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Lynn Miles at St. Lawrence Stage February 25

 

 She even sang as an infant in her cradle, her mother once said. 

An overwhelming passion for music has never left artist Lynn Miles in a performance career that has spanned 40 years. Instead, it has taken her from her home town of Sweetsburg, Quebec, to the major stages of North America and Europe. It has won her numerous music awards and honours as well as critical accolades. It has ensured her a devoted and growing fan base. 

On February 25, the extraordinarily talented Lynn Miles will return to the St. Lawrence Stage, the Morrisburg Meeting Centre, for one concert only at 7 p.m.

“Lynn is an artist that some people regard as one of Canada’s best singer/ song-writers,” said St. Lawrence Board member, Sandra Whitworth. “She came to us in 2008, and the audience reaction then prompted us to bring her back this year. It will be a great show.”

I had the chance to talk to Miles about her music, her career and her concert here in Morrisburg. 

“I kind of think my professional career was actually decided for me,” Miles said. “I was simply passionate about music. It still remains the chief love of my life. Over my career I have written some 600 songs, and I still feel that there is lots of music in me. 

But if ever the music stops,” she added, “I think so will I.”

An accomplished performer on  guitar, piano, and harmonica, her rich voice classically trained, Miles has seven albums to her credit and averages over 100 concerts a year. (She’s just back from Europe.) Her 2001 album, Unravel, won the 2003 Juno award for Best Roots and Traditional album. Her most recent CD, Fall for Beauty, was nominated for a Juno in 2011, and did win her the prestigious English song writer of the year at the Canadian Folk Music awards. With time spent in Nashville, she has also been described as a country artist. She is currently working on volume 3 of her Black Flowers Project.

“I see myself as a singer/song-writer, and to me that means I can make any music I want,” she said. “Others can interpret my music the way they want (I sometimes call it roots), but I find inspiration for my writing everywhere. I find it in the people I meet and in my family. I am a voracious reader; I wander art galleries; I listen to other artists. They all inspire my songs.” 

Some critics have commented on the “gritty honesty” of her songs, on their deep, hard “sincerity.”

“I do write about life’s problems and issues,” Miles said. “I write of things like addiction, heartache, the challenges out there. But I also believe that the one rule of an artist is to take something unattractive or challenging or dark and turn it into a kind of beauty, finding a way to touch people in the process. Many things find their way into my music.”

The power and poetry of her lyrics have always been inspiring.

I asked her about writing.

“My first rule is that there are no rules in music and writing. You must be open to what happens around you and willing to go in unfamiliar directions,” Miles said. “Each song is an experience. Some take half an hour to write; some cannot be finished in 10 years. You have to let the music simmer, then come out when it’s ready. Of course,” she added with a ready laugh, “all my pieces are my babies. And even if they prove to be ugly babies, I still love them very much.”

Miles will hold a song-writing workshop in Morrisburg on Saturday afternoon, just before her evening concert. It is capped at 20 registrants and is nearly full. 

Lynn Miles is looking forward to her  February 25 St. Lawrence Stage concert where she will be accompanied on stage by Keith Glass of Prairie Oysters

“It’s a great stage and always a great audience. It will be a fantastic time,” she said. 

Tickets are $15 in advance or $18 at the door. They are  available at www.st-lawrencestage.com or 613-543-2514, at the Basket Case in Morrisburg or Strung Out Guitars in Cornwall. 

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What a night! What a show!

 

The stars were certainly out in force at the St. Lawrence Acoustic Stage Saturday, January 21. 

Renowned guitarist Don Ross, with Graham Greer opening for him, performed to a packed and cheering house.

“What a great night,” said Sandra Whitworth, a member of the St. Lawrence Acoustic Stage board of directors. “We had a sold-out audience, our second this year. Don and Graham were just terrific.”

Don Ross’ diffidence and self-effacing sense of humour won Saturday’s audience over before he even picked up his guitar. 

