The Alberta Rooms at Folk Alliance
Apparently Folk Alliance is a crazy time. All I know is that it happened during a crazy time for me, so I only got to see the last night of it. And then it took me another five days to write about it…so I’m sure it’s far away from people’s minds now.
I still wanna write about it though, mostly because it was like a baby reunion with all these people I hadn’t seen in years. I didn’t even consider going to see new artists, or ones I hadn’t heard before, when there was a room full of people I love, but hardly ever get to see play. I spent much of the night reminding people, “Remember when I spent four hours down in your basement interviewing you…” “Remember when we sat with our backs to each other at the Ship and were afraid we’d creep each other out by asking if the other was waiting for an interview…?” Despite being in downtown Toronto at the Delta Chelsea hotel, I felt like I was at home, and if there was any week in the history of all weeks that I needed to go home, it was last.
On to the music. The Bow Valley Music Club, along with CKUA programmers Allison Brock and Tom Coxworth, has sponsored an Alberta showcase for the last couple of years, recognizing the relative dearth of western Canadian artists at a typical FA. Good for them, because it means 20 artists get out to a place that might otherwise be inaccessible for one reason or another, and they get some much deserved exposure. Stewart Chyz, one of the forces behind the Bow Valley, deemed the last couple years a success, so much so that the club wants to make this a more permanent part of their longer-term plans.
Dave McCann opened one of the rooms. He’s one of my faves, and a long-time member of first the Calgary, and now the Lethbridge, music scenes. He’s normally backed up by a pretty killer band called the Firehearts, who understand his hard rock upbringing and inject his at-times-caustic/at-other-times-sweet songwriting with some edge. Nevertheless, McCann carries the solo show well, letting his voice and lyrics take centre stage, proof that he’s a natural songwriter.
After McCann came Ralph Boyd Johnson. I’ve done terrible things in my past, and one of them is to have somehow missed any opportunity I had to see this guy. I honestly don’t know what happened, and now I feel stupid for waiting so long. Sitting easily on that fence between sarcastic and philosophical, Johnson has a catalogue of tunes that basically make you think, “yeah, me too”. Not to mention he kinda flirts with everyone while he’s playing, even the guys, so if you go see him, be prepared. He looks you right in the eye. Not everyone does that.
Johnson was followed by a pairing of Lucas Chaisson and Steve Pineo. I don’t know Chaisson, who turned out to be a bit of a Ron Sexsmith in the making, with his syrupy voice and charming (and heartbreaking) songs, but I do know Pineo’s repertoire fairly well. Also, his dad was my mom’s doctor.
?! Anyway. Pineo might be best known for penning the song “Canadian Man”, which Paul Brandt made into a pretty big hit a few years back:
And while he’s an adept player, backing up countless roots artists in Calgary and spending much of his time composing and arranging, his preferred style seems to be a cross between blues and jazz. The two were a nice combination, and picked up on each other’s songs easily, singing harmonies and playing along.
For me, the highlight of the night was John Wort Hannam. I haven’t seen him in years, and I had forgotten what a charismatic performer he is. He reminds me of a colleague, Andy Hillhouse, who some of you in folk circles probably know. I used to run into Andy in office hours occasionally and we’d chat about work stuff, and then one year at our annual concert, he performed and we all just sat there in shock. We had no idea he’d been hiding that talent from us. Same thing with John. I mean, he’s a pretty hilarious guy, but the disparity between his normal, jokey self and the power he has onstage is, well, shocking. And what a voice. If you ever get the opportunity to see him live, especially with his trio, Scott Duncan on fiddle and Tyson Maiko on bass, book the night off and go. He claimed he was losing his voice, but whatever. No evidence of that.
I snuck over to the other room to see a bit of Jenny Allen, another hilarious performer. Really, like every line out of her mouth is a good joke. She partnered with Mel Smith and Dave McCann stepped in a bit on harmonies; they were backed by Calgary session player Tim Leacock (who is worth seeing on his own for his musicianship). Allen’s latest album, Blanket, is available on her website.
If I get hit by a bus tomorrow (something I shouldn’t say because I actually have to get on several, and get on a plane…), I hope I played a small part in promoting Alberta music ’cause there’s a lot of good people out there.
And if you want any of this music, check out the BVMC’s sampler here.