that his listeners self-evaluate the types of physical and emotional walls they create in order to separate people and consider their disassembly in The Walls, “Does freedom bring peace or the other way around?”

 

If you close your eyes and listen to Ben Rogers, you hear a gritty bass voice of that might make you think of an ancient character, sipping whiskey that is borderline poisonous, perched on a stool at the end of a weathered bar in a dusty old western town. Rogers shares stories of all types through his songs, especially those that might otherwise be unspoken and forgotten. His gift, even stronger than his voice, is helping us to remember—whether it is songs of missing and murdered Indigenous women in Highway of Tears or the tragedy of interracial love in his encore, Cowboys and Indians—and challenging us, as individuals, to do better. When you open your eyes, you may be perplexed by how a voice like Roger’s has chosen such a young vessel. However, it doesn’t matter what physical form his voice is contained in.  His voice speaks for the marginalized.

This post is co-written by Twila and Sable.

Next up at New Moon Folk Club is Catherine MacLellan on Friday, February 3, 2017.

Review: Danny Michel at New Moon Folk Club

The words on Danny Michel‘s red guitar (matching those found on the late Pete Seeger’s banjo) state: “This machine surrounds hate and forces it to surrender.” Friday night’s show epitomized that same message, that the love embedded in music could conquer all. From “Feather, Fur & Fin”, to “Sad & Beautiful World”, and eventually “Click, Click” Michel led us to sense a profound connection between his music and the reality that we now are living. The concert was a moment away from the ugliness that has bubbled to the surface in 2016, but it wasn’t an escape.

But the current Geo-polictical reality wasn’t the only theme of the evening, technology-mediated connections also played an integral role. Both Michel, and the opener Mohsin Zaman, are familiar with stage technology utilising loop pedals to create invisible backing bands, but as strange as the one-man-tech-band may have seemed 15 years ago, on Friday it was the technology of the phone that was featured in a different way. Beginning with Zaman calling/skyping his sister in Dubai (she seemed far more gracious than I would have been if my brother had called me at 7 on a Saturday morning); and, later on in the evening we got a sneak preview of some of the orchestral parts in Khlebnikov the album Michel wrote this past summer on an ice-breaker in the arctic with astronaut Chris Hadfield (can we all just take a moment to realise how cool of an adventure that must have been???) when he played a track through his phone. And with those two phone moments it became clear that the evening was about connections — those between us and the performers, between the songwriter and the topic, between the music and the lyrics.

Through out the evening Michel drew on the wealth of his extensive back catalogue (playing requests called out from the audience) in addition to newer works such as those off of Khlebnikov … check out “24,000 Horses” now:

In typical Danny Michel fashion the music mixed the thoughtful (“Nobody Rules You”) with the humorous (“Wish Willy’s” & “Whale of a Tale”), the nerdy with the sublime (“Samantha’s in the Sky with Diamonds”), and left us all questioning how we can make the world a better place (“Who’s Gonna Miss You” & “Sad and Beautiful World”). Khlebnikov, due out in January 2017, promises to continue the tradition of Michel’s earlier writing, although this time with a bit of a Russian-classical music twist … take the final few lines of “24,000 Horses”:

Through the northwest passage
I stand at the bow
And I thought I’d seen beauty
Until right here right now

Once we had dreams
but they fell through the seams
Like the ice here all melting away

The precise memories of the New Moon show in time will melt away, but maybe the message of the songs that were sung that night will remain.

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The past three New Moon Folk Club shows have been sell-outs. To avoid the disappointment of missing a Friday-night folk music fix in 2017 when the club resumes on January 13th with Ben Rogers you can get five-pack of tickets for the 2017 shows. Please see the New Moon site for details.

Review: Ron Hynes Tribute at Northern Lights Folk

The Northern Light’s Folk Club‘s tribute to Ron Hynes on Saturday was full of poignant stories and beautiful reflections on the man of a thousand songs. Bookended by St John’s Waltz and Sonny’s Dream the event allowed six performers—Ben Sures, Eileen Laverty, Bill Werthmann, Shantel Koenig, Tom Wilson, and Maria Dunn—the chance to take stock of Hynes’ legacy, both personal and professional.