“Morrisburg at last! Yes!” He laughed. “I’ve arrived! Now that my family and I are relocating to Montreal from Halifax, why I’ll be able to come here by car instead of flying into the Morrisburg International Airport!”

When Ross picked up one of his on-stage guitars and started to play, the Morrisburg audience was thunderstruck. 

Don Ross is simply that good.

Two time winner of the prestigious U.S. National Finger-style Guitar Competition (he is still the only player to have ever won the competition twice), Ross literally created magic on the St. Lawrence stage. 

His music is fluid, complex and often wonderfully exuberant. Though he performs alone on the stage, his seemingly effortless artistry makes you believe that a whole group of musicians is backing him.

Although he would describe himself as primarily a composer, Ross (who laughingly suggested that his voice “isn’t much”) is actually a very talented singer and song-writer as well.  He sang a love song, “If I Could” (included in his album Any Colour), that he wrote when he was just 19.

“All I ever needed was just a glance/If I could only see inside you/If I could only be beside you…”

Later he also delivered a powerful arrangement of an old John Martyn song “Head and Heart”.

During the concert Ross used three different guitars on stage, as well as a digital effects processor. One of his more unusual instruments is a specially designed baritone guitar, tuned somewhere between a regular pitched and a bass guitar. Ross, who loves the instrument’s “throaty, feet planted sound,” employed it for many of his numbers.

Performing compositions ranging from a new, still untitled piece with strong blues undertones, to the jaunty “Dracula and Friends, Part 1” and the romantic and exotic “From France to India,” Ross gave ample proof that he is a true Canadian virtuoso. 

His incredible artistic talent, his humour and grace on stage, and his strong connection with the audience won Ross deserved ovations Saturday evening.

Graham Greer is also an artist who makes a powerful connection with his audience. 

“Graham is a phenomenon in this area,” said board member Bill Carriere. “He’s an accomplished, award-winning artist whose music speaks for itself.”

Like Don Ross, Greer is a natural on stage, easily sharing anecdotes about his songs and his life as a performer. 

A  musician to whom intelligent lyrics matter, Greer’s work is thoughtful, humourous, and, occasionally, pointed, as in “May You Never Know” which describes the “sharks” that constantly circle young artists trying to break into the industry. 

Greer’s  “I Know a Pigeon Toed Girl,” written for and about his wife, Laurie, (“the constant good thing in my life”) was both gently teasing and loving. “I found out the things that she dislikes about herself are often the things about her I love the most.” 

His voice warm and strong and clear, Greer points out the upside of life in his music.

“I’m on a lucky streak/To hell with the blues/ I’m rolling out sevens now/when it used to be twos…”

Much of his material on Saturday came from songs he has been developing. The Cornwall performer clearly struck a chord with the audience. 

In fact, as he laughed from the stage, “I’m going to have to do another record now. You’re making me feel good about my new songs.”

Passionate about his music, and just as passionate in his support of the arts in this area, Greer was a delight to hear again in concert. 

The St. Lawrence Stage will welcome the multi-talented Lynn Miles to the Morrisburg Meeting Centre on February 25 for a performance. Check www.st-lawrencestage.com for information.

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Don Ross, Graham Greer starring on St. Lawrence Stage

 

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. 

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Jazz Henriques Style at St. Lawrence Stage

 

Ben Henriques is a man of few words. He prefers to let his saxophone talk for him.

On Saturday, December 3, at the St. Lawrence Stage, he “talked” to the audience with passion and fire as he performed classic and highly original contemporary jazz during his performance. Backed by the musical artistry of members of Trio Bruxo, Henriques delivered jazz his way.

Alternating between soprano and tenor saxes, Henriques  almost seems to lose himself in his music when he performs. His fingers flying, his eyes closed, he is a study in musical intensity. Whether his style of jazz is necessarily everyone’s taste doesn’t really matter: it is impossible to miss the passion, the artistry in his work.

A quiet, almost diffident speaker between numbers, he seemed comfortable letting David Ryshpan of Trio Bruxo make most of the introductions.

