ECMA 2017 Saint John Day Two

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caroline savoie

I began my second day at the East Coast Music Awards at the Export Buyers “Roots” Showcase at the Trinity Royal Ballroom at the Delta Hotel, where I was first treated to Caroline Savoie’s set. She is a francophone singer-songwriter with a gorgeous clear voice and a sweet charm onstage as she tells stories in English to set up her songs in French (most helpful for this anglophone whose fifteen years of French education has largely flown away), with a slight self deprecating edge. She told us about Henri, the man who lived in her new childhood home in Dieppe before her and who still received mail there, much to the chagrin of her five year old self who was waiting for letters from her friends in her old hometown. So, she wrote a poetic ode to Henri, speculating about all those unopened, lost letters. She also told us about her worry about a boyfriend going to Sweden for two months and encountering a plethora of gorgeous women, which became the basis for her song “Y’en Aura” a very catchy love song that imagines all the beautiful things he will encounter, and continues to reaffirm her love for him. Her new album is self titled, and I strongly recommend that you check it out. Even if you don’t understand the lyrics, you’ll get swept away by the beauty of the melodies and her voice. You can also read translations of the lyrics on her website.

Next up in the “Roots” Showcase room was Dave Gunning. Gunning began his set with “These Hands” from his 2012 album No More Pennies. The song is a rallying cry, a reflection on how we use our hands, whether to help or to hurt, and what agency we take in our everyday lives to make the World better for others. Gunning is a passionate activist, and like many folk singers before him, he often uses his platform in music to speak to the greater concerns, both of his immediate community and the World at large. His new song “Sing it Louder” from his new record Lift continues this narrative, encouraging people to lift their voices, to come together in song and reaffirm their commitment to seeking social justice. His refrains are easily taught to his audience, which creates a rousing communal moment that nicely mirrors the lyrics in the song. Gunning also celebrates an integral part of Canadian culture with his song “A Game Goin’ On,” the winner of the CBC Music and Hockey Night in Canada’s Song Quest competition. Gunning’s music has a inspiring ability to unite people, harkening back to the days of songwriters like Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger.

I then went over to the “Electric Showcase” at the Saint John Ballroom, also at the Delta Hotel, to catch Erin Costelo’s set. The hardest part of trying to cover the ECMAs is having to decide which room to go to and how long to stay. I want to see everyone, and it makes me sad that that is impossible. Catching Costelo’s set was a brilliant decision on my part. Her rich and jazzy voice and piano playing enraptured me as soon as she started singing “Give a Little” from her album We Can Get Over. It is one of those songs that I will buy and listen to on repeat for days, if not weeks. Even more impressive is her song “The Line,” which she wrote as a Bob Dylan song being sung by Nina Simone, and she really has captured the essence of Dylan’s more recent lyric writing, which is no small feat in itself. She performed with Clive McNutt on guitar, but has a set with a fuller band coming up on Saturday April 29th at the R&B/ Soul Stage at the Atrium Market Square. The show begins at 11pm and Costelo is up at 12:20. Her new record is Down Below the Status Quo and I can’t wait to get it.

The last set I saw yesterday before the East Coast Music Awards Show was Quake Matthews, also at the “Electric Showcase.” Matthews set up a really poignant multimedia component, playing video footage and interview clips that comment on the inspiration and give context for his music. The most heartrending being the set up to his song “We Can Do Better,” which came out of the shooting death he witnessed of his friend at Winston’s Bar in Clayton Park, Nova Scotia (particularly evocative to me as this happened less than five minutes from my house), and a string of recent (and ongoing) violence targeting specific communities in Halifax that shook Matthews and prompted him to examine how the glorification of guns, gangs and death in rap music contributes to murder and incarceration of his generation of largely young men- so much potential snuffed out in a moment- and for what? Both Matthews’ songs “Rap Music” and “Love Yourself” (a remix of the Justin Bieber song) explore his relationship with rap and how breaking away from its stereotypes can make success and radio play much more elusive. Matthews’ music is lyrically based, poetic and insightful and with important messages, which elevates it above music that you just blindly dance to in a club, you certainly can dance to it, but it makes you want to really sit down, listen and contemplate it as well. He is a Millennial Wordsmith, for sure, and his career is just getting started.

