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Quebecois Music

Le Vent du Nord at the Rogue in Vancouver BC, 1/27/2016

As I’ve already written about several times on my blog, it’s always a pleasure to hear Le Vent du Nord perform–although this time, it was on a seriously rainy Wednesday night at the Rogue. Yet the loyal fans filled the place nonetheless!

This time too we actually were without Olivier Demers. If you’ve been following my posts and have seen my earlier Le Vent concert posts, you know Olo’s my favorite of all the members of the group! (And I’m not just saying that because he follows me on Facebook and therefore might actually read this. Auquel cas je dois dire SALUT OLO!)

But this time he had to stay home, due to having a death in his family. 🙁 He posted to his Facebook wall that his father had passed away just a couple of days before the show. (And I was simultaneously very sad to hear the news and a bit relieved to have been warned about it in advance, because if I’d shown up without knowing M. Demers wouldn’t be on hand, I would have been even sadder!)

So Le Vent had to pull in Jean-François Gagnon Branchaud as emergency backup fiddler. If you know Quebecois trad, you may well recognize his name as one of the two fiddlers currently playing with La Bottine Souriante, who also sings some lead on La Bottine’s last album. And if you know La Bottine, you know that anybody who plays for them is guaranteed to bring their A game to a stage. Jean-François did not disappoint, and so even though we all missed Olivier, it was still a delightful show!

Let’s get down to the details, shall we?

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Theater review: Come From Away, by the Seattle Repertory Theater

Anybody who’s hung around me and/or read my blog for more than five minutes running already knows about my longstanding love of Great Big Sea and of Newfoundland traditional music. With this in mind, it should surprise exactly none of you that I positively adored Come From Away, the new musical by Irene Sankoff and David Hein, being put on right now at the Seattle Repertory Theater.

A bit of background, first. In Newfoundland parlance, a “Come From Away” is a visitor to the province. The reason this is relevant is because what this play’s about is the story of how the town of Gander, Newfoundland (and several other small surrounding communities) had to play sudden host to 38 planes’ worth of shocked travelers on 9/11. When American airspace was locked down, all those planes, without a place to land, had to lay over in Gander. The musical is all about what happened, how the “plane people” reacted to being in such a remote place, and how the locals rose to the occasion and opened their communities, homes, and hearts to all these incoming people.

And, hands down, I loved this story from start to finish. The cast was amazing. Every single member of the cast flipped seamlessly between playing locals and playing “plane people”, often of multiple nationalities in the case of the latter. Thanks to my long familiarity with Great Big Sea as well as the chance to visit Newfoundland in 2012, I was able to note with pleasure that assorted Newfoundland accents and dialogue were absolutely authentic-sounding to my ears.

Also thanks to my long familiarity with Great Big Sea, I was very happy to hear that Bob Hallett of same was the musical consultant. I had this to say on the matter on Twitter:

Mr. Hallett, bless ‘im, RTed that right up. 😀 Because yeah. All throughout the production, the musicians were back there laying down rhythms that sounded very, very familiar. And the instrumentation was a welcome joy as well, with a fiddler, an accordion, a whistle, a flute, and even a bouzouki. (Which delighted me to hear, and leads me to wonder if this production will now be responsible for helping more than five people in this town, outside the local Irish and Quebecois session crowds, actually know what a bouzouki is!)

Story-wise, dealing with subject matter like 9/11, you can’t help but tread a little carefully. But I feel this production did a splendid job of it, treating it with the gravity it deserved (particularly in the number “Something’s Missing”, in which several of the plane people, getting back to New York, react to the absence of the towers). At the same time they leavened it with a great deal of joy and humor and smaller-scale stories. There are two different relationships talked about in the plot, a straight pairing and a gay one. There’s a friendship that blooms between a teacher with a son who’s a firefighter and one of the locals who tries to reassure her in her worry over whether her son is okay. And amongst the minor characters, one of my favorites is the woman from the SPCA who made it her personal quest to see to all the animals who’d been traveling on the planes along with the people.