Since this was an evening that featured original compositions by Ryshpan along with many works by Henriques himself, it was an arrangement that worked. 

“You’ve just heard a piece of Ben’s called ‘Paranoia is a Flower’,” Ryshpan laughed, following a number by times dreamy, a little sexy, a little wild. “He called it that because he says both grow the more you put into them.”

Later, Henriques showed a flash of his own humour when he introduced ‘All of Me’.

“This piece has been ‘remelodicized’ into Background Music by Owen Marsh. Remember folks, you heard it here first.”

Expertly backed by bassist Nicholas Bédard, drummer Mark Nelson and pianist Ryshpan, Henriques performed in a way that was often non-traditional, and unrestricted musically. In an earlier interview with The Leader, Henriques said that in contemporary jazz, “we seek to write music in a different way.” He clearly loves the freedom to improvise that modern jazz allows him. 

Numbers like ‘Captain Awesome’ or ‘Fortress of Solitude’ showcased Henriques’ skill and virtuosity. A quiet duet between just Ryshpan’s piano and Henriques’ sax was a memorable moment to me. 

Solo spots highlighting the  formidable talents of Nelson, Bédard and Ryshpan rounded out the evening. 

“Thank you, Morrisburg,” Ben Henriques said, “for supporting live jazz.”

Tickets are currently going very fast for the upcoming St. Lawrence Stage January 21 concert featuring Don Ross, with Graham Greer opening.

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Hot Jazz on a Cool Night: Ben Henriques at St. Lawrence Stage

 

  Do you like your jazz hot, with pulsating Latin overtones?

Do you like your jazz cool and contemporary, far removed from a paint-by-numbers approach?

Whatever your musical  tastes, Montreal jazz artist and composer, Ben Henriques, promises to present a concert at the St. Lawrence Acoustic Stage on Saturday, December 3, that will leave audiences breathless.

“I love playing the traditional jazz standards that go back a hundred years or more, and I love playing my own jazz compositions,” Henriques said during a recent interview with The Morrisburg Leader. “When I play, I guess you could say I switch hats to  perform in both genres.”

Henriques, who performs on both the tenor and soprano saxophones, saw his CD, Ben Henriques and The Responsibility Club voted number two album of 2009 by Radio Jazz Plus. A noted performer in North American jazz clubs, Henriques is actually performing at Upstairs  Montreal on November 30, then turning the recording of that show into a new album in late December, 2011. 

Henriques is bringing three talented backup performers with him to his Morrisburg concert. Noted artists themselves, they are no strangers to the St. Lawrence Stage. Accompanying Henriques will be members of Trio Bruxo, who presented their unique Brazilian jazz at a concert last November. 

Pianist David Ryshpan, bassist Nicolas Bédard and drummer Mark Nelson are joining Henriques for the concert. 

“I’ve been playing with these guys for years,” Ben Henriques said. “Mark and Nick actually joined me in The Responsibility Club. I think audiences will find some distinct Latin overtones in this Morrisburg performance. We are all very fluent in a number of jazz genres, so I feel,” he added, “that you will definitely hear a very cool combination of sounds on the stage. Certainly some improvising will be going on. I’m very excited about this concert.” 

Jazz doesn’t fit into neat musical pigeon holes. Performers and music lovers alike talk of smooth jazz, of fusion jazz, of pop-jazz and cross-over jazz. 

When I asked Henriques about this, he admitted that it was difficult for him to “define my style. I guess contemporary jazz is the best description. Traditional jazz sees harmony as functional and logical. In contemporary jazz, you could say that we seek to write music in a different way. You can incorporate a large ensemble in contemporary jazz, mixing instruments, even electric ones, that just aren’t part of the traditional approach.” 

I asked Henriques when he first fell in love with jazz.

He laughed. “I first played the saxophone in the school band. The truth is, I picked what I thought was going to be the least hard instrument to learn, especially when I knew I was not good at reading music at all.”

