A few thousand kilometres from his home province of PEI, Dylan Menzie, 22, arrives in Edmonton to play his largest Folk Music Festival to date. “The energy at this festival is unlike anything I’ve felt before. I’ve heard on the Sunday night finale, when all the candles come out and thousands singing along together, I’m excited to see that. I’ve never played to that many people before,” he reveals before continuing, “it is such a relaxing environment even though there is thousands of people.”
Rose Cousins knows when and how to deliver a comedic zinger. She has the perfect onstage proportions of self-deprecation, modesty, confidence, vulnerability, and authenticity when sharing her lyrical perspective on the world. These traits are woven throughout the fabric of her show. Whether she is demonstrating her Islander accent and colloquial phrases, deciding which dog each one of her band members should own, or giving a heart-felt thanks to the audience for supporting live music and allowing her to continue her career as a singer-songwriter, her genuineness shines through and you don’t feel like your city was simply another in a long line of shows.
Audience emotions fluctuated between laughter and tears, while Cousins, with a smile, let us know that feelings were welcome. She is happy to assume the responsibility of providing a somber soundtrack for scenes of death in TV shows, a fact she expressed before she started into the heart-wrenching Go First. Introduced with the quip “We’ve just been through the ides of March, which is where Julius Caesar gets stabbed in the back by Brutus. This song isn’t about that, but is about getting stabbed in the back” My Friend aptly expressed the dichotomy between light and dark which was at the heart of Cousins’ performance.
The rapport between Cousins and her band members exuded a quiet strength. Their instrumental offerings supported Cousins acoustic music-making without every over-powering her. They also played peppy transition music as she moved between her acoustic guitar and the piano, lightening the mood between songs before we were plunged into emotional depths. She warned the audience that things only get sadder when she is at the piano. She was not wrong since, in fact, her piano works were the most trance-like moments of the show. The translucent stage fog was lit like a funnel of light from the overhead spotlights. It created an intimate atmosphere for songs such as White Flag, Tender is the Man, Like Trees, and her Donoughmore encore off of her Natural Conclusion album. As much as a Cousins show can be a bit of an emotional rollercoaster, the dark and somber songs are always accompanied by a bit of hope. Leonard Cohen’s oft-quoted “there is a crack in everything … that’s how the light gets in” line, seems an appropriate description of Cousins’ show.
Port Cities opened the concert with their stripped back harmonies. Cousins’ jokingly described them as “young whipper-snappers” and the trio does exude a youthfulness although they have also achieved success on the CBC Radio 2 chart and co-written songs with the likes of Donovan Woods. Port Cities’ version of On the nights you stay home captured the darker edge of the Cape Breton phrase, while Sound of Your Voice demonstrated the complexity of the trio’s music. The opening set wasn’t their only contribution to the evening, as Cousins called them back out to act as the choir on Grace. The trio just released their first album, featuring their tight harmonies and it will be interesting to follow them wherever the future takes them.
The Arden’s eclectic schedule continues with groups like Delhi 2 Dublin, The Small Glories and John Wort Hannam please see their website for ticket details.
This article was co-written by Twila and Sable.
Coming from PEI, an island that has a small town feel, how does the warmth of this community emerge in your music?
Prince Edward Island is an amazing place to grow up, no matter what your interests are, but as a writer or an artist, it is so engaging and encouraging you can’t help but create. There is music everywhere, in every home, every bar and nook and cranny.
As a musician here, there isn’t the sense of competition there might be in larger urban centres, we are a very close knit community.
But what also makes this a perfect place to create is the quiet, the solitude. I live in the country and am inspired by the life around me, whether it is the animals in my yard, the wild ocean churning or the leaves or snow falling to the ground. There is a lot of time for me to contemplate and to turn the world around me into song.
Your Father, Gene MacLellan, was a songwriter while you were growing up before he passed away when you were 14. Are there any memories of his songwriting process or lifestyle that stood out to you as a child?
I will never forget the image of my father sitting in the living room with book and pen and guitar, always at work, always editing and creating. He would never take the easy way out with his music, he worked every line until it rolled off the tongue perfectly.
Sometimes, I would wake in the middle of the night and go downstairs to find my dad in the kitchen, at the table, working on music. I think those quiet moments were his most productive times. When the whole world is asleep, there is a sort of quiet magic or inspiration.
You manage multiple roles, such as being a singer songwriter as well as a mother, do you find multiple roles informs your perspective while performing in either domain?
My writing certainly changed after becoming a mother. There is a certain shift in perspective that happens when you give birth, a very abrupt awakening to the realization that the world and all the people in it are multifaceted, many layered, and all someone’s child.
Perhaps it’s just a growing up, maturing thing as well – you realize that not everything is about you. It has allowed me to look into other people’s stories and wonder about what’s going on in their heads, which became a whole new source of inspiration.
You have mentioned in previous interviews that songs may be subconsciously percolating in your mind while you are creating quiet moments for yourself, such as through gardening. How do you create a meditative atmosphere for yourself in order to channel the creative flow of your thoughts?
I’m not sure it’s something that can be planned, but it is a common phenomenon. If you think too hard about something, you’ll never find the answer. But if you take a break and do something mundane or meditative the answer or the idea may come to you out of the blue. I meditate every day, which helps keep my mind clear and present. Other than that, I try to give myself over to my hobbies like gardening or this time of year it may be knitting or sewing. I’m a maker, it turns out. I like to plant a seed and see how it grows.
Is there anything else you would like to mention that I’ve missed?
I feel very grateful that I get to play music for a living… I think everyone needs some sort of creative outlet and I feel fortunate that mine is also my job.
Catherine MacLellan performs at New Moon Folk Club on Friday, February 3, 2017.