There was also welcome diversity amongst the characters represented, even aside from the gay couple (who happen to both be named “Colin”). Props to Caesar Samayoa, who, in addition to his playing one of the two Colins, also played an Egyptian character named Ali who had to react to the mistrust of other plane people as well as the initial nervousness of the locals about his presence. Rodney Hicks was excellent both in the role of a black man thoroughly blown away by how he’s treated in Gander vs. how he’s used to being treated at home (and some of the exchanges he has with the mayor are among the funniest bits in the dialogue), and an African traveler who demonstrates the need for a lot of the locals to figure out fast how to communicate with people who aren’t English speakers.

Similarly, the plot gives space to people of other religions as well. Samayoa’s character Ali, along with two actresses in headscarves, deliver understated yet powerful performances during the number “Prayer”, interwoven with the other Colin (played by Chad Kimball) talking about how he kept flashing back to a hymn he’d remembered from his childhood.

The set design was minimal, yet the cast made it work beautifully. There was a big rotating area in the middle of the stage, which lent a lot of motion to the choreography. Everyone kept nimbly moving chairs and other bits of furniture around to emulate the local Tim Hortons where the Gander folk liked to hang out, assorted planes and schoolbusses, and assorted places all throughout Gander where the plane people sheltered, visited, and did their best to try to absorb the magnitude of what had driven them all to have to land there.

Given my commentary about the music above, though, it’ll also surprise none of you that my favorite number was absolutely “Screech In”, wherein the locals realize they need to help their visitors blow off some steam fast, or else things are going to get ugly. So there’s a great big lively dance number set in a bar, wherein four of the plane people get to be “screeched in”–and for those of you who don’t know what that is, it’s a Newfoundland custom wherein you get named an honorary Newfoundlander if you do all the steps. There’s kissing of cod involved, not to mention the actual screech–which is rum. It’s delightful. And one of the reasons I really need to get back to Newfoundland is to be properly screeched in on Newfoundland soil!

It was during that bit, though, where we got the emotional turning points of the plotlines involving the aforementioned couples–set off against music that damn near made me leap out of my chair. They did “Heave Away”, you guys! I have this song. Three recordings of it, in fact, by the Fables (my second favorite Newfoundland band after Great Big Sea), the Punters, and the Bombadils. I had to sing along at least a little on the choruses!

And oh, there’s a lot more I could go into detail about. But I will satisfy myself with calling out two more of my favorite humor bits. One was the quick representations of assorted mayors of Newfoundland communities by holding up prop mustaches and hats in front of actor Joel Hatch, who was playing all of the mayors in question. And the other was the joke about “do you know why Newfoundlanders are so terrible at knock knock jokes?” (Answer: “Here, let me demonstrate for you! I’ll be a Newfoundlander.” “Knock knock!” “C’mon in, the door’s open!”)

And massive, massive props to actress Jenn Colella. She played Beverly, one of the pilots of the planes, and her character was powerful and authoritative and absolutely riveting; she gets a great number to herself, “Me and the Sky”, talking about her history becoming one of the first female captains with American Airlines, and her reactions to hearing about how one of the pilots on one of the downed planes was a guy she’d just seen back in London. Props as well to her comedic talents as she also played one of the locals of Gander, notable by her propensity to keep fantasizing about assorted men amongst the plane people. ;D

All in all: very, very grateful that Dara and I were able to score standby tickets for this show. I’m told that the remaining shows in the Seattle area are sold out, but I have got to say to any locals who read me: if you can see this show, by all means, do so! I left very happy indeed, and doubly pleased that I was able to stop in the theater shop beforehand and grab one of the CDs on sale (Manhattan Island Sessions, by Caitlin Warbelow, the stage band’s fiddle player), as well as a copy of The Day the World Came to Town, the book detailing the real-life events on which this musical is based. Very, very much looking forward to diving into both of these!

Many congratulations to all hands involved with this show!

Quebecois Music

Le Vent du Nord at the Rogue, Vancouver, BC 2/23/2015

As you know, O Internets, in the ongoing dearth of Great Big Sea shows in my life, I have turned to the joy and consolation of the principle of “Any Band With a Beaudry gets me across the border”. Which of course means mes gars of De Temps Antan–who last year broke my personal record of “How many times I visited Canada in one year to see the same band”–and most definitely, Le Vent du Nord!