However, the experience of jazz, and the freedom it gives a musician to improvise, started Henriques on a life time love affair with the sax. He is currently working on a Masters Degree in Jazz performance at McGill University. 

Along the way, a number of artists have had a profound effect on him. 

Mike Allen and Campbell Ryga, West Coast musicians, were Henriques’ teachers and mentors.  “Remy Volduc of Montreal was a big influence. But my absolute favourite artist is Sonny Rollins (a Grammy award winner whose many compositions are considered jazz standards). Rollins has the big sound, and the saxophone was the focus of his performances.”

Whether a person is new to the jazz sound, or a long time fan, Ben Henriques’ December 3 concert should be a must-hear event. 

“Hopefully people will feel that  they have seen something special on the stage,” Henriques said. “I think this concert will be a unique experience for concert goers, especially for those who may not have experienced a lot of the jazz scene. Hopefully, they will be happy. I’m really looking forward to the Morrisburg experience.”

The concert will be held at the Meeting Centre at 7 p.m., December 3. Tickets are $15 in advance, $18 at the door, at The Basket Case, Strung Out Guitars or at www.st-lawrencestage.com 

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Artists and artisans at upcoming St. Lawrence Stage concert

 

 It will be a gala night in more ways than one when the St. Lawrence Stage holds the third in its concert series on Saturday, November 19. Not only can the audience expect to enjoy performances by some outstanding musicians, but they can also see, and purchase, the works of noted local visual artists before the concert and during intermission. 

Bev Murphy a glass artist, Sandra Taylor-Hedges, a painter,  and painter/illustrator MiSun Hunter will be among the many different artisans whose works will be on display at the St. Lawrence Stage. 

“This is going to be an incredible evening,” said Sandra Whitworth of the St. Lawrence Acoustic Stage. “We will be featuring six singer/song writers in our November 19 concert. Some of these artists are just emerging, some fully emerged,” she said, laughing, “but all of them great.”

Returning to the St. Lawrence Stage will be Morrisburg favourite Gene Ward. Ward is noted for his country-infused original music, revolving as it does around themes of love, loss and the joys of living life to the fullest. His promises to be a memorable performance.

Mélanie Brulée, also a returning   St. Lawrence favourite, will again light up the Morrisburg stage with catchy new songs and her powerful real life lyrics. Brulée has lately been weaving her unique musical magic as a solo artist.

New to the St. Lawrence Stage, with an ever-growing area fan base, will be artist Tracy Lalone of Cornwall. She has recently opened for Graham Greer and Melanie Brulée: in October, she appeared in Cornwall’s Artsfest. Lalonde is hard at work on her  much anticipated debut album, due out some time in early 2012.

Making their first appearances at the St. Lawrence Stage will be musical newcomers Chris Thompson and Samantha Martin, as well as established  singer/songwriter, Kevin Head. 

“As a solo performer, I’m a little bluesy, more in the style of, say, Lyle Lovett,” said transplanted Maritimer, Kevin Head, who has shared the stage with the Rankins, Valdy and Chris deBurgh.

Head, funny and outspoken, says artists can find inspiration for their music in anything. “Snow falling on the roof, a child laughing, can all lead to a story. The best songs, I think, are often love songs, but love songs about a place or a home. I want to avoid getting all twisted up inside and then writing dreary songs about it,” he laughed. 

A versatile musician, Head is looking forward to the November 19 concert. “Maybe I’ll be the curve ball on the program,” he joked. “I’m not always predictable. But it will be fun.”

Music is definitely the focus of her life and her career for Toronto-based singer-songwriter Samantha Martin.

“As a soloist, I would say I am roots blues, country blues, a sound that I describe as more mellow,” the 28-year-old said. She has performed extensively with The Haggards, and is in the process of creating a new album for release in March of 2012. “I am more secure, more polished, more confident with this album,” Martin said. 