You can read the list of ECMA Winners from the Awards last night here. I’ll write something later about the Awards Show. I find I enjoy the showcases much more, as they’re so much more intimate and you get the opportunity to hear more of the artists’ works. Although, any opportunity I have to see Ria Mae perform “Ooh Love” I will take happily. I will write more later, I am anxious to go out into the very misty day and catch some more East Coast Music.

ECMA 2017- Saint John Day 1.

PHOENIX, AZ - JANUARY 30:  Radio host Adam Schein attends SiriusXM at Super Bowl XLIX Radio Row at the Phoenix Convention Center on January 30, 2015 in Phoenix, Arizona.  (Photo by Cindy Ord/Getty Images for SiriusXM)

old man luedecke

I am very excited to be in Saint John, New Brunswick covering The East Coast Music Awards this week! It’s the second time that I’ve written about the ECMAs, but my first time with a swanky Media Pass, and it is my first time in Saint John! I am really loving the vibe of this city. The ECMAs are in the hub of the uptown, configured around Market Square, and there’s a Boardwalk, and huge churches everywhere that look like castles, and some really great old buildings and little touches in the city that feel equal parts historic, but also sort of hipster-vintage. Coming from Halifax where so many of the most unique buildings are being torn down and replaced by giant glass domes, King, Charlotte and Germain Streets are a cozy, welcome  change of pace. There is lots of character to these and the surrounding streets, and I’m looking forward to (hopefully) having some more time to explore in the coming days!

Today I stopped by the Opening Concert on the Boardwalk, just outside the main hub of the Festival at Market Square. The rain held off and quite a large number of music lovers crowded in front of the Boardwalk Stage, sang along and danced, and people ate outside on the patio, which as was noted by Colin McKay, the evening’s host from Rock 88.9, is rare for this time of year on the East Coast. It was a testament to Saint John’s enthusiasm for hosting these awards, the first time since 2002, and the ECMAs are off to a great start for me, as I loved the entire Opening Concert lineup.

The evening began with Hilary Ladd (vocals and guitar), Nienke Izurieta (violin) and Katie Bestvater (cello), together known as Ladd and Lasses, who kicked things off with some original folk music that oscillated from slower, broody and evocative sea shanty songs to more rollicking ceilidh tunes. Ladd has a beautiful voice and the harmony of the guitar, cello and violin create a gorgeous, and often very catchy, mixture. The three ladies also sound beautiful when they sing together in harmony, I hope there is more of that on their debut album, which is coming in June.

Adam Washburn and his band rocked out next, which really sent the spirits of the crowd soaring. They have infectious energy and looked like they were having a blast, which got the audience up dancing and cheering. Washburn has a gorgeous, smooth voice (and falsetto) and his songs are youthful, catching, melodic and easy to move to, but lyrically they are also a thoughtful portrait of the highs and the lows of life in one’s often tumultuous early twenties. Washburn’s new album Lift Me Up is available now.

Quake Matthews has teamed up with Toronto’s Kayo to form the dynamic Hip Hop duo The Search. They bounce their incredible energy back and forth like the volleying of two expert tennis players, at times feeding off one another, and at times stepping back and shining the spotlight on the other. Kayo and Matthews both show off tight and rapid rhymes in songs like “In Search of a Dream”- their slightly disparate styles complimenting one another nicely. They both have great stage presence and charisma with the audience and Quake got the entire crowd singing along with his eloquent  and clever remix of Justin Bieber’s “Love Yourself.”              

