Some final photos from the 39th annual Edmonton Folk Music Festival—see you on the hill!
Some final photos from the 39th annual Edmonton Folk Music Festival—see you on the hill!
Maria Dunn has a knack for story-telling. She gets to the heart of an event or memory of a person and brings that narrative alive — her grandfather in “Shoes of a Man”, the workers of the Great Western Garment (GWG) clothing factory in “Speed Up”, senior citizens living in rooming houses during the 1980s in Edmonton’s downtown in “Flora” and “Hans’ Song”, or “When I Was Young” inspired by the stories of Dorothy McDonald-Hyde of the Fort McKay First Nation.
Last night the Northern Lights Folk Club (Dunn’s self-professed “home” folk club) hosted Dunn for a sold out celebration of her latest album Gathering, which won an Edmonton Music Prize and was nominated for a Juno Award. But Dunn, joined by Shannon Johnson on fiddle and Jeremiah McDade on a vast array of musical instruments, didn’t restrict herself to selections from that album, pulling from all six of her albums and her other projects (Packingtown, On The River, The Carol Project, GWG: Piece by Piece and Troublemakers) as well. She shuffled through the stories with mastery, moving between the connection between McDonald-Hyde, Alberta’s first elected female chief, and the Athabasca River to the labour history of Edmonton’s meatpacking North East to depression era trains. Dunn’s gift of exploring recollections and history is not limited by time or place as is evidenced by her award winning song “Malala” inspired by Canada’s most recent honourary citizen Malala Yousafzai. The song’s potent chorus:
Malala, where are you going?
I’ll walk beside you
I’ll meet you there
rang out for a final time with no musical accompaniment, just a joining of the musicians on stage and the audience’s voices, pulling the audience up into a standing ovation and heralding an encore of “God Bless Us Everyone” from The Carol Project.
Roddy Campbell of Penguin Eggs Magazine called Gathering as “essential listening” and I would argue that that description can be applied to all of Dunn’s work. Last night’s show concluded the 2016–17 Northern Lights Folk Club season, but until the fall there are still folk music events going on throughout Edmonton. PEI’s Lennie Gallant will be at Rio Terrace Church on May 19th see here for more details, and Maria Dunn has a local show earlier that week (details will be sent out to her mailing list so be sure to sign-up).
I can only tell you what anyone in the standing room only crowd at the Pharis and Jason Romero show at the Northern Lights Folk Club would — the Romeros are phenomenal musicians and performers. Perhaps the best way to explain the essence of the show is to say what wasn’t there. It didn’t feel like the Romeros had adopted some sort of worn-out stage persona, they were themselves. Simply put there was no artifice.
Family was a big part the show last night, in the songs from the silly “Grandpa Bob” written about Jason’s father, to “Long Gone Out West Blues” commemorating Pharis’ family’s move from Quebec out to Horsefly, BC generations ago, to “It’s A Sin To Tell A Lie” an old-timey tune which Jason’s grandmother danced to with her father; and, in the stories the Romero’s shared of their children. A laundry list of the tunes heard yesterday wouldn’t be helpful. Everything that was played and sung was executed with meticulous attention to detail (I’m guessing its the same assiduousness that makes them excellent luthiers). Some highlights from last night, however, were the title track off 2015’s A Wanderer I’ll Stay and their take on the Woody Guthrie tune “Oregon Trail (That Oregon Line)” which appears on the 2017 Smithsonian Folkways’ compilation Roll Columbia: Woody Guthrie’s 26 Northwest Songs. They also shared some new tunes written in the wake of last year’s devastating workshop fire that destroyed all of the couple (and their daughter’s) instruments except for Jason’s banjo and guitar. Pharis explained that she wouldn’t wish a fire on anyone, but that she did wish everyone could feel the same wave of support, of having their community behind them, that they did after the fire. The evening ended with a standing ovation demanding an encore for which the Romeros sang the appropriate “Goodbye, Old Paint.” Old tunes mixed with newer ones, along with other people’s tunes that the Romeros have adopted, creating a timeless evening — that would be as much at home in the 1930s or 40s as it was in 2017. My photos may be black and white but my memories of their lyrical duets are in full colour.
The Northern Lights Folk Club has added an additional show to this year’s season with the Maria Dunn Trio performing on April 22, 2017 and their upcoming season will feature thirteen shows. Season tickets for next year (2017–18) can be purchased directly from Northern Lights Folk Club (not another distributor of their tickets) prior to this last April show, and will be slightly cheaper than if you wait.
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.
Northern Lights Folk Club is hosting a Ron Hynes tribute with musicians, Maria Dunn, Eileen Laverty, Saskatchewan’s Tom Wilson, Bill Werthmann, Ben Sures and Shantel Koenig sharing their voices to honor his tunes.
Singer-Songwriter, Maria Dunn, had time to speak with FOTR in anticipation of the upcoming performance at NLFC.
What is the significance for you as a singer/songwriter to pay tribute to Ron Hynes?
Ron Hynes was a profoundly gifted songwriter who wrote so eloquently about Newfoundland and its people, bringing that part of our country to life in his songs.