Proud daughter of a trucker, Martin says of her writing: “Mine are, I guess you’d say, ‘road-worthy’ themes, the relationships in a family, the effects of distance on those relationships.” She has recently found herself exploring new and challenging themes. “I love the imagery of religion. My love songs, I guess, are a little grittier,” she said. Her music, says Sandra Whitworth, is going to “blow audiences away, with lyrics that tug at the heart.”

Just 20 years old, musician Chris Thompson is already building a sterling reputation as a “finger style wizard” in the performance footsteps of Don Ross and Andy McKee. 

“Finger style is a mesmerizing style to me, a style that gives listeners the impression that there are a number of instruments at play on stage. There can be a rhythmic beat to the performance, and an approach that creates energy and drive in the music.”

Performing his own music, Thompson attracted a lot of attention at the Ontario Council of Folk Festivals in October where he was matched with guitarist Jason Fowler and show cased at the Festival. 

“You find the riffs you like in writing and build from them,” Thompson explained. “There are no limits to where your music can go. It’s important to convey a message, yes, but you also have to be yourself, be a bit of a showman. I look forward to the St. Lawrence Stage.”

Tickets for this showcase of outstanding  musical artists and gifted artisans at the St. Lawrence Stage, Morrisburg, on Saturday, November 19, are available at the Basket Case and Strung Out Guitars or by calling 613-543-2514. Tickets are $10.  Doors open at 6 p.m. for this concert.

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Del Barber in concert

 

Singer/song writer Del Barber blew in from Winnipeg, Manitoba, like a warm prairie wind on Saturday, October 29, and won a lot of Ontario hearts. 

Barber was the headliner at the second concert of the St. Lawrence Acoustic Stage winter series: he definitely lived up to critical praise that has described him as  “sincere and heartfelt” and “electric” on stage. 

Winner just last week of two Western Music Awards, Barber was completely at ease in the intimate St. Lawrence stage setting. His songs ranged from the jaunty Walking Down Town with a Country Girl to the poignant and memorable Home to Manitoba

Barber is a born raconteur. 

His songs are introduced with anecdotes and stories that serve the narrative flavour of his music well. Although he is a proud Westerner, he understands the ambivalence about the west many prairie people have. 

“Western Canada is young, I guess, and it just hasn’t laid down the roots it needs,” Barber told the audience. “So many young people just dream of leaving their small towns.” 

His song about a waitress who spent all her young years believing that she needed to “escape” the prairies to find her “perfect man and perfect kids” touched a chord. 

“Her dreams fell asleep on the top bunk/And woke up on the floor…”

He sang of the eternal hold the land has on Western Canadians in the touching Home to Manitoba.

“There’s a piece of land still holds/The shadow of my name..”

Barber also has a gift for sharing with listeners the hilarious, the ironic, the unexpected fun of every day life.

The crowd roared with laughter as he described in wonderful songs his misadventures as a travelling artist in the wilds of northern Manitoba, as a teenager driving his first blind date Jasmine in his mom’s 1992 Dodge Colt, as a secret lover of Archie comics. 

Barber sings with passion and humour. His guitar doesn’t just accompany him, he makes it sing along with him. There is a lot of the poet in his song lyrics: he has a way of finding just the right way to say things. 

When he completed his set audiences left the concert hall literally grinning. 

Opening for Del Barber was Carleton Place artist Brea Lawrenson. 

Only in the early days of a promising musical career,  Lawrenson is still developing the polish, and the on-stage ease, that are so much the elements of a seasoned musical performer. However, as she grew more comfortable with the Saturday night audience, her lyrics became clearer, her singing more controlled. When she and brother Sean sang together, her talent was evident.

There is a lot of passion and power in this emerging young artist. Her deep love of family and her dreams for the future colour the lyrics of her songs like the touching Hold On (written about her mother’s support) and Somewhere to Go, her determination to make it in the musical world.

Brea Lawrenson will be an artist to watch as her career unfolds.

The audiences at the Saturday concert certainly enjoyed a memorable concert evening. 