Old Man Luedecke closed out the set with his extraordinarily charming songs, largely about seeing the delightful in everyday moments, be they a kiss at an airport, the despair of a  squandered A&W Teen Burger Combo, angry gardening or the joy of cooking. With his jaunty bango, penchant for yodelling and his quietly hilarious stories to introduce each song, Old Man Luedecke’s set is really a celebration of family and of home. He does such a beautiful job of  mining the moments in his life, often small, poignant moments, or domestic routines others may take for granted, and creating beautiful stories that speak with humour and eloquence to the human condition. His accidental commercial for Goldfish Crackers, “The Early Days” is the consummate example of how Old Man Luedecke uses everyday imagery of shopping carts and   toothpaste to tell a timeless and heartrending story.

Tomorrow I am looking forward to the East Coast Music Awards Show at 8pm at Harbour Station. Some artists that I am hoping to catch and/or recommend that you try to catch tomorrow are Dave Gunning, Erin Costello, Quake Matthews, The Town Heroes, Classified and David Myles, Coig, Reeny Smith, REPARTEE, Ria Mae, Tomato Tomato, Like a Motorcycle and City Natives. Check out  ECMA website for more information. 

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The Colony of Unrequited Dreams Brings Newfoundland History to Life

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carmen grant & colin furlong

Artistic Fraud of Newfoundland’s The Colony of Unrequited Dreams, now playing in Halifax at Neptune Theatre, is an adaptation by Robert Chafe from Wayne Johnston’s 1998 novel of the same name. It is a work of historical fiction, which imagines the real-life Joe Smallwood, sometimes called “The Last Father of Confederation,” interwoven in the life of a fictional Sheilagh Fielding, an ambitious and cutting political journalist, against the backdrop of the fall of the Dominion of Newfoundland.

There are so many beautiful layers to Chafe’s play. At its core, it is about the relationship between two very complex human beings, Fielding and Smallwood. Fielding is a pioneering, entrepreneurial woman, who is also an alcoholic battling deep secrets and intense emotional struggles. Carmen Grant creates a true force of nature in this deeply flawed woman, whose writing talent and tenacity to survive in a man’s world is, nevertheless, inspiring. Colin Furlong plays Smallwood, the scrappy underdog, as a man continually trying to do the right thing, but who often finds he’s accidentally screwed something up. There is a bit of a hapless Rick Moranis in Furlong’s portrayal of Smallwood, which ensures that even when all the odds are stacked against him, we’re still rooting for him to succeed.   

Chafe’s characters also beautifully mirror the political landscape in Newfoundland in the years between 1927 and 1948. Smallwood is the perpetual idealist. He begins as a passionate Socialist advocating for Newfoundland’s poorest residents. He believes, earnestly, that he is working in the best interest of the working class, and that there is reason for hope among Depression and possibility among War, and he latches on to Confederation with Canada as a testament to that promise. Sheilagh Fielding, on the other hand, is the cold voice of Cynicism. As a journalist she criticizes all sides of the political spectrum. In her column hope and idealism are  sneered at and dismissed as naive. She views Newfoundland with a hard sense of fatalistic doom. Both represent a clash of two prevalent viewpoints. In a similar way, Fielding is Cosmopolitan and worldly; she writes with scathing wit and academic sophistication, catering to a certain audience, largely centred in St. John’s. Smallwood reaches a different demographic in focusing on the Island’s folklore on The Barrelman, his radio program. It then becomes clear that the future of Newfoundland’s nationhood is divided along these same geographical and economic lines.

Although this play is set in the 20th Century, it is timely to see a story of politicians being beleaguered by a free press; one might even charge Fielding with printing “Fake News.” Although, it was the scene where three men sit at a typewriter intent on destroying the career of a female journalist, to shut her up and to break her, that I found most eerily reminiscent of our own time. It reminded me of the Twitter war against Leslie Jones after Ghostbusters was released and of Donald Trump’s inexcusable treatment of Megyn Kelly. In that moment, Sheilagh Fielding was Everywoman who dares to push the boundaries for women, and who dares to express herself in print.