The stories of Hynes impact were exchanged like gifts. Sures and Laverty discovered that they both had first met Hynes as part of a songwriters session in Regina, where the upcoming musician played some of their songs and Hynes would explain how they could improve their work. Both Sures and Laverty had inadvertently created rhymes with the same word, and both would do well to learn from Hynes’ iconic Sonny’s Dream. Dunn described the learning of songs for the evening as putting Hynes’ work “under the microscope” in order to unravel the  intricacies he had woven into his songs. While Wilson commented that learning Hynes’ songs was akin to taking “a Berlitz course in conversational Newfoundlander”, and Werthmann reminded us that Hynes was more than a talented songwriter, but a good friend and a man proud of his family. An actual gift in addition to a story was also exchanged, when Wilson presented Bill & Bettyjo Werthmann with a framed artists’ proof of the album art for Hynes’ self-titled album from 2006.

I never got to hear Ron Hynes perform in person, but after hearing the stories and seeing the range of emotions play across the musician’s faces on Saturday I feel as though I got to know the fragments of him scattered throughout his songs. I don’t have a thousand words for the man of a thousand songs, but hopefully these photos will speak a few for me.

 

The Northern Lights Folk Club resumes in January 2017 with Rosie & the Riveters and Jim & Penny Malmberg, please see their website for ticket information.

Review: Séan McCann at Horizon Stage

This was Séan McCann‘s first time at the Horizon Stage, and although he was battling a cold he caught in the mountains he captivated the audience with his songs. You may have heard that since leaving Great Big Sea McCann’s concerts have taken on a reflective and almost confessional quality, but experiencing one of these intimate concerts is something else entirely. The evening revolved around McCann sharing how his life has been transformed in the past few years—from sobriety to a shift in his world view—McCann’s stories were funny, tragic and personal (sometimes all in one).

With Son of a Sailor we learnt how the small wharves of Newfoundland were destroyed in the early 1990s and how McCann’s children would never experience the way of life that he grew up with. With Red Wine and Whiskey McCann told us not only about his issues with addiction but also gave us a lighthearted glimpse of his work with Joel Plaskett who produced his 2014 album Help Your Self and his songbook  You Know I Love You.

A talented story-teller McCann had the audience singing along to his newer songs [including Plaskett’s addition of a call & response refrain in Red Wine and Whiskey], and connecting the audience not only with him but to each other. A particularly poignant moment was when McCann spoke about Ron Hynes life and death before singing us a stunning version of Sonny’s Dream.

McCann wasn’t alone on stage, he was joined throughout the evening by the singer and multi-instrumentalist Chris Murphy, who at McCann’s urging also shared his own song Finally Coming Home. The second set which included McCann revisiting some GBS hits like The Night That Paddy Murphy Died and Ordinary Day, began with (now) local Martin Kerr singing Little Screens. Kerr played after McCann described a surreal scene of modern-disconnection ,he had flown into Toronto Pearson airport and found it eerily silent because everyone was engrossed in their phones, hundreds of people staring down at little electronic devices.

Fortified by green tea at the intermission McCann’s second set ended with an enthusiastic standing ovation and both Murphy and Kerr joined McCann on an acoustic version of You Know I Love You which he brought right into the audience. The message of the night was that although the world increasingly feels like a dangerous place that love is more powerful than anger, and that our connections with one another are important, and those two ideas together equal hope. McCann through the transformation of his life, through his starting over, embodies that message of hope for the future.

There is a lot going on at the Horizon Stage, please see their site for full performance details.

Review: Tom Russell with opener Lucas Chaisson at New Moon Folk Club

For the third time this season the New Moon Folk Club was packed for Tom Russell with opener Lucas Chaisson. But before  they took to the stage the #yegfolkies at New Moon took a few minutes to remember Leonard Cohen with an ingenuous rendition of the Bard of Montreal’s Hallelujah.  There was a therapeutic sense of musical healing granted by singing in an audience chorus.

From the first strum of his intricate guitar playing Lucas Chaisson‘s set zapped the stress of the week right out of the audience. His mellow vocals created a meditative atmosphere that continued through the rest of the night. The repeated phrase within Ashes : “We are all born from the ashes of another” also provided an organic transition to Russell’s act.

Lucas Chaisson – Ashes from Daelan Wood on Vimeo.

