You go “sledding” at church when you purchase a ticket to experience ethereal sounds from an obscure festival within a cathedral styled place of worship. A revitalized music scene has emerged from the sombreness of the pandemic. Musicians saddled in loneliness from their basements have powered up their skills and are now showcasing. It’s a stopover on Calgary for musicians looking for more of the lime light needing to build a fan base away from the clutter of social media.
On the eve of June 23rd, three acts took to the stage at Calgary’s downtown United Church. Opening was Laura Hickli. The sound man prepared for Laura alone but she brought five compatriots along thereby a delay ensued off the mark. Then it happened. The emotive Laura Hickli jolted us to attention with her intriguing physicality behind her keyboard. There was as much joy in consuming her translation from song to body as there was in interpreting the contrasting melodies. A pointed ballad completed a set filled with dreamy pop soundscapes colored with samples of shoegaze and slide guitar. It was delightfully different in theme with sledding at Sled Island.
Next up was Magella. This powerful singer from Montreal enraptured from the outset with her powerful voice. She introduced herself alone on stage and opened with the accompaniment of a loop. A drummer and guitarist settled in and took their place afterward to pay fill. Literally, these two musicians played accompaniment cognizant of the varying spectral of sound alone emanating from this singer who characterizes her sound as “diasporic blues”. Guitar solos were precise and laden with the charm of some jazz. The songs flowed pleasantly and the finale ensued with the drummer getting his chance to shine with an up tempo song fitting of high energy grunge. During her audience repartee, she made reference to “the project” as if this trio is temporary. Well….evident from last night, this outfit has synergy.
Closing out the night was “Spelling”. Again….the focal point of the ensemble was the singer. At only 32, Chrystia Cabral has her own Wikipedia page so let’s get that out of the way. Her album “Mazy Fly” released in 2019 was well received universally by music critics and her rise has been unorthodox. She has an unwavering voice complemented by a high energy band. The drummer is so tasteful with dynamics and the chordal sounds oftentimes circulate in the major scale thereby defying alternative trends.
The crowd was delightfully appreciative and the setting was surreal especially in lieu of one particular track in which Laura Hickli represented her departure from religion. This all in context of if being three months to the day since her and her band mates had rolled their touring van down an embankment having struck black ice while on tour. I cast a blessing for all in house atop the highest of pews (photo) and departed the gathering with a warm reconnection with old clients just outside the church door.
The Nickelodeon folk club hosted these guitarists last night to a sold out show. This is a quaint venue and by all accounts…this act deserves a bigger arena. They are seasoned pros with decades of guitar playing experience with Dave Gunning and J.P. Cormier operating in tandum since the mid nineties. Jake Lauzon has proved to be a travelling companion producing yet more gel to the stage chemistry.
There’s so much material in addition to yet another release titled “Leather and Dust” that fan favourites “Kelly’s Mountain”, “Molly May”, and “Leaving Charlottetown” didn’t make the set list. Not only did they bring the house down but Dave Gunning’s dry humour with his soft spoke voice left some patrons in fits of laughter.
J.P.’s roots started out by winning fiddle and guitar contests in his youth. From there basic training involved acclimatizing to the fast tempo of bluegrass in the southern U.S where mandolin and banjo chops advanced in the company of the Sullivan family.
Dave Gunning is simply a work horse with melody emanating oftentimes in an octave altered from the lead playing of JP. Dave is ribbed among “String Theory” enthusiasts (weekly guitar talk show hosted by J.P) for how high he capos the guitar. The personality differential between these two is obviously broad adding to the appeal.
The guitar playing is something to behold. J.P exhibits scale mastery along the neck and utilizes open strings and altered chords for piquing interest. Then there is the dynamics and flow of a song that shows how extremely synchronized these two have become.
We don’t know Jake well yet but the word is that he’s also a multi-instrumentalist at the ready for whatever flavour needs added to a song.
The Western Canadian portion of the tour is underway and dates are posted on their web site “gunningandcormier.com”.