The cast is uniformly excellent. Furlong and Grant both give formidable, deeply nuanced and heartrending performances. Steve O’Connell and Alison Woolridge shine dramatically as Smallwood’s parents, Charlie and Minnie, embroiled in domestic troubles of their own.

Jillian Keiley directs the piece with a beautiful, continuous sense of movement, and of time, and perpetual snow, that clearly propels the audience through this truly epic era of Newfoundland history. The sets and props are minimal, which gives Keiley the freedom to take us anywhere in a moment and the stage effortlessly transitions between scenes with ten actors (large by Canadian standards), to much more intimate moments with just Fielding or just Smallwood.

I am ashamed to admit that I didn’t know very much at all about the history of Newfoundland, beyond that she joined Canada in 1948, until I saw this play. Its history is far more dramatic than I realized, and I was truly riveted throughout, not knowing how the demise of the Dominion of Newfoundland was going to play out. It is so important that we tell these stories and also that we take them out of our Communities and share them with those who live elsewhere in the country, and beyond. I feel enriched in my new knowledge of how Newfoundland came to join the Dominion of Canada, and to learn so much while being so thoroughly entertained and moved, is really the best the theatre can ask for.

The Colony of Unrequited Dreams plays on Neptune Theatre’s Fountain Hall Stage in Halifax (1593 Argyle Street) until March 12. Show times are Tuesdays to Sundays, 7:30 p.m., with matinees at 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Tickets range in price from $33 to $70 and are available here.     

The Space Between

11221648_127633380934590_8769175095277100444_nSimeon Taole’s The Space Between, which plays at the Atlantic Fringe Festival until September 6th is a gorgeous play, exquisitely performed by Taole, that I wish was running here in Halifax for much longer (and in a larger venue), so that everyone could have the opportunity to see it.

The Space Between tells the story of Winston, who falls in love with Celeste when he is nine years old, shortly before he moves from America back home to South Africa. The children become pen pals and as Winston grows older his love for Celeste only deepens, but so too does his sense of the giant space, both geographical and experiential, between them.

Winston endures horrifying injustice at the hands of a teacher in school, and lives in a place where he faces constant, blatant, racism under Apartheid. Celeste writes about attending a Detective Themed Summer Camp. Taole does a beautiful job in rooting this play in the relationship between Winston and Celeste, and the ways in which his love for her shapes his life, even while he is so far away from her. The underlying themes of white privilege and Systemic Racism are all there for us to unpack and to contemplate long after Taole takes his bow, but as Taole writes in his Playwright’s note, “it is [a story] of unrelenting hope and the innocence of young love.”

One of the most striking aspects of this play is how Taole explores the arc of Celeste, who although unseen onstage, is full of such nuance. We see, for example, how as children Winston and Celeste are not immune to discussions of race, but more innocent to the impact skin colour has to so many facets of life. When there is a break in their correspondence it is both a moment that anyone who has lost contact with a best childhood friend can relate to, but also poignant and thought provoking to see this experience through the lens of race. Celeste mirrors the white Canadian audience’s journey as we come to learn how much there is that we don’t know, whether about invisible countries or the dawning knowledge that we can never understand what Systemic Racism feels like unless we have experienced it ourselves. Our lack of understanding and inability to relate often makes us feel awkward and this unease often makes us distance ourselves even further. These chasms between people is where Systemic Racism thrives.

Taole gives a Tour De Force performance. He is captivating, heartbreaking and easy to cheer for. This is a play that needs to be seen. Go experience it while you have the chance.   

The Space Between plays at The Rainbow Room at Menz/Mollyz Bar (2182 Gottingen Street) at the following times:

Monday Sept 5th, 4:05PM
Tuesday Sept 6th, 6:55PM

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