By now the Rogue in Vancouver has a very warm place in my heart, since I’ve seen both Le Vent and De Temps Antan there twice each. This time around the venue was not set up with tables, which surprised me! But Le Vent did sell the place out, so it does not surprise me that they wanted to get as many people in there as possible. And most importantly, they did leave space for us to boing by the stage as we liked. That’s important, you know.

As for the show itself–it’ll surprise exactly no one that I enjoyed myself immensely. Particularly because this show included five, count ’em, five brand new songs that’ll be on the forthcoming new album, AND because we got the rare and unexpected treat of Olivier Demers taking a break from his usual masterful fiddling to demonstrate that he also plays guitar. AND: “Papineau”, a multi-layered turlutte that showcases all four of the boys’ voices to splendid effect, is now officially one of my top favorite Le Vent songs and that album isn’t even OUT yet. Everyone was in excellent voice and high spirits, band and audience alike, and by the end of the proceedings we had quite the crowd dancing around to “Au bord de la fontaine”. It was AWESOME.

In-depth show proceedings behind the fold!

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Quebecois Music

De Temps Antan at St. James Hall, Vancouver BC, 11/8/2014

My third visit to St. James Hall, a.k.a. the Rogue, proved every bit as delightful as expected and as they always do, De Temps Antan put on a lively and spirited show.

A satisfyingly large posse of my local AND online Quebecois trad fandom friends were on hand: in addition to myself and Dara, Dejah and Michelle from the Seattle crowd came up for the show. Ginny and Gary from Coquitlam were on hand, as well as Carol all the way from Iowa! And this time I brought Geri along so that she could see De Temps Antan in action, since she had not before. We all claimed a table close to the front of the room, since Ginny and Gary had ever so helpfully reserved it. There was singing! There was podorythmie! And there may possibly have been mammoth jigs on Dara’s head while the band was playing “Valse St-Sévère”.

Full deets behind the fold!

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Great Big Sea

Sean McCann at the Railway, Vancouver, BC 10/3/2014

This is a somewhat belated concert report since I’ve been busy dealing with Victory of the Hawk, but I didn’t want to go too long without writing this up–because although I am possessed of a mighty sadface that we have no Great Big Sea to look forward to for the foreseeable future, it was nonetheless extremely satisfying to see Sean McCann do his solo show at the Railway in Vancouver on my last trip up to BC.

As this was my first visit to the Railway I didn’t really know what to expect, but I did like the venue. And other GBS fangirls, my usual Vancouver crowd, had snagged a table towards the front, which turned out to be a good thing. Because the place was packed, standing room only in a way I hadn’t really experienced since before GBS started playing the Moore in Seattle. It was a relief to be able to retreat to a place to sit down, just because so many bodies in so small a space ramped up the temperature considerably. The size of the crowd even startled Sean, who remarked that it was something on the order of seven times the size of the crowd from his first Railway show.

This was, hands down, the perkiest I’d seen Sean at a show in years. The show was just him and his guitar and his bodhran, and he was lively, engaging, and in excellent voice. He was in delightful humor, making jokes about starting the show late, and he’s apparently now comfortable enough with himself that he was able to make self-deprecating jokes as well about his battles with alcohol–and in particular, how his wife had sternly vetoed the idea of his putting a glass of scotch on stage with him to build tension as to whether he would snap.

He did a mix of songs off his current record and Great Big Sea material. In the latter case, it was unsurprisingly stuff on which he’d sung lead (and I’m pretty sure it was stuff he’d written as well, though I’d have to look up the credits on various songs). He did several things I hadn’t heard at a GBS show in ages, which was a pleasure to hear. Notable GBS ditties he did were “Good People” and “Safe Upon the Shore” (from Safe Upon the Shore), “Graceful and Charming” (from The Hard and the Easy), “Love” (from Something Beautiful), “Feel It Turn” (from Turn), “The Night Pat Murphy Died”, and “Mari-Mac” (Rant and Roar if you’re me, Play and Up if you’re a GBS vet who pre-dates me in the fandom).

My favorite ditty off the solo album that he did: “Red Wine and Whiskey”, for getting the crowd to sing along with him.

Favorite GBS ditties: VERY pleased to hear him do “Safe Upon the Shore”, though it was decidedly strange to NOT hear the harmony brick on the chorus. Those of us in the audience did our level best to make up for that, though it was less “harmony brick” and more “everybody’s singing at the top of their lungs”.

