Phenomenal Great Lake Swimmers open St. Lawrence Acoustic Stage season

The Great Lake Swimmers like to do things a little differently. 

While other artists spend most of their time recording in closed, high tech studios, where the sound is strenuously manipulated, this innovative five man band chooses to record in some unusual settings. They put an album together in an empty grain silo. They taped deep in the woods. They’ve even recorded in an abandoned subway station. 

“To me, playing and recording in unusual sites harnesses a certain energy and draws special performances from the musicians,” explained Tony Dekker, lead guitar and vocalist with the Swimmers. “When we first began recording like this I was surprised at the environmental sounds we picked up, the wind, crickets, and, instead of erasing them, we began to embrace them in our music. Our music became a kind of document about a certain place and time.”

Audiences at the St. Lawrence Acoustic Stage, the Morrisburg Meeting Centre, will have the opportunity to experience first hand the critically acclaimed Great Lake Swimmers when they kick off the SLAS season on Saturday, September 20, at 7 p.m. With the multi-talented Musettes opening for them, one thing is certain: this is going to be quite a concert, and a great start to the 2014-15 year at the Stage. 

The Great Lake Swimmers is composed of Tony Dekker, Erik Arnesen, Bret Higgins Joshua Van Tassel and Miranda Mulholland.

“We’ve been a band now for about 11 years,” said Dekker, “with the cast evolving a bit over the years. But this group is, I guess you could say, the final cut. What draws us together is the music itself, and wanting to bring that music to life.” 

The Swimmers are generating growing interest among fans and critics alike. Nominated for two Junos and other musical awards, their latest album (not yet named) is being developed right now, for release in early 2015.

The group resists being conveniently labelled.

“We come at some elements of folk in our work, but ours is, I think, a younger approach to that music. We have an acute respect for the folk tradition, but I believe we come at it with an “Indie” feel, maybe even a “neo-folk” approach, What we really create,” Dekker laughed, “is a unique Swimmers sound.”

Their bold, exciting melodies and vocal strengths have a deep appeal to audiences. They have performed everywhere from Massey Hall, to venues like a small night club in Gravenhurst. The intimacy of the St. Lawerence Stage setting is one they are looking forward to.

Tony Dekker is the chief lyricist of the group. 

“The idea for songs can come from a melody, or a phrase or a rhythm which comes to me. But there has to be a good combination of words there. I go in to the band with a finished thought and we work together on the musical arrangements that make the finished piece.”

Not surprisingly (he was raised on a farm, and has strong rural roots) Dekker finds themes for his writing in the “natural world. Finding spirituality in nature inspires music. I like to draw metaphors from the environment: just feeling the silence of a forest can give me a unique perspective which I can bring to the lyrics I write.” The mythology of the Great Lakes (which inspired the band’s name) fascinates him as well.

He is pleased at the steady rise in the band’s career. “People are still learning about us, but that’s alright. We’d rather be a slow burn than a brief flash in the pan,” he laughed.

Opening for Great Lake Swimmers is a trio of young artists who literally exploded on to the stage during an Intimate Acoustics concert last season. The Musettes, made up of Meaghan LaGrandeur, Rachel Harrison and Brigit O’Reagan (sitting in for regular Lora Bidner, who is currently on a solo project) have a sound and a range that will astound audiences. 

“Our songs are very eclectic, and all are quite different,” said Meaghan LaGrandeur. “We all write, although Rachel, who is a brilliant song writer, can create songs that range from Sea Shanties to love to high adventure. I tend more to story telling and history. I think we take my songs and ‘folksy/popify’ them,” she laughed.

Accomplished artists all, who have been singing together since they met at Ottawa’s Canterbury High School, they, like the Swimmers, don’t really label their musical style. “We love music old and new from Judy Garland to the Andrews Sisters, to modern folk singers,” LaGrandeur explained. “If I did pick an umbrella genre, it would be folk, with pop influences.”

The Musettes just had a huge CD launch party in June filling St. Luke’s Church in Ottawa. Their new album Wanderlust is garnering praise and a lot of fan attention. They have an extensive touring schedule arranged for next year.

With The Musettes as the opener, and the Great Lake Swimmers on stage, September 20, 7 p.m., is going to be a memorable opening concert at the Stage. Tickets are $20 in advance and $25 at the door. Contact www.st-lawrencestage.com 

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