Beginning with Chaisson and continuing through Russell’s two sets each song that rang through St. Basil’s Culture Centre on Friday night told a story. Russell’s stories weren’t chronological (don’t think about it like a Facebook timeline where everything is organized by date & time) and they weren’t always related by topic. It was more like sitting down with a family photo album and paging through it. Sometimes you flip forward, and sometimes a story from one photo forces you back through earlier pages. Russell’s vocals, have matured with years of life experience, compelling the audience to listen closely to his words. Some of the messages may not be apparent upon the first telling; however, there is the sense that the understanding of his poetic lines will be complete later within the appropriate context. Each song, like each photo in an album, was accompanied by a story. For Blue Wing Russell told us about playing a gig at the Edmonton penitentiary and about a game reserve near Edmonton that had five wolverines; for East of Woodstock, West of Vietnam he transported us to Nigeria and a career switch from criminologist to singer; and with Jesus Met the Woman at the Well we got one of many glimpses into Russell’s on-going friendship with Ian Tyson. Russell also revealed that he was going to be meeting up with Tyson when his tour heads towards Calgary. It was just enough of a teaser to tempt Edmonton audiences to consider a trip down south for a continued encore.

Touring with Russell right now is Max De Bernardi on guitar and Veronica Sbergia as tour manager. Sbergia and De Bernardi are also known as The Red Wine Serenaders and both joined Russell for a tune in the second set. Veronica’s clear and gentle vocals provided a refreshing new vocal texture as they harmonized with Lay Down My Old Guitar.

The audience was craving a sing-along throughout the performance as he surveyed the audience for what they wanted to hear next. He joked that the audience needed to listen to some of his newer records to replace the requests for his classics. Russell’s prophetic Who’s Gonna Build Your Wall was the final song of the night, and was met with a standing ovation and cheering. This response brought Russell back out on stage for Navajo Rug as the encore. Navajo Rug sung in unison with the entire audience, ended with a gradual decrescendo, settling like a gentle hum in the hearts of audience members to conclude the evening.

Ay, ay, ay Katie
Shades of red and blue
Ay, ay, ay Katie
Whatever became of that Navajo rug and you, Katie?

Danny Michel on December 2nd is sold out! If you want to attend and don’t have your ticket, your best bet is to make friends with a season pass holder who can’t come that evening. The season pass holder can lend you their card or you can give their card number at the door.

This review is co-written by Sable and Twila.

Review: The Paperboys at Horizon Stage

Last night The Paperboys completed a set of three Alberta performance dates at the Horizon Stage in Spruce Grove. The Paperboys’ performance was as polished as one of their many albums, but make no mistake polished doesn’t mean disconnected. Although the set-up for the Horizon Stage doesn’t readily allow for patrons to stand up and dance (without blocking their neighbours) from the first chord that The Paperboys struck serious seat-dancing, foot stomping and hand clapping occurred. With the final song of the night  the audience’s enthusiasm could no longer be contained and suddenly we were on our feet partaking in an audience wide dance party.

The Paperboys have been playing together (in various incarnations) for 20+ years and drew from that wealth of repertoire when compiling their set list, mixing older tunes such as “She Said” with newer ones off the album At Peace With One’s Ghosts like “City of Chains“. On “She Said” the individual members of the band showcased their musical talents with a series of solos, and with “California” had the sold out audience of the Horizon Stage singing along.

Twenty odd years is a longtime to remain a band—people move and become involved in other projects— so in the course of The Paperboys existence they have had to come up with creative ways of working. Geoff Kelly explained that due to the geographical separation of some of the band members homes  (Seattle, Victoria, Vancouver etc.) that much of their songwriting is accomplished on the road, and offered “The Baron’s Jig” as an example of one such tune written in on the road in the south of Germany. Another was the album Road to Ellenside which was recorded by The Paperboys while they stayed in a house, named Ellenside, in the north of England. The Paperboys’ sound is irresistibly infectious blending many genres into something new, and I for one am grateful that they manage the time to squeeze in the writing of new songs while on the road.

The Horizon Stage has more folk acts in the upcoming months including: Séan McCann on November 19th.

Review: Birds of Chicago & Ryan Boldt at New Moon Folk Club

Intimate, inspiring and, intense are just a few of the things that the Birds of Chicago show at Edmonton’s New Moon Folk Club was to me. The performance was sold out but I never felt overwhelmed by the sheer size of the crowd. Instead it was as if JT Nero and Allison Russell had invited us into their living room to share some songs, a feeling that began with Ryan Boldt‘s opening set.

