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).
To say that the Christmas season is a time of year that David Myles really gets into is probably a bit of an understatement — his website for the month of December features an Advent Calendar, with different videos, songs and even some colouring pages! And while Santa might not have brought him a banjo, with a guitar Myles packed St. Albert’s Arden Theatre for his It’s Christmas show.
In his signature suit, flanked by Kyle Cunjak and Alan Jeffries, Myles spun stories of Christmases past in between classics such as “White Christmas” and “Sleigh Ride”. Myles’ family, including a rather precocious four year old, featured heavily in the stories. Last week Myles’ daughter’s playschool class was the test audience before he played two shows with the Halifax Symphony. The kids, so the story goes, didn’t want to hear any “sleepy songs” like “Star of Hope” and instead demanded repeats of “Santa Never Brings Me A Banjo” … which is decidedly NOT a sleepy song.
It was one of those rare shows that you left with a sore face because you spent two plus hours with a massive grin on your face. Myles kept us in stitches, reliving in great detail a Christmas morning when his brother Sean focused on his new GT Snow Racer missed (or rather didn’t miss) the present left behind by the family dog Ginger.
From cajoling to carolling, audience participation was natural. Beginning with level one participation: imagining ourselves on a beach for “Simple Pleasures” off of Myles 2011 album Into the Sun, to full involvement for an acoustic encore that brought Myles, along with Jeffries and Cunjak, in front of the microphones for what felt like a spontaneous collective version of “Silent Night” at the concert’s close.
Myles made a point of mentioning that Christmas albums can come back to haunt performers (yearly, in fact) and if they didn’t REALLY like a song, in the long run it would be not good for them. He spoke about selecting the songs for the album, apparently his daughter is a fan of Nat King Cole’s voice, his mother-in-law was able to point him to a French song to include (“Have you listened to Céline Dion?”), and how a bluegrass version of most any Christmas song but especially Meaghan Smith’s “It Snowed” (non-bluegrass original here) is his default.
Based on the reactions of those around me I doubt that I am alone in hoping that It’s Christmas haunts Myles for many years to come. Like the playschool friends of Myles’ daughter I’ve got “Santa Never Brings Me A Banjo” on repeat, and I will be heading back to Myles’ website every day from now until Christmas to see what fresh treat awaits me in the It’s Christmas Advent Calendar.
The Arden Theatre’s Professional Series musical offerings continue with The McDades on December 16 & 17, for more information please see their site.
Andrew O’Brien from Fortunate Ones had some time to chat with FOTR.
How has your tour been going so far?
The tour has been fantastic. Too often stops in Saskatchewan only include Regina and Saskatoon. It has been a real education, getting to see and experience smaller towns in the province. Saskatchewan is an exceptionally beautiful place and the people we’ve met have been so welcoming and kind. We’ve also been setting up/mixing and tearing down our own sound system each night. Historically, we’ve been spoiled by having sound people and equipment provided so at first we were a little hesitant about the the time and effort it was going to take to do it all ourselves but it has been surprisingly rewarding and we’ve gotten it down to a science!
You’ve previously mentioned that the more your tour Canada the more it feels like a unified country instead of being from Eastern Canada or Western Canada, why do you think that is?
The music of this country is so diverse but it is that diversity that binds us and brings us together. We run into fellow musicians and friends as we travel from coast to coast and we see ourselves in them. We’re all out here trying to make a living at doing what we love. Rather than feeling a sense of division or competition we have come to see that there is an empowering community of like-minded artists in this country. This sense of community has been the greatest takeaway from this career. It really doesn’t matter if you’re making music in Vancouver, Saskatoon or St. John’s, we’re all trying to achieve the same goals.
There is such a strong folk music culture from your home province of Newfoundland. What do you think it is about NFLD that produces such accomplished musicians?
As Newfoundlanders we are fiercely proud and protective of our cultural heritage. We come from a culture of storytellers and singers. This sense of entertainment is almost certainly rooted in the geographical isolation of living on an island. When people started to settle in Newfoundland they brought with them oral and musical traditions from Ireland, England, Scotland, France and other regions and over time this melting pot of cultural styles has morphed into a patchwork that we think of as traditional Newfoundland music. The wonderful thing, now in Newfoundland, is that “folk music” is not solely recognized by the traditional instruments that have come to define it, rather it is a multi-genre art form that has grown exponentially over the last number of decades. It’s either that or there’s something in the water.
In the initial stages, you both were musicians in larger bands, do these larger collaborative interests still exist for you as Artists or do you find more drawn to the duo work in Fortunate Ones?
The urge to collaborate is always there and I think that is partly due to the fact that we have surrounded ourselves with such talented and inspiring people. We love what we do as Fortunate Ones but are definitely excited to expand on our sound and performances. We are looking forward to see where our next album will take that journey and will most definitely be calling on our friends to help us in that exploration.
How do you continue to challenge yourself as Artists and stay accountable to one another in your artistic vision?
We write and perform music to express ourselves and to connect with people. That connection is a powerful thing and strengthening that bond is always the goal. We always try to create work that comes from a meaningful and honest place. If we don’t hold ourselves up to a creative standard and level of honesty in the work it would be difficult to get behind the music. If we can’t stand behind our work then our fans won’t either.
Previously, you have mentioned that time is a present theme in your music, do you find that communicating through the medium of music helps to make a transient thing like time feel more permanent by capturing the moment in music?
We’ve written many songs about time, it’s passing and it’s effect. I’ve yet to come to comfortable terms with it and I suspect my trepidation surrounding it will continue to be a central theme in our creation. I can’t think of anything specifically that feels as though it has a true sense of permanence. All good and bad things fade with time. There is a joyful sorrow in moments as they pass. It’s really quite beautiful and serene to know how utterly minuscule we all are.
Is there something you would like to mention that I have not asked?
We have a Christmas EP called All Will Be Well coming out this Friday, November 4. All details can be found at www.fortunateones.ca.
Fortunate Ones performs at the Arden Theatre Friday November 4, 2016. For more information on tickets and The Arden Theatre’s Professional Musical Series, please visit their website. Some upcoming Artists include: Aoife O’Donovan, Jayme Stone’s Lorax Project, David Myles, and The McDades.
Fun Fact: The last time Folk on the Road saw Forunate Ones was at the Winnipeg Folk Festival.