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,