Although I love the foot-stomping, fiddle wielding power of French-Canadian musicians, I’m always a little hesitant to go to a show of solely Francophone music. Perhaps its my lack of French skills (cereal-box French isn’t real French) that intimidates me. Or my suspicious nature causing me always to wonder if I’ve missed a joke, or exactly what the words the musicians want the audience to sing mean. Vishtèn‘s concert at St. Albert’s Arden Theatre helped me put those fears in their place.
Vishtèn wasted no time with half-hearted pleasantries, simply coming out onto the stage and playing. The concert began with an instrumental tune that featured a configuration of the LeBlanc twins (Emmanuelle & Pastelle) flanking Pascal Miousse’s central space on the stage. This arrangement that remained constant only switching when one of the LeBlancs would move to the keyboard.
Almost immediately we (the audience) were called on to participate—cue fear #1—with “Tobie Lapierre”. My uncertainty was almost instantaneously quashed by a quick explanation of the story: Tobie LaPierre, who loves dancing, women & whisky, loses his wife in the woods and uses a bell to try to locate her. The audience was going to be singing the bell part—this, I thought, I can do.
Apparently many others in the audience either did not share my fear of singing something silly in French (as they spoke the language) or they too were calmed by Vishtèn’s patient duo-lingo explanations, because the audience chorus was substantial. The concert continued that way, with Vishtèn slipping seamlessly between French and English, explaining the histories of their tunes—from a flat tire on the Massachusetts turnpike to a magical bus trip in the Shetlands. This kept me happy as I never felt like I was missing out on something because my French isn’t much more developed than flocons de maïs.
Vishtèn shared not just the stories of their own tunes, but also brought out elements of their Acadian culture while simultaneously drawing us into the performance. Periodically Pascal would ask us if we were enjoying ourselves, reminding us that it was important to have a good time. Every iteration of this question (always met with a resounding “Yeah/Oui”) reminded me of the kitchen parties in PEI and the Magdalens that they had told us about. Emmanuelle also told us a tale about the subversive development of foot stomping percussion—something about being able to hide the dancing under the table, so anyone walking by would just see people in the house sitting at a table (not people dancing and having fun). When the LeBlanc twins pulled their chairs to the front of the stage and performed a complex dance-song (how can I even describe the pounding polyrhythmes their feet made?) and included us with snapping and clapping instructions, Vishtèn made us part of the performance.
The members of Vishtèn have a genius for making you feel like you are taking part in a centuries old Acadian culture, rather than just watching or hearing it. This is the start of their Western dates, and more details about their tour can be found on their website, try and catch a show, especially if you—like me—have always been a little uncertain about attending shows where you don’t speak the main language of the performers.
For me this weekend began with Newfoundland’s The Once at Festival Place in Sherwood Park. It was the trio’s first show of 2017 and they played to a packed auditorium, book ending the evening with the words of two of Canada’s most beloved songwriters — Leonard Cohen & Ron Hynes. The first time I heard The Once was at the Edmonton Folk Fest in 2011 (I distinctly remember Garnet Rogers calling them up to sing “Northwest Passage” with him on Stage 7), and every time I hear them live I am struck again by the huge sound and carefully woven harmonies of the trio.
As always The Once shared hilarious, haunting and sometimes heartbreaking stories but on Friday they sang a song “Warmest Friends (Warm Like Me)”that isn’t found on any of their records.
The song was written for Claudia Melendy focuses on how the 11-year old, despite living with Dravet syndrome, communicates her warmth through music. “Warm Like Me” is only available online (iTunes, Google Play, Spotify and Amazon) and all proceeds from the song go to Easter Seals for the building of an accessible playground in St. John’s.
On Saturday the New North Collective (NNC) was at The Arden Theatre in St. Albert and they weren’t alone on stage as they brought along the University of Alberta’s Augustana Choir to perform “Add Your Voice” (choral arrangement by Carmen Braden). “Add Your Voice” was commissioned by the University of Alberta North and Augustana Campus to the NNC and was written in the spirit of reconciliation and premiered in Camrose only the day before it was heard at The Arden. The message of “Add Your Voice” is one of encouragement, urging the listener to join the collective story of Canada and take positive action.
This weekend in the Edmonton area groups from as far away as Newfoundland and Canada’s north both asked more of their audiences than simply sitting quietly in a theatre. It wasn’t only an evening of entertainment, it was about changing the landscape in which we live.