Del Barber, who told the Leader in an earlier interview that he likes to “read,” to “get the feel of his listeners” when he performs, found a whimsical and typically humorous way to tell Saturday’s concert goers how much he was enjoying his South Dundas reception. 

“Sometimes when I perform, I feel a bit like a man wearing a hot dog costume trying to sell hot dogs to people who really want burgers. But here in Morrisburg, I kind of feel I’m a man in a hot dog suit selling hots dogs to people who actually want hot dogs.” 

The next concert in the St. Lawrence Stage series will take place on November 19, an evening of Intimate Acoustics.

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Del Barber coming to St. Lawrence Acoustic Stage

 

The St. Lawrence Acoustic Stage is presenting the second concert in its stellar 2011-12 musical series on Saturday, October 29, 7 p.m., at the Morrisburg Meeting Centre. 

Outstanding artist Del Barber, fresh from winning two Western Canada Music Awards just this week for his latest album Love Songs of the Last Twenty, will be performing one concert only at the St. Lawrence Stage. Audiences won’t want to miss this talented, critically acclaimed performer.

Although his music has been described as folk, folk rock, Americana, country and alt, Barber isn’t really interested in being ‘defined’. 

“I think I am first and foremost a song-writer,” Barber told The Leader. “My goal is to let people describe me in a lot of ways, not to be placed into one genre. Some days, I’m more county, some days more folk. I like audiences to decide for themselves.”

Born in Winnipeg (and a proud Westerner), Del Barber began writing and singing from a very early age. With a growing critical reputation and fan base, he has turned to music full time. “I find now that I have to keep up to my work load,” he laughed. “Last year I did 200 concerts. But I love it. Music is the focus of my life.”

His Western roots keep him anchored and flavour his approach to song writing. 

“I like to write about places,” he said, “about how we are all connected to history, about how history affects us. Home, places, the prairies themselves are strong themes for me. There is also, I think, a strong narrative in my writing because I want my songs to be accessible, understandable to people, familiar to them.

It bothers me when some writers are vague in what they are saying. I believe that musical stories are more moving, and in the end, a better way to make my points. And oh yes,” Barber added, laughing. “I write about hockey too. What Canadian doesn’t write about hockey?” 

The Winnipeg Free Press described Barber as “sincere and heartfelt as the day is long” and wrote that his presence on stage is “electric.” 

There is also an underlying humour to Barber’s music, maybe a little touch of cynicism.

“I think that people often leave my shows laughing. There is a light-heartedness, a bit of nostalgia to my songs,” he said, then added with a laugh, “I don’t want to be a whiner.”

Just turned 28, Barber describes his guitar as “his voice” and is looking forward to the intimacy of the St. Lawrence stage. “As a performer, I like to get a strong sense of my audience and Morrisburg will offer that.”

His reputation as an outstanding artist is steadily growing. In 2010, he was nominated for a Western Canada Music Award. In 2011, he was nominated for a Juno. This October, 2011, Barber won  West Coast Music Awards for roots recording of the year, and independent recording of the year. 

“All my chips are in. Music is my life. There’s risk in that, of course, but I like to be challenged,” Del Barber said.

No stranger to challenge herself, and an artist for whom music and performance is a “life direction”, Carleton Place singer Brea Lawrenson will open for Del Barber on the St. Lawrence Stage on October 29.

“I was so excited to be asked to open for Del,” Lawrenson told The Leader. “He’s an incredible writer and story teller, just a great performer. It is a very significant move for me to meet and work and share with an artist who is really succeeding.”

However, Brea Lawrenson seems on the brink of ‘breaking out’ herself. 

A trained singer with a rich soprano voice, she has performed on the St. Lawrence Stage before in Intimate Acoustics, and has become an audience favourite. She finds her musical home in country, and has recently returned from Nashville where she was able to focus on writing and performing.

“I write from my own experiences,” Lawrenson said. “My music reflects my feelings. I felt unaccepted in high school,  and had to find my own place.” The Red Cross eventually asked her and writing partner Braiden Turner to become  official spokespersons for their anti-bullying campaign, RespectEd, and she was eager to help.