Also rather startling to hear him actually do “Paddy Murphy”, because of the heavy drinking theme of the song. But this was an example of Sean being very willing to take requests from the audience, while at the same time reserving the right to veto things he wasn’t comfortable singing. (I notice nobody tried to get him to sing “General Taylor”, for example, though SOMEBODY kept yelling for him to sing “Old Black Rum”, to wit–no. Partly because bad idea in general, but also because he didn’t write that ‘un, and it would not be appropriate for him rights-wise to do that one solo unless he’s got Bob’s buyoff on that.) He faked us out with “Paddy Murphy”, too! Sang the first line, pretended to stop, and then went ahead and did the rest anyway to the audience’s delight.

In general he was very active with engaging the audience in the show, and by engaged I mean he kept pulling people up on stage to sing with him. My fellow fangirl Vancouver!Angela, a.k.a. sticckler, got to be in the first round of this when she and a couple others came up to sing backup on the title track from Sean’s current album, “Help Your Self”.

But he didn’t stop there. He got a great big honking herd of us to swarm the stage with him to do his closer–“Mari-Mac”. I could not resist the urge to jump in on that, though it caused a moment of MASSIVE EMBARRASSMENT as I tripped over my own damned feet on the way up there. “OH NO,” Sean shouted, “piper down!” But I scrambled back to my feet and assured him as well as everybody else that I was in fact OKAY, and then we all yelled “Mari-Mac”, and it was awesome.

Afterwards I was a little chagrined on behalf of the band that had to follow Sean’s set–because the place cleared out fast after he was done. A lot of the fans lingered in line because he did in fact do a meet-and-greet after, and naturally, I had to hang around for that. Which resulted in this pic!

Me and Sean McCann

Me and Sean McCann

I was able to tell Sean to his face that I talk a good talk about falling at the feet of my favorite musicians, but don’t usually mean it literally. And I also made a point of being rather more serious and telling him that I’d also been reading what he’s been saying to the media lately, not only about his fight with alcohol, but also that he’s an abuse survivor. I know what that’s like. And I wanted to wish him love and strength and just general fan support. He thanked me very kindly for that.

So yeah. Great show all around and it does make me feel somewhat better about GBS being on extended hiatus. The question came up again on the OKP as to whether the band will ever emerge from that hiatus, and in what form. Nobody’s saying yet, but it was very noteworthy that Bob Hallett did show up on that thread and say “Never say never.”

I do find myself hoping that eventually Sean will be comfortable enough to rejoin the GBS boys. But until then, if he’s willing to keep singing to us by himself, I’ll absolutely show up for his shows.

Thanks for a wonderful performance, Shantyman. We still love you. <3

Quebecois Music

De Temps Antan in Qualicum Beach, BC 8-2-2014

This weekend I engaged in my lightning-strike road trip up to Canada and back–specifically, to Qualicum Beach to attend a music workshop, house concert, and post-concert session, featuring my boys of De Temps Antan!

Which meant I got up at 4:30am on Saturday morning and spent pretty much all of the morning in transit in order to get to Qualicum in time for the workshop. And I spent pretty much all of Sunday in transit home. But the time in between? Stupendous levels of awesomeness, and worth every minute of the hours I spent on the road and on ferries! For the chance to learn more tunes from André Brunet, I’d do it again in a heartbeat.

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Quebecois Music

Victoria/Cumberland 2014 Trip, Day 4: Le Vent du Nord at the Cumberland Hotel, 3/11/2014

And now, O Internets, the second to last post of my Victoria and Cumberland vacation series–in which Dara, userinfosiestabear, userinfomaellenkleth, and I all had the supreme pleasure of getting to see Le Vent du Nord play at the Cumberland Hotel!

Previously in this particular adventure, Dara and I saw Le Vent in Victoria! And then we explored a bunch of rocks before Dara sang that night! And then we explored Cumberland and sang some more!

It’s truly fitting that we wound up the trip with one hell of a gig out of les gars. Because don’t get me wrong, you guys–I enjoyed the symphony show immensely, but even after only four shows’ worth of experience, I’m here to tell you that the best way to enjoy Le Vent du Nord is in a tiny, cozy venue. Preferably front row center. With a MAMMOTH.

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