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.

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: The Bills at The Arden

dsc_0168I was sitting in a graduate level university music class when I first heard The Bills. It was a class on music & urban culture and the initial task was to bring in a song about a place, one of my friends (a Pacific Northwest native) brought in The Bills’ “Old Blue Bridge” — a timely and topical choice as we were in Victoria and the debate about dismantling the landmark had reached its height. We discussed the musical features of the song, including the lyrics, and then moved on to the next student’s selection (which was something by Sufjan Stevens if my memory is correct). The song was my gateway into The Bills’ music, but its straightforward bluegrass flavour belies the diversity of styles that was heard at their show in St. Albert’s Arden Theatre.

dsc_0174If the eclecticism of CKUA could be captured into a single live show it would be The Bills or some group a lot like them (if that is even possible). In the mood for a historical tune? “Pandora’s in Flames” recounts the tragic tale of John Bryant’s fatal flight over Victoria in August of 1913. If a gorgeous instrumental is more to your liking, you could try “West Bay Crossing” written as a processional by Adrian Dolan for his bandmate Marc Atkinson’s wedding. Perhaps a song about invasive plant species? What about a medley of the great French-jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt played on a mandolin? The Bills have you covered with “Blackberry, Ivy, and Broom” and “Love’s Medley” respectively.

The enthusiasm and musicianship of The Bills, in addition to their interest in a  wide-range of musical styles, was evident with the ease that this band of 20 years interacted with one another. Gathering around the microphone to lend their voices to a chorus, The Bills would just as quickly disperse and focus their intensity on their own instrumental lines.

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Their accomplishments were not just limited to combining vocal & instrumental parts. They brought the house down when for the second song of their encore (heralded by a standing ovation) they sang  “Bamfield’s John Vanden” a cappella (resulting in a second standing ovation).


The Arden’s Professional Series continues with The Harpoonist & The Axe Murderer on February 18th, and Rose Cousins on March 17th.

Review: The Wardens at The Horizon Stage

“Did I ever tell you about the time …”
“It must have been the spring, when we …”
“We were in the foothills when …”

If you had been wandering through the crowd at The Horizon Stage during either the intermission or following the sold out show The Wardens performed you would have heard some of the above phrases. While The Wardens told us both heartbreaking “Neil Colgan” and hilarious “Silly Questions” tales they managed an unusual feat — they stirred the audience’s memories to the point of sharing rather than simply recounting their own memories as park wardens.

“Warden TV” was instantly accessible to anyone who had spent time looking at a wood stove in the dark of winter, or who had entertained themselves by the watching the mesmerizing flickering flames of a campfire. Similarly we were all able to imagine the shock of a young war bride suddenly becoming a warden bride in “War(den) Bride.”

The Wardens were accompanied by a fantastic set of images timed to illustrate the songs, adding another dimension to the show. For example, if you didn’t know Tunnel Mountain had been called Sleeping Buffalo by the Stoney people, when Ray Schmidt introduced The Warden song by the same name, the image of Tunnel Mountain/Sleeping Buffalo (viewed from the North & East) displayed on the screen behind him made it immediately obvious why the name was chosen.

Likewise the images of the ride through the backcountry that accompanied “Ya Ha Tinda Bound” gave us glimpses of the heart-stopping beauty being protected in our National Parks.

Riddled with historical tales about mining and railroad disasters in the Rockies, and characters such as Bill Neish, it was a thought provoking performance. If you’ve only heard The Wardens’ recordings or videos, you need to see them in person — you’ll treasure the stories they tell you, those of the audience around you and your own.

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The Horizon Stage’s season continues with OUTERBRIDGE: Clockwork Mysteries Grand Masters of Illusion on February 11th and The Wardens are headed to Kansas City to take part in Folk Alliance International. Their third record will debut in the spring of this year, so keep an eye on their website for more details in the upcoming months.

One Summer + Two Folkies + Five Festivals