“Music is a strong venue for reaching out to people of all ages,” Lawrenson said. “It really is a universal language. I write about goals, and about pursing dreams, about the ups and downs of finding your way as an artist. On stage,” she added laughing, “I am a full body singer, very passionate, with lots of energy.”

With a new album, Somewhere to Go, produced by Keith Glass of Prairie Oysters, just out, Brea Lawrenson promises to be a memorable opening act for the upcoming concert.

Tickets for the Del Barber concert, October 29, at the St. Lawrence Acoustic Stage, with opening act Brea Lawrenson, are $15 in advance, $18 at the door. They are available at Strung Out Guitars, The Basket Case, at 613-543-2514 or at www.st-lawrencestage.com

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New funding, exciting new season at St. Lawrence Acoustic Stage

The opening September 24th concert, which featured Juno-award winning, outstanding Canadian talent, Serena Ryder, was completely sold out. 

The St. Lawrence Acoustic Stage has started off its 2011-12 performance series on a very high note.

The all volunteer board of the not-for-profit St. Lawrence Stage feels this may herald a new era for the company now entering its sixth year in the South Dundas community. 

“When we began, in 2007, to run a full concert season, we were drawing smaller crowds,” said board member, Sandra Whitworth, during an interview with The Leader.

“But the core of a dedicated audience also began building. Since then, we’ve seen a 30-35 per cent overall growth in our audience size. The more people are exposed to our concert series and to the stage, the more energy builds and the more people come out. We still need our dedicated core of enthusiasts, but we’re also working to attract new audience members.”

This year the St. Lawrence Stage has also received significant funding from a number of sources. 

The Stage has received funding from the Canadian Arts Presentation Fund, through Heritage Canada, for the last two years in the development category. This year, however, the company has qualified for the federal government’s established grant. 

“Essentially, the government studies a company like ours for two years to determine if we are viable and working, and if we are following our mandate,” Whitworth explained. “They look for an artistic vision, and examine our governance and management practices in detail. 

By moving the St. Lawrence Acoustic Stage from development to more mainstream, established funding, the government is essentially saying, I hope, that we are here to stay.

We ensure our visiting artists have a positive experience of us as a venue, and of Morrisburg as a welcoming community.”

The Stage has received its third Ontario Trillium grant. These provincial funds are restricted to capital purchases in areas like sound and lighting, and cannot be used for operations. This year, a new, professional digital sound board  was purchased.

The South Dundas council has also continued to help fund the St. Lawrence Stage. 

However, two new and key sources of funding have brightened plans for the future.

“We have our very first Platinum sponsor,” Whitworth said. “ We are delighted that Coffey’s Coffee of Ingleside has signed on with us.” 

Also new in 2011 is a grant from the Eric Baker Family Foundation in Long Sault. 

“The Eric Baker Foundation is a private foundation which supports the arts, education and health,” Whitworth explained. “I found them when I was researching funding opportunities and the St. Lawrence Stage contacted them. We put together a package about the Stage, and their directors responded favourably. That support really allowed us to put on the Serena Ryder show. 

Bringing in the Ryder show was a bit of a calculated risk on  the board’s part. We wanted to test the waters, to bring in someone with definite name recognition, to see if new people would come to our venue.” 

A growing audience base is essential for the Stage’s hope of one day becoming self sustaining. 

Whitworth stressed that grants, especially from the government, will only continue to support an organization if it can prove that other sources of revenue like ticket sales and donations are in place. 

However, if the incredible line up of artists coming to Morrisburg’s St. Lawrence Stage this 2011-12 season is any indication, then the future should be a bright one. 

Appearing in October is  renowned artist Del Barber, a critically acclaimed, Juno nominated singer/songwriter. Opening for him will be Brea Lawrenson, who is building a name in country music. 

Coming in December is the Ben Henriques Jazz Quartet, whose fusion style is delighting fans across Canada. 

