If you don’t already have a ticket for the St. Lawrence Acoustic Stage concert Saturday, January 21, featuring award-winning guitarist Don Ross, with singer Graham Greer opening, you should know: very few seats for this incredible evening still remain.
And it would be a real shame to miss this show: Ross and Greer are both powerhouse musical artists and performers.
I had the privilege of talking to the musicians earlier this week.
Don Ross is an acclaimed Canadian guitarist who has already won an unprecedented two United States Fingerstyle Guitar Competitions. He has toured throughout North America, Europe and Asia winning over critics and fans alike. In 2003, Bruce Cockburn wrote, “Nobody does what Don Ross does with an acoustic guitar. He takes the corners so fast you think he’s going to roll, but he never loses control.”
Ross has released a number of albums, most recently 2010’s Breakfast for Dogs, under the independent CandyRat Records label. He has composed music for theatre productions and for the CBC. When he is not performing, Ross is a Dalhousie University professor, teaching the history of guitar and techniques.
“Performance is a musician’s life blood,” Don Ross explained. “You need an audience. I am really looking forward to the intimacy of the Morrisburg stage. I always think of an audience as a friend I’m happy to see again: to walk on stage to a warm welcome is very gratifying. Frankly, music is the boat I’ve sailed around the world on.”
The phrase “heavy wood” has become synonymous with Don Ross. It is routinely used to describe his performance style and approach to music. However, he laughed when I asked him just what “heavy wood” means.
“Well, nothing actually. I borrowed the phrase from a now defunct 80’s band called Rare Air, a rock band that involved, would you believe, two bag pipes on stage. Nobody then knew what to call their music, so they called it heavy wood. I first used the phrase jokingly to describe my own music, but now it seems to be fully mine.
I can tell you what heavy wood isn’t. It’s not folk, not rock, not jazz, not blues. But it borrows elements from them all. It has an edge and an energy. It’s uniquely my style now, I think.”
Two years ago, in response to fan requests, Ross produced an all vocal record. However, instrumental music is what he primarily writes and performs.
“A change of scenery, meeting a new person can inspire an idea. But I really believe that music exists just as music. It doesn’t have to mean something. I like to think that people who hear my music can interpret it in their own way.”
Of Scottish and First Nations heritage, Ross grew up in a musical household. In university he studied fine arts and philosophy, then started his novitiate for the Franciscans. In the end, however, he felt the call of music to be too strong to ignore.
“When I decided to be a musician, I went into it with all my heart. I love this life. I’ll probably die on stage” he said, laughing, “at age 97, with a guitar still in my hand. I wanted to be a dad, to be a husband, to be a musician. I take great satisfaction in what I do.”
“We consider it a real coup to be able to bring Don, one of the most respected musicians in Canada and one of the top guitarists in the world to Morrisburg,” said Sandra Whitworth, a member of the St. Lawrence Acoustic Stage board.
Don Ross will be holding a workshop from 2-4 p.m. on Saturday, demonstrating his unique and dynamic finger style. Some spaces are still available.
Cornwall resident Graham Greer is a familiar face and voice in eastern Ontario. January 21 marks his return to the St. Lawrence Stage following a stellar show in March of 2009.
A former member of the band, Barstool Prophets, and now a renowned solo artist, Greer is opening for Don Ross.
“The last time I performed at the St. Lawrence Stage, I enjoyed it so much I kept bothering the board to let me come back,” Greer joked.
Board member Whitworth, however, points out that the Stage is delighted to have a musician of Greer’s calibre coming on the 21st.
Greer is looking forward to working with Don Ross, an artist he has long admired. “I’m a big fan. I think Don attacks the guitar with a totally fresh view point. Sometimes he sounds like three people on stage playing. He’s incredible.”
A critically admired performer himself, Greer put out a new self titled album in late 2009. He also toured the Maritimes with fellow artist Amanda Rheaume in the summer of 2011.
At Saturday’s concert, he will entertain the audience with some new material he’s been working on.
“I have a country twinge, a folk twinge, a rock twinge in my music. I think people can hear different undertones to my music, reflecting their own experiences,” he said. “I consciously try not to make my songs too much alike: nothing I hate more than making every song a reflection of the song that went before. I emphasize creativity, push to be creative.”
Greer’s lyrics are also thoughtful. He writes his songs in what he describes as “batches,” a throw back to his years touring with the Prophets, where time to rework music was often sporadic. “I’ve never been a prolific writer,” he said. “But intelligent lyrics matter to me.”
Greer commented that in the studio a performer has more of an ability to “direct how something is forming. It’s fun to put the building blocks of a composition together.”
He described live performance as “an altogether different animal. The overall structure matters more than the building blocks, and there is that element of instant feed back. Working with an audience buoys me up. I look forward to this concert. I think the audience will have a great time.”
He also added, with his irrepressible sense of humour, “I’m going to do my best not to drive people away before Don gets a chance to go on stage.”
The 7 p.m. Don Ross/Graham Greer concert at the Morrisburg Meeting Centre, Saturday, January 21, is nearly sold out.
Information about tickets, or to register for Don Ross’ workshop can be found at www.st-lawrencestage.com. The Bas-ket Case, Strung Out Guitars, Cornwall and Compact Music, Ottawa, also carry tickets.
Tickets are $15 in advance, or $18 at the door.