It’s quite the conundrum for musicians spawned by the era of virtual streaming and Napster’s historic foot hold. As of yet, I’ve never subscribed to Spotify. My reading of Johnny Cash’s autobiography has been inspired by the “Life In Music” series of Canadian bluegrass / folk guitarist J.P. Cormier. It’s been interesting to learn of dysfunction and cronyism behind the recording industry which may have produced my hesitancy in subscribing to Spotify. The Neil Young disconnect with Spotify and Joni Mitchell’s follow on weaves its semantic influence of my perception on the consumption of music. Context is such that my own musicianship has been on the rise of late.
I never understood the Napster appeal. I never understood why folks surmised that they deserved good music for nothing. Convenience is one thing and fair remuneration is another. We are apparently inherently self interested enough to circumvent the financial welfare of those who feed our id. The Spotify membership is affordable for all and this was a business model which obviously generated mass appeal and has consequently led to a monopolistic landscape for music consumption. It’s the reality and what is often the case for the masses generates hesitation by yours truly. The general sentiment for those with some semblance of taste is that music on the radio right now is uninteresting yet somehow the business side of radio has come to learn that this style of music aligns with advertisers. CDs and vinyl are now becoming tougher to access. Musicians are not necessarily adept at the distribution side of their own work. Production runs on vinyl require minimum orders which may exceed demand.
The consumption model for receiving music may be under scrutiny right now. That’s not to say that the Neil Young / Joni Mitchell spat with Spotify has initiated such but the egregiously low streaming royalty rates have not been sitting well with artists for some time. Undoubtedly times are changing and musicians such as blues comer Samantha Fish who seems savvy around business may start becoming the instigators of a modern form of the “label”.
Although “Like a Virgin” was the launching pad for Madonna, “Into The Groove” in my opinion was the sounding board epitomizing her stellar career in music. It also showcased her surprising talent on screen in “Desperately Seeking Susan”. I ponder how many incredible 80’s songs were inspired by the successes of Madonna and Michael Jackson. It was such a phenomenal time to have an ear to the radio irrespective of over played hits.
There’s nothing particularly interesting about the chord combinations but the changes are very well timed with the beat amidst a synth sound reverberating throughout. The coolness of the track melded with the rawness of her character in the movie. There is nothing cerebral about it. It’s all feel. It’s all vivacious no holds barred fun. How much of the free-wheeling Susan Thomas from the script was inherently Madonna? Enough I suspect to give the movie that intrigue value eliciting commercial success. The spirit within the groove certainly featured the movie fully and composer Thomas Newman had his hands full filling in.
That’s right. I will visit the Stampede grounds in 2021 in lieu of the fact that I’ve done everything my governments have asked me to do in overcoming the pandemic along with the majority of others. Consequently, we’ve had success in Alberta and the health department has worked closely with the Stampede in adjusting to the landscape accordingly. Although, I am often suspicious of governments’ ability to perform, I actually believe on this front…they’ve done alright after failing to ground jets early and I give them credit. Professional musicians, vendors, entertainers deserve my support. The recording landscape for musicians is challenging and streaming platforms pay poorly. Live venues is where most musicians earn their bread and butter and you know what demographic has been hit hardest over the past sixteen months. The Stampede will employ hundreds of students this year many assigned to administering Alberta Health protocols.
There are some tremendous exhibits at the Stampede. I love the art exhibit and the trade booths filled with vendors selling the next best thing. The Big Four should have its stage running and there’s bound to be some great acts show up. In fact Blue Rodeo will appear on the Stampede Summer Stage (formerly the Coca Cola Stage) on closing night. The people watcher in me will be in tune while munching a corn dog and cracking a Coors (haven’t had a cool one in months).
You may not know that the Calgary Stampede Showband is a six time world champion in it’s discipline.
Hopefully, the Clydesdales show up. A great uncle was a trainer of these monster horses and mom would rail on about the majestic tranquility of these animals. I love seeing the reaction of children who may have just seen them for the first time.
On occasion my eyes will be peeled in awe of teenagers in glee twirling along in the Wave Swinger. There’s no mention of the slingshot making a return engagement but we’ll see.
Nashville North will impose the strictest of protocols given the big tent and it looks like the Cowboys Dance Hall will be a no go this year.
Incidentally, my new office is just down the street from the grounds. How convenient.