His songs made a huge impact, in Newfoundland, across Canada and beyond. Sonny’s Dream is sung by people everywhere and was recorded by artists as varied as country star Emmylou Harris and Scottish folk singer Hamish Imlach.
As a songwriter who wants to improve my craft all the time, I admire Ron’s ability with words, story, melody, point of view. His catalogue of moving and memorable songs is huge.
Do you have any specific musical memories of Ron Hynes tunes from your childhood?
I didn’t know Ron’s music as a child, but became aware of his songs in my 20s, when I was a volunteer DJ with a weekly folk/roots show on CJSR FM88, University of Alberta Campus/Community Radio in Edmonton. In fact, Hamish Imlach’s version of Sonny’s Dream might have been one of the first that I heard in the late 1980s.
By the time I met Ron Hynes in person, at the 1999 Vancouver Island Folk Festival, I was sufficiently in awe of his abilities as a writer and not very articulate about how much I admired his songwriting. He was kind to me in that first meeting and encouraging in many other meetings over the years at the Edmonton Folk Music Festival, the Northern Lights Folk Club (Edmonton) and The Ship Inn in St. John’s, NL.
Around that same time, I heard a CBC Radio live recording with Ron singing a song of his that I hadn’t heard before. I rushed to record it on cassette and caught about half the song. It was called “Dublin With Love”. In those years, I still drove a Firefly hatchback with a cassette deck as part of the car stereo and for several weeks, every time I was driving in that car, I would play that half-a-song and harmonize with Ron, I loved his singing of that melody that much. Lo and behold, the Edmonton Folk Festival rolled around a summer or two later and Terry Wickham gave me the wonderful opportunity of performing on a session stage with several Atlantic Canadian music icons, including Ron Hynes and Cape Breton Fiddler Buddy McMaster. Of all the songs that “The Man of a Thousand Songs” could have chosen to sing in that session, he started Dublin With Love. When I chimed in with the harmony that I had been singing for weeks in my car, he raised his eyebrows and gave me a sidelong glance which seemed encouraging at the time (as opposed to a “stop-that-racket!” glare). The experience was one of those little dreams come true, getting to sing along with one of my songwriting heroes! I must have done OK, because he invited me back to sing harmony with him at his folk fest concert the next afternoon.
What are you most looking forward to at the Ron Hynes tribute?
Hearing Eileen Laverty sing my favourite Ron Hynes song, Godspeed, written for the late songwriter Gene MacLellan (writer of Anne Murray’s hit song “Snowbird”) and brilliantly referencing Gene’s own song “Put Your Hand In The Hand Of The Man”. Ron had huge respect for Gene’s songwriting talent and his compassion in this song for Gene (who had taken his own life) rings through every line. Godspeed always moves me to tears and Eileen is a beautiful interpreter of songs. She will do a gorgeous job, I’m sure!
What current projects are you currently focused on in your own repertoire?
I am currently promoting and touring the new album, released in April 2016, entitled Gathering.
I’m thrilled that Gathering has received some accolades recently:
(1) Winner – 2016 Independent Music Award – Social Action Song category for the song “Malala”
(2) Shortlisted for the 2016 Edmonton Music Prize
In the months ahead:
I’ll be heading to Folk Alliance 2017 in February. I’ve been selected to perform an Official Showcase.
March 2017, I’ll be performing 4 special Triple Bill concerts in NY State with two US songwriters Si Kahn (legendary songwriter of “Aragon Mill”) and Joe Jencks.
Sep 2017, I’ll be heading back to the UK for another month-long tour of folk clubs.
And more dates to come in Summer 2017.
All shows will be posted on the website at: http://www.mariadunn.com
Folks interested in my music can subscribe to my e-mailing list there too, listen to lots of song samples and purchase the music.
Newfoundland has a rich history of folk music but you have documented many tales in Alberta which you have shared through song, what kind of stories inspire you to communicate them?
Stories of resilience and grace in the face of adversity.
Stories of courage and compassion.
Stories of so-called “ordinary” people doing extraordinary things.
Stories of people standing up to injustice.
The most recent CD, Gathering, is devoted to celebrating those kinds of stories with songs of family, community, humanity and the love that fires our actions to make the world a better place. In keeping with Pete Seeger’s words (1994), “The key to the future of the world is finding the optimistic stories and letting them be known”, the songs range from historical and narrative to personal and immediate, inspired by social justice stories both global (Malala, When The Grandmothers Meet) and local (When I Was Young, How I Live).
Stories from our history that I think more people should know about, for e.g:
When I Was Young – inspired by the 1980s-90s work of indigenous rights activist Dorothy McDonald-Hyde for her community, the Fort McKay First Nation.
We Were Good People – tells the story of the 1932 Hunger March in Edmonton
In the Shadow of the Rockies – about Ukrainian Canadians forced into the Castle Mountain internment camp (Banff National Park) in WWI
I Cannot Tell You – the story of a Vietnamese refugee coming to Canada in the late 70s
The Ron Hynes tribute is Saturday, November 26, 2016. Please see the NLFC Website for more ticket information. Upcoming acts at the NLFC include Rosie and the Riveters and Jim and Penny Malmberg,