MORRISBURG – Her music is distinctly and deeply rooted in Canada. She sings of those things Canadians know – the blue waters off the east coast, the plains of swaying wheat in the west, the wilderness lakes and woods in Ontario. When she sings, she makes us all truly aware of what some might actually call our “Canadian soul.”
On Saturday, May 4, singer/songwriter and activist Sarah Harmer was on the stage at Upper Canada Playhouse, the final performer in the spring season concert series at the St. Lawrence Acoustic Stage.
There were teens in the audience. There were seniors in the audience. Harmer reached them all through her distinctive music. And, at the end of the evening, they brought her back on stage for encore after encore.
Sarah Harmer has been performing since she was 17 years old. She first sang with the Toronto band Saddletramps, then formed her own band, Weeping Tile. She has sung with artists like Bruce Cockburn, Blue Rodeo and Great Big Sea, and with Dallas Green during a tribute to the late Gord Downie at the Junos. With two Junos of her own, and a number of successful album releases, her music has attracted a growing and devoted fan base.
Harmer’s voice is rich, and engaging. Her style is folk, but there are undertones of rock in some of her songs. She is not an artist who chooses to be type-cast as one genre or another.
In Morrisburg it was this tiny, yet striking woman and her guitar, who dominated the stage, with friends Jay and Bob backing her up on drums and bass and some vocals. Comfortable and readily at ease with the enthusiastic audience, she had the crowd laughing as she shared her excitement about being in Morrisburg – and finally getting to go to Upper Canada Village! And she joked that “if you want to stay safe, never play guitar solos.”
She also reminded audiences of the charms – and pitfalls – of small town Canada, where there’s always the fear of “running into the someone you know you’ve been trying to avoid.”
Sarah Harmer lets her music and her distinctly Canadian lyrics tell her stories.
I particularly loved a number from the album, Songs For Clem, dedicated to her father, that traced the impact on Westerners of the Great Depression, when the rains stopped and the prairies died. In a Sarah Harmer song, there are always depths of meaning.
“Empty fields/With dust as deep as snow
Come harvest time/ We’ll work it out…
There’s still a lot of love/In these troubled fields”
She sang of the ups and downs of love (“If you’re too tucked away/You can’t see the sun.”) and she sang of a Newfoundland friendship. (“See her sailing/holding rigging/eyes as wide as waves that break.”)
Sarah Harmer is a long time environmentalist and activist, who co-founded PERL (Protecting Escarpment Rural Land). Her passion for caring for and preserving the natural spaces of this country has also found its expression through her music and this was evident at her Morrisburg concert, where she encouraged people to get out and save the “wild ones who won’t have anywhere to go.”
The audience loved her, her thoughtful, enticing music, her engaging stage presence. Many were passionate fans who had eagerly awaited this SLAS concert: they gave this remarkable artist a standing ovation
Incidentally, opening for Harmer were two very young, up and coming musicians, Brighid Fry and Pascale Padilla, who call themselves Moscow Apartment.
Blessed with unusual and sweet voices that lend themselves to the creative harmonies in their intriguing lyrics (“She’s got cough drop eyes/She goes to ghost towns in her free time”), they are just beginning to make a name for themselves in the music scene. They too, have fallen under the Sarah Harmer spell. To share a stage with her was for them a great privilege. “We’ve been listening to her our whole lives!”
So have many who filled Upper Canada Playhouse for Sarah Harmer’s concert: they eagerly await her announced new album.