Tag Archives: Northern Lights Folk Club

Review: Songwriter Night with Jay Gilday, Jasmine Whenham, and Jason MacDonald at Northern Lights

The songwriters’ circle at Edmonton’s Northern Lights Folk Club highlighted and clarified a few things in my understanding of song and music. Throughout the evening—featuring Jay Gilday, Jasmine Whenham, and Jason MacDonald (joined by Colin Grant on fiddle)—questions bubbled to the surface of my brain: How did the people on stage crystallize ideas into song? What makes a songwriter different than a singer or for that matter any musician? What is a song?

First what is a song? Music and song have been described many ways—for Victor Hugo music expressed “that which cannot be put into words and cannot remain silent.” Perhaps more completely E. Y. Harburg described the difference between written text and music, as “words make you think a thought. Music makes you feel a feeling. A song makes you feel a thought.”  The songs sung at Northern Lights certainly made us feel thoughts—particularly the second set where in one pass across the stage we were taken from considering life for young single parents (in light of now being a parent himself Gilday sang “Open up the Door” for some of the people he knew growing up who became parents very early), to attempting to understand the switch being flicked in a brain where that person is no longer themselves (Whenham sang a powerful—unreleased—song about when that switch flipped for her and she went from running for her life, to running from her life), to the impatience of waiting for a child’s birth (MacDonald sang “Overdue” about his eldest daughter’s birth). What these highly emotional songs demonstrated was a fragment of the person who wrote them. That was the moment when I realised the difference between a singer and a songwriter was that a songwriter breaks off part of their story to give to the audience, while a singer collects the fragments of others and presents them to an audience.

I still don’t quite know how songwriters distill moments and experiences into brief meldings of music and words—but that mystery is one that will continually draw me back. Causing me to listen to more songwriters, seek out how they experience the world, and judging by the standing-ovation that ended the songwriter’s circle at Northern Lights, I’m guessing I won’t be alone in that search.

The Northern Lights season continues in January 2018 with what promises to be an excellent evening with Coìg. Next week is the Canadian Folk Music Awards in Ottawa, the fiddle-player from the Northern Lights Songwriters’ circle Colin Grant is both nominated and performing, if you can’t make it out to Ontario you can live stream it at www.folkawards.ca.

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Cool contrasts: Review of Chris Ronald Trio & Sam Spades at Northern Lights Folk Club

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Chris Ronald

Edmonton is a city spoiled for choice when it comes to folk music, and at times that means a finite audience gets divided up into quite small segments—I’m guessing that unintentional subdivision of the usual folkie crowd is what happened last night when the Chris Ronald Trio and Sam Spades shared the bill at the Northern Lights Folk Club playing to an intimate audience.

While outside the evening began with a brilliant sunset it turned into a cool, damp October night, the same sort of startling contrast took place inside the hall.  The evening began with Chris Ronald who has the ability (likely honed from time as both a busker and a schoolteacher) to hold attention whether he be telling you about touring via Via, or defining halcyon. Mike Sanyshyn and John Ellis joined Ronald on stage, and with dramatic melodic fiddle flourishes (Sanyshyn) and guitar/mandolin/banjo/vocal harmonies (Ellis) aided an already skilled storyteller in sharing tales. Ronald’s songs take inspiration from everything between (and including) a photograph of his brothers, busking, finding a lost wedding ring (8 years later in the back of a basement storage space), and even the heart-attack of a championship curler. The trio had the audience singing and clapping, and relaxing into the intricate sounds of Ronald’s latest album Fragments.

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Sam Heine of Sam Spades

An intermission, set change-over and few minutes later the local Sam Spades—John Richards (bass), Greg Hann (drums), Trevor B McNeely (lead guitar), and Sam Heine (guitar & lead vocals)—took the stage with their brand of blues-soaked rock’n’roll noir. From the first chord, the difference was apparent, we were in for heartbreak accompanied by epic swathes of pedal steel and blisteringly fast (yet somehow twangy too) passages from the upright bass. The Sam Spades set felt like it would be at home in a dusty western bar (probably only found in my imagination) where the floorboards creak from age and, the scent of beer and whisky seem to permanently infuse the air.

The effect of the two sets was entirely different, providing both a cool contrast and demonstrating the fantastic range of styles found in folk music. This is just the starting leg of Ronald’s tour as he heads East to Ontario, Quebec and the Maritimes, if you can be sure to try to catch a show. Sam Spades plays frequently throughout the Edmonton area, including an upcoming (November) set of dates at Blues on Whyte, and Northern Lights is back with Hillsburn (whom we saw at the 2016 Jasper Folk Fest and thought were awesome) on October 21st.

Garnet Rogers @ Northern Lights Folk Club

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Rogers reading an excerpt from Night Drive

Tonight marked the opening of Edmonton’s Northern Lights Folk Club’s 19th season, and it opened with a bang—Garnet Rogers commanded the stage for two sets (and an encore). In an unequivocal demonstration of support for live folk music, the line-up before the doors opened stretched out of the building and down the sidewalk. The show was sold out, just a few hopeful (and extremely lucky) folks got in when someone had an extra ticket because _________ friend/family member couldn’t come.*

Rogers cuts an imposing figure. He is a tall man, his voice is strong, and he selects his guitar from a rack filled with instruments possessing unique histories, which he happily shares. But the number one thing you take away from his concert has nothing to do with his height and everything to do with his stories. Whether it is through song or speech (or written down—now in the form of the book Night Drive) Rogers has an impeccable gift for telling a good story. With the song “Small Victory” he told us the tale of a mare rescued from slaughter, the very first stanza gives you a sense of Rogers’ attention to literary detail:

You’ve no business buying a mare like that
But buy her if you must
He bit the end off his cigar
And spat it in the dust
She’s old, she’s lame and barren too
She’s not worth feeding hay
But I’ll give her this, he blew smoke at me,
She was something in her day. 

Within seconds you are at that dusty horse auction buying that mare. Although the song has a melancholic air, it also conveys the hope in the title. Rogers succeeds in sharing a part of his emotional connection to his horses with his audience, and it set us up for a hilarious tale (FedEx and artificial insemination) about that mare’s offspring. Rogers’ tales read from Night Drive drew the audience in as much as his musical offerings did and he took us from being all of fourteen on a beach in Port Dover to a workshop stage on another coast line in Vancouver.

 

David Alan Eadie from their days in the Stan Rogers trio joined him on stage for the encore—beginning with a rousing sing-a-long chorus of “Michael Row Your Boat Ashore”, once again set up by a reading from Night Drive.  Seeing as I can’t even approach Rogers’ dramatic story-telling prowess, I’ll just say get the book, read it, and imagine a room filled with folkies singing along at the conclusion of Chapter 9. This is Rogers farewell tour of the West, so if you are from Edmonton and want to see Rogers play live then you are going to have to be the one to do the travelling. Check upcoming tour dates on his website,

*If this was you (or someone you know) I’d advise signing up for the Northern Lights Folk Club mailing list, HERE. They send you handy reminders so you aren’t standing outside the show in the cold hoping for a miraculous ticket to appear.

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Dave Gunning and JP Cormier are up next at the Northern Lights Folk Club on September 30th, 2017 and there are still some tickets available.

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

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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.

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.