2012 starts off with a bang with the appearance of two time US Finger Style guitar champion, musician Don Ross. Opening for him will be Cornwall’s own Graham Greer. 

February will see the return to Morrisburg of noted award winning artist Lynn Miles. 

New and emerging talents will also find a showcase at the St. Lawrence Stage.

“The St. Lawrence Acoustic Stage is becoming a vital part of South Dundas,” Whitworth said. “Our mandate is to expose audiences to different talents and different styles of music. I think our volunteer board and supporters are creating something amazing here. It’s exciting to bring this level of talent to our community.” 

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Entertainment

Serena Ryder concert sold out at St. Lawrence Acoustic Stage

“We are thrilled to get such a popular performer, Serena Ryder, to our venue,” said Jeanne Ward, a member of board of the St. Lawrence Acoustic Stage. “I think it is because of the reputation of the St. Lawrence Stage and its terrific audiences that we have been successful in getting this line up. Artists really want to play here.”

The St. Lawrence Stage is welcoming 2008 Juno Award winning Canadian singer-songwriter Serena Ryder to the Morrisburg stage on Saturday, September 24.

Ryder has taken the Canadian and international music scene by storm since her second album, If Memory Serves you Well, came out on the EMI label in November 2006. She opened for Aerosmith during their 2007 tour, jammed with Tim Hus and his Rocky Mountain Two in 2008 and recorded the duet, “You Can Always Come Home” with former American Idol contestant Jason Castro, for his first solo album, Jason Castro, in 2009.

Along the way she won the 2008 Juno for New Artist of the Year and her album Is It O.K. won the Juno for Adult Alternative Album of the Year. In 2010, Ryder won the Juno Award for Video of the Year with “Little Bit of Red.”

Ranging musically between folk, roots, country and adult contemporary music, Serena Ryder possesses a five octave vocal range and has toured in Australia and throughout North America. Reviewers have compared her voice to a “teenaged Aretha Franklin” (Elle) and noted her “impressive fearlessness” (Boston Globe).

“We are truly looking forward to her powerhouse vocals and musical energy,” Jeanne Ward said. “Fans are coming from all over, Montreal, Kingston, Ottawa to catch Serena in this intimate St. Lawrence Stage venue.”

Opening for Serena Ryder at the September 24 concert is newcomer to Canada, Matt Longo, a native of New York city, whose new album Lowlife is due to come out soon.

“Matt Longo’s music is honest and true,” said Ward. “His mix of New York folk pop is fresh and impressive. It’s no wonder Serena Ryder has chosen him to support her tour as the opening act.”

Longo told The Leader that he grew up with classic country, but there are other influences in his music as well. “I try not to think about genres,” Longo said. “I have no pre-conceived notions when I compose. However, I don’t get offended when anyone else describes my work a particular way,” he laughed. “I’m just flattered they’re listening.”

Longo finds inspiration for his music among those people who are or have been very close to him. “I’m sort of a people watcher, and people intrigue me. I write about pain or love, whatever is affecting me, and I think this focus on people resonates with audiences.

When I was younger, I went through a period of writing dark and brooding music, but who really wants to listen to that?” he laughed. “I see humour now in my songs. I find I can step back and see things differently.”

Lowlife was lovingly made in an old studio beneath the school in Harlem where Matt Longo teaches. “Every song went through revisions as my drummer and I got the sound we ultimately wanted. I’m excited about the release.”

He is also excited about sharing the acoustic stage with Serena Ryder.

“I haven’t worked with her before in actuality, but in my mind, many times. I’m a very big fan. I’m also looking forward to the St. Lawrence stage, to a concert where the audience is specifically coming to really listen and to enjoy the music. I will be performing numbers from my new album. I hope people enjoy the experience.”

While the Serena Ryder concert on September 24 is completely sold out, upcoming concerts at the St. Lawrence Acoustic Stage promise to be dynamic, exciting and popular.

For information or to book future shows contact www.st-lawrencestage.com.

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