St. Lawrence Acoustic Stage starts