Tag Archives: Royal Wood

Review: Royal Wood and Jessica Mitchell at The Arden Theatre

The first musical stop on The Arden Theatre’s Made in Canada 2016 Professional Series, celebrating Canada’s upcoming sesquicentennial was Ontario with a performance by Royal Wood with Jessica Mitchell as the show’s opener. Mitchell may have been the opening musical act of  but there was nothing in her performance that suggested she was a novice to the stage. A fact also evident in her nominee nod from CCMA earlier this year for their Roots Artist of the year award.

fullsizerenderJessica Mitchell came on stage addressing the audience with a tone of familiarity that made her feel like she was already a close friend. Her performance didn’t merely invite the audience to be her friend, she engaged with us as if we were her personal confidantes. At times, she sang with searing clarity when her resolve was evident, yet other moments featured a breathy vulnerability. Whether she was sharing her insights on love, growing up, or how music has served an important role in her own mental health — she sang with honesty that asked us as audience members to know her as a person.

 

Royal Wood

A singular incandescent bulb glowed on the stage at the start of Royal Wood’s set. While the ghost light is normally lit after the theatre closes, Royal Wood decided to invite the spirits of the theatre to share the stage with him. The light would glow with varying intensity throughout the show or stay silent in the darkness.

imageFive white clothe panels suspended from the stage created a versatile visual backdrop for lighting effects. When lit from the bottom, the fabric displayed a rough texture not unlike concrete but when the backlight turned on to shine from behind the panels, the outline of tattered drapes hung as another layer behind the fabric. While such lighting theatrics could have easily turned into a haunted house effect, the vibrant purples and pinks projected created an inviting warmth. If there were indeed ghosts sharing the stage, they appeared happy to be present among the living musicians on the stage.

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Musicians entertain, they tell stories both through music and between songs. It can be a difficult balance to strike — How much banter is appropriate? Should I just sing the next song? Should I suggest a sing-along for this song? Would the audience even know what to sing if I did suggest it? Royal Wood’s performance didn’t seem hindered by such questions. When if came time for the audience to dust off our own vocal chords, for Woods’ “Forever and Ever” he taught us the part, rehearsed it with us and then cajoled us from a few people singing sotta voce into a choir that resonated the intimate ~500 seat theatre.

There is a sense of professional design in Royal Wood’s show: the flow of his set list alternating between solo numbers and arrangements with his full band, an appropriate amount of audience sing-along that felt inviting but not imposing, tdsc_0275he lighting design, even his styling was consistent with his trademark vest. While this artifice could appear disingenuous, his stories of preteen love and clear passion for sharing the stage with his band members made his generosity palpable. He recognized each one of his band members throughout the show. The audience developed quite an affection for Robbie playing the keyboard, who also happens to hold a Doctorate in Physics. During his encore, Royal Wood invited Jessica Mitchell back to the stage to share the spotlight with him for a closing duet. The congenial atmosphere cultivated on-stage by the musicians transferred to the audience as they spilled out into the St. Albert night.

For more information on The Arden Theatre’s Professional Musical Series visit their website. Some upcoming Artists include: Monkeyjunk, Terra Lightfoot, Andrea House, Fred Eaglesmith, and Fortunate Ones.

This review is co-written by Sable and Twila.

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The Heart of Folk Fest

The heart of the Edmonton Folk Music Festival isn’t the the evening candles on Gallagher Hill, the hillside dance parties, or the headlining artists on Mainstage—it is the workshop sessions. I remember when I was planning on attending my first Folk Fest a friend, who was a seasoned Folk Fester, told me that I had to buy a weekend pass so I could attend the workshop sessions. I took her word for it. I have not regretted it since.

The workshop sessions are constructed musician groupings by festival organizers. Prior to their time on stage, the musicians may have never even heard of each other. Some workshops may involve a very orderly presentation of songs by individual artists… but this defeats the point of a workshop session. To be a musician, one needs to be a musician within all contexts. Their musical skills should not only be isolated to performing their own personal music. However, when there is a consensus to unite the individual talents on stage, it is the ultimate aural showcase of musical synergy.

I witnessed the aformentioned musical chemistry in two Saturday sessions that I attended. One session featured Rose Cousins, Jim Lauderdale, Pokey LaFarge, and New Country Rehab. What does a folk-pop singer-songwriter, bluegrass singer-songwriter, American Roots trio from St. Louis, and alternative country group from Toronto have in common? They’re all great musicians. Upon introducing Chuck Berry’s “Thirty Days,” the artists reworked the musical themes with an organic flow of guitar, fiddle, harmonica and vocal solos to present a unique version of the song.

The same can be said for the session that included The Dunwells, who have recently arrived in Canada for the first time from Leeds, Royal Wood, and Bahamas. It took about two individual rounds of a very civil “battle of the bands” showcase before Bahamas frontman, Afie Jurvanen, invited Royal Wood and the Dunwells to play/sing as well. In my later interview with the Dunwells, they revealed they were uncertain of the workshop sessions improvisation etiquette, but they caught on soon enough with a canon of vocal harmonies. Joe Dunwell even happened to create his own lyrics at a midpoint in the song saying that he didn’t know the lyrics… and he sang this statement of fact with roaring passion. The Dunwell’s reciprocated the exchange by covering Imogen Heap’s “Hide and Seek,” and as soon as Joe Dunwell heard the ethereal female harmonies from the Bahamas singers, he couldn’t refrain from giving them a smile while continuing to sing. In both of these sessions, all the musicians contributed their voices to create a piece that only materialized at that one point in time. It is music-making with such transient beauty. This type of art cannot be prescribed. While it helps to arrange strategic pairings of artists, there is no way one can predict the musical outcome. All you can do is sit back and listen to the heart of the Folk Fest.

 

-miss. sable