Tag Archives: Northern Lights Folk Club

Review: Maria Dunn Trio at Northern Lights Folk Club

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).

Review: Pharis & Jason Romero at Northern Lights Folk Club

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 SongsThey 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.

Review: Old Man Luedecke with opener Ken Stead at Northern Lights Folk Club

dsc_0113_2
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.

dsc_0084
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.

dsc_0119
Joel E. Hunt

 

dsc_0012_2
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.

dsc_0144_2
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.

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.

____________________________________________________________________
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: Be Your Own Light

… There’s no doubt about it
there’s no doubt about it
there’s no doubt about it
you’ve got to be your own light …

The 2017 edition of Edmonton’s Winter Roots Roundup concluded with an encore featuring Linda McRae‘s “Be Your Own Light” at the Northern Lights Folk Club. Joining McRae on the stage for the encore and throughout the night offering their own voices, stories and songs were Dana Wylie (also the host of the evening) and Shawna Caspi. Caspi also played a short set the previous night at the New Moon Folk Club, before Catherine MacLellan (accompanied by Tim Leacock) took the stage for two sets of her own.

The conviction of McRae’s final song epitomized the whole weekend of women and song, and reminded me of how women, in particular, had to shine their own light. As Wylie pointed out women are often erased from historical stories. For an example Wylie used our lack of collective remembrance about Elizabeth Gurley Flynn (an active member of the I.W.W. and a founding member of the ACLU) after Caspi had sung Joe Hill’s “The Rebel Girl” which was written inspired by Flynn. Flynn fought for women’s rights, in an incredibly vocal way. How could such a significant figure disappear from our consciousness?

The Folkways catalogue includes more than protest songs, and so did the evening at the Northern Lights Folk Club, which began with Wylie’s own “Hallelujah Leonard Cohen Hallelujah”. While not from the Folkways catalogue McRae’s song “Singing River” could easily have been. Through the song McRae told the story of Te-lah-ney a Yuchi woman who spent 5 years walking from Oklahoma back to her birthplace in Alabama (to hear the songs of the Tennessee River) following the Indian Removal Act in 1830. Wylie dipped into the Canadiana portion of the Folkways collection leading us in an a capella version of “A Poor Lone Girl in Saskatchewan” originally sung by Anne Halderman; and by the song’s conclusion had us, much to our delight, shouting out the ending rhymes of Yellowknife and Bering Strait.

Aligning more with the protest and labour songs in the Folkways catalogue, Caspi’s “Not So Silent” brought forth the voices of crowds at both the Northern Lights and New Moon Folk Clubs. While MacLellan mixed her own songs like “The Long Way Home” and “The Raven’s Sun” with covers of her father’s work such as “Snowbird”, to tell us tales of homesickness, heartsickness and love. The genuineness of MacLellan’s songs shone through and like in McRae’s song MacLellan was definitely being her own light.

These four musicians shared songs that have shaped and reflected their understanding of the world. As McRae’s “Be Your Own Light” says:
… go out and make some noise when you find you’ve got no choice
put down your toys the world needs your voice
and it sure could use your light …

These women certainly have heeded McRae’s call and shared their voices and their light.

The Northern Lights Folk Club’s next show is a double bill with Karen Savoca & Pete Heitzman and the Shari Ulrich Trio on February 18th, while the New Moon Folk Club is back on February 24th with the Slocan Ramblers. Please see the folk club’s individual websites for more ticket details.

Review: Jim and Penny Malmberg, Rosie and the Riveters at Northern Lights Folk Club

I’m constantly amazed by the diversity of musicians in Edmonton and the range of genres that they perform. At the Northern Lights Folk Club last night, locals Jim & Penny Malmberg showed off their quirkiness in song lyrics like Muffin Tops in Love or when they drew comparisons between courtship and fishing in I Took the Bait. Even throwing in a good o’le bluegrass murder ballad with Urban Coyote.

But it wasn’t all hilarious stage banter and eccentric songs, when Penny announced that she was at the Women’s March earlier that day at the Alberta Legislature, she brought the focus to the fight for women’s rights. She excused herself for screaming herself hoarse earlier that day, disregarding texts from Jim to save her voice for the gig, and it was evident her passion for this issue could not be silenced. For the conclusion of their half of the show, the Malmbergs sang a cover of the Rolling Stone’s You Can’t Always Get What You Want echoing their sentiments.

The ethos of the first half of the evening transferred seamlessly to Rosie & The Riveters who added a refreshing dose of colour therapy with their stylized charm from the 1940s. Without a synchronized snap or a foot tap out of place, their dense harmonies wove throughout each of their tunes with a comedic sparkle while singing about their Red Dress or Dancing ‘Cause of My Joy.  With A Million Little Things they reminded us that sometimes we can all benefit from a change in perspective, especially in the dark of January.

Rosie & The Riveters made it was easy for us not to take ourselves too seriously, by teaching us how to dance with moves such as “petting the horse’s head” and “touch the sky” — sidenote: if you feel ridiculous and awkward, you are doing these moves right — and somehow it felt inherently right when the kazoos came out for a song battle or the beat box app played the underlying beat as they rapped Johnny Cash on top of it.

It was a power packed evening full of good humour and quirkiness — if you didn’t show up with a smile on your face, you certainly left with one.

Women of Folkways is up next at the Northern Lights Folk Club on Saturday, February 4, 2017 with Dana Wylie, Linda McRae, and Shawna Caspi.

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.