During 100 Mile House‘s packed Saturday afternoon at the Edmonton Folk Music Festival, Peter Stone and Denise MacKay, settle down to chat, glowing with enthusiasm and showing minimal signs of fatigue. They are playing their hometown festival as hometown musicians. As a result, the dichotomy of domesticity and art is interesting. “We’re staying at home. So we woke up this morning and thought, ‘we’re playing Folk Fest today!’ And then we’re feeding the cat and washing dishes,” says MacKay before Pete adds, “it’s weird because when we normally do folk festivals like this you’re immersed and your whole weekend is just based around the festival.” However, balancing dual roles did not affect their performances throughout the weekend. There was a momentary glimpse of warm sunshine on a rainy and chill Friday evening during their piece, Better, Still during the Hereos workshop session with Elephant Revival, John Mann, and Gregory Alan Isakov.
While 100 Mile House began in Stone’s hometown of London, it was really the community that lured them back to MacKay’s hometown of Edmonton. “We’ve felt really welcome to come back and play to a room full of people who just listen. That was something that was pretty shocking after playing so many pubs in London where we never really had much of a captive audience,” says MacKay. Stone also mentions that there is a sense of competition amongst the London music scene: “A lot of time people to move to the big cities to get their big break. When we were in a London all we wanted to do was make music and meet people. Everybody was just waiting for their big moment.” Stone and MacKay have been back in Edmonton for the last five and a half years and they humbly attribute their success to the support from the community. “The only reason we are where are is because we have the support of the community around us. The reason we’re playing the Edmonton Folk Fest is the support of the fans that have got us here, ” MacKay says before Stone summarizes with a smirk, “it takes a community to raise a musician.”
The sense of homeland and identity is pervasive in 100 Mile House’s two albums of Hollow Ponds (2011) and Wait with Me (2013). Even though they are now more settled into Edmonton, MacKay notes “that sense of home and what means” is an influential aspect of their work. In discussing their duo songwriting approach, they note that there are multiple entry points. “Every song has a different life to it,” states Stone, “the second last song we did on our set today, we’ve never practiced it. I just started playing it and Denise started singing. Every song is different. I don’t know where they come from. It’s a little terrifying. It sounds a bit wanky,” he states making fun of himself in that hallmark self-deprecating Brit humor. MacKay chimes in at this point to support Stone’s statement: “Sometimes he’ll just write an entire song on the bus. It’ll just be in his head. Whereas, when I write, I can’t write a song without an instrument in front of me.” Stone wishes he had more control over his inspirational flow. “I wish I could turn it off. Like there was a dial to turn it down and turn it up when I want to use it,” he says before MacKay adds, “sometimes it comes really quickly, all at once. And sometimes you take your time with it. There is no right or wrong way.” Oftentimes the songwriting process consists of Stone getting a musical idea and then his first test round is playing it to MacKay. “It’s part of the process. I get excited to play her the song. I’m excited for her to come home to play it to her. If I didn’t, all I have are cats,” he says, jokingly alluding to a life as a male spinster. If MacKay deems the song to be a keeper, they play the song live to see if it gets a reaction.
The origins of 100 Mile House have the characteristics of a good folk love story since they sang together before they even spoke. MacKay was touring an EP she had produced as a solo singer/songwriter and saw an advertisement for an open mic night at a Toronto cafe. Unbeknownst to her, when she arrived at the cafe, guitar in hand, Stone was already playing. “Pete was on stage and he kinda looked at me funny. When he finished his song, he said, ‘oh, they totally said it was an open stage but it’s not,'” she says. “But I let her play anyway,” he states with a comedic lightness demonstrating his generosity. After performing a cover of Damien Rice’s Volcano together, Stone happily let her play for most of the night. “She was better than me and my friend. We were rubbish,” he says with a gentle smile. At this point in the interview, Stone realized that he never officially proposed to MacKay if they should be in a group together. “We always just did it. There was no question in it,” he says with a sense of clarity and confidence. “Denise is my muse,” says Stone. MacKay notes that he didn’t really write a lot of songs when they met, he just played mostly covers. “There was one song that was mine,” Stone reveals, “but I didn’t tell anybody it was mine. And played it as a cover. I hated it.” Their budding musical as well as personal relationship was complementary in every sense. MacKay reveals: “I never really liked being a solo singer/songwriter. I love singing harmonies and being up on stage by myself is terrifying. So I’m glad that worked out. So now I always have someone with me,” she says looking at Stone with a glance that would melt any romantics heart.