Russell and Nero’s approach to life as demonstrated through their music was inspiring. Family and community were at the heart of many of the songs on last night’s two sets. In “Flying Dreams” Nero and Russell shared some hopes for their daughter:

I wish you flying dreams …
I don’t wish you wings …
’Cause if you grow those things, that’s everything
There’s no more dreams
There’s only silence in the night.

While, “Barley (in memory of Isobel Rodger Robertson)” written in memory of Russell’s grandmother was packed with personal resolve:

The wind that shakes the barley will not shake me
The wind that shakes the barley will not shake me
The wind that shakes the barley no it won’t won’t shake me
As my grandma told me this I sew though that I see

The intensity of the show was in part found in the audience’s balance of laughter and tears. In particular Nero had the audience chuckling and relaxing between songs while Russell captivated us with songs like “Kathy” and “Barley“.

To borrow a friend of mine’s words, the evening “was good for the soul.”

If the inclement road conditions kept you from the show last night, you can still get a copy of Birds of Chicago’s latest release, pair it with some wine and keep your eyes on the sky because hopefully these birds will be back with the summer.

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New Moon Folk Club’s next show is Tom Russell on Nov. 18, 2016 and is expected to sell out so get your tickets early.

Metaphors & Motors: Review of West My Friend & Union Duke at Northern Lights Folk Club

Literary allusions and mechanical metaphors were the order of the evening at the second concert on the Northern Lights Folk Club 2016–17 series with West My Friend and Union Duke. Having been caught on the west (appropriately enough) side of Jasper by a rockslide, West My Friend arrived 45 minutes before the show was begin and proceeded to rip through a quick soundcheck. Even in a rush West My Friend was so spot on that audience members were wondering whether or not it was appropriate to applaud for a soundcheck.

West My Friend kicked their set off with ‘No Good Monster‘ off Quiet Hum their latest release. The song, as Eden Oliver told us, is about the little voice in our head that tries to stop us from doing great things — no one will like it anyway right? Luckily West My Friend has decided to face that no good monster head on and create a little bit of magic with their music. Oliver then led us through some of the literary references that punctuated their set including Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar and Christina Rossetti’s “A Birthday”. West My Friend’s sound is highly melodic and although at times it is gentle it is incredibly intense. When the end of the set was reached the audience just wasn’t ready for our time with West My Friend to be over. An encore called them back to the stage and they had the crowd sing ‘All Day Long‘ a song by Zachary Gough that ends rather abruptly, and caught a few of us crowd-singers out.

Following the break Union Duke  took to the stage. A high-octane folk/country quintet based out of Toronto, Union Duke had the audience clapping their hands, stomping their feet and even sharing their best vampire dance moves (on cue in ‘The Heartbreak Kid‘).

Union Duke is unrelentingly rhythmic with a touch of twang, and their lyrics have the occasional car reference, like carburetors in ‘Chasing Headlights’ from their most recent album Golden Days. Matt Warry-Smith kept the forward momentum of the show with his tambourine/cymbal combination beating out the rhythm of many of the songs. As Union Duke splits the responsibility of lead vocals Rob McLaren (electric guitar, fiddle) shared his Alberta roots with ‘Quit This Town‘ and then Ethan Smith his frugal tendencies with ‘Dime-Store Shirt‘ both off the Cash & Carry album from 2014. Northern Lights Folk Club usually doesn’t book a band without having experienced a live show by them, so Union Duke was a wild card for them having been booked based on YouTube and recordings. In this case the gamble paid huge dividends and Union Duke was called back to the stage for an encore which caused continued hand-clapping and feet stomping in the audience.

If you missed last night’s concert, both Union Duke & West My Friend be heard in the greater Edmonton area over the next few months:

West My Friend
Monday Oct 10 in Sherwood Park (House Concert)
and throughout the prairies in Alberta: Lloydminster, Cochrane, Canmore; Saskatchewan: Maple Creek, Regina & Saskatoon; Manitoba: Flin Flon & Winnipeg.

Union Duke
Thursday Oct 13 in Athabasca (Nancy Appleby Theatre)
Friday April 28, 2017 in Spruce Grove (Horizon Stage)
and further afield in Saskatoon, Drayton Valley & Forestburg this coming year.

The Northern Lights Folk Club continues their season on October 22nd with Chloe Albert opening for Jez Lowe.