In moving forward as a group, they are booking shows into 2016 and details for a future album release are percolating in their minds. While there is a lot of hard work behind-the-scenes to keep the flow of musical work, Stone notes it’s important to “enjoy the fun bits!” when it comes to soaking in the experiences of the festival weekend. “Sometimes it’s overwhelming but just to remember how great it is to be here. To have fun and not let the nerves get the best of you. A lot of artists that we really admire and love and to be on the same stage as them, it can be pretty crazy,” says MacKay.
In terms of providing teaser details for a future album release. Stone notes that he likes the concept of a prevailing sense of hope in a future album. The melancholy tone on Wait with Me (2013) was influenced by the hurdles they faced together as a couple; however, they both note it is easier when there is companionship in overcoming those obstacles. “It’s pretty much impossible to keep your person out of your songwriting. And I think the one thing that I think about is sometimes there are songs that are really personal, as somebody listening to our music, they’re not listening to us as people, they’re listening to how that song relates to them. That’s really comforting when somebody is listening to our music and they are hopefully finding themselves relating to the song or pieces of themselves in that song. Something that they can hold onto and make them feel like they’re not alone,” says MacKay about her aspirations for their music to connect with other. Stone notes that they have received personal e-mails where people have shared how their music have gotten them through difficult times. “If we that’s what we can offer people, if that’s our job, then that’s a great job,” says MacKay. At this point, Stone takes a reflective moment to reveal another perspective. “I just think of growing up. People constantly find comfort, that’s what I do. If that’s what we can do for other people, then, it’s like pretty much a dream come true,” he states with a quiet wisdom.
Until then, 100 Mile House, united in love and music, continue to share their message of hope with others.
Opening for David Myles at the Arden Theatre on October 4, 2014
Performing at the Folk Exchange in Winnipeg on October 24, 2014
Performing at Foothills Folk Club in High River on November 20, 2014
Performance at the Ontario Folk Alliance Conference October 16-19, 2014
Canadian singer-songwriter Danny Michel has produced a 10 disc repertoire that is one of the most diverse I have ever consumed as a listener. From the Canadiana backwoods tunes of Feather, Fur & Fin (2008), to the Belizean warmth of Sunset Sea (2010), Michel manages to keep his listeners guessing what musical flavor he will embrace next. He assures me that he tries not to overthink things. “I like to challenge myself and get out of my comfort zone,” he states. “If things are comfortable, I feel I’m doing something wrong. I just try and make sure I’m moving forward into uncharted waters.” Michel returns to Belize, which inspired Sunset Sea, to record his latest release, Black Birds are Dancing Over Me (2012).
When comparing his newest CD release to a food dish, he reveals that the seafood recipe, Conch Cerviche, would be most appropriate. This musical offering may be exotic for Canadian audiences. The dish involves marinating firm conch meat, which originates from mollusks, in a mixture of citrus juices. This chilled dish is the perfect accompaniment with a beer and view of the sea. The slightly rough quality of Michel’s voice, juxtaposed with the effervescent ease of tunes such as “What Colour are You?” in the new album represents Conch Cerviche well.
Audiences will have a chance to sample Michel’s most recent album performed live at the Arden Theatre on Friday. It promises to be a unique event because a band joins him this time on this tour. This will be a change for listeners who have only heard him perform solo, accompanied only by his loop pedals. A Michel performance trademark involves live-recording vocal, instrument, and percussion fragments so that he can layer other musical lines with his looped accompaniment, all within the live stage setting.
Michel has settled into his identity as a performer: “It’s hard to decide to throw your diary on the table and put yourself out there. But now I just put things out there, personal thoughts, deep experiences, private stuff and let it go. Some songs are very personal and wind up on albums but I don’t play them live. They are what they are.“
Although listening to recordings is a perfectly adequate way to enjoy music, there is something about the energy of live performance that remains unrivaled. Michel feels that “in a world where everything can be stolen and taken, that live moment is still beautifully pure.” Michel’s raw musical offerings await Arden audiences on Friday.
Friday, November 9, 2012
Arden Theatre, St. Albert, AB
Take a look at Danny Michel’s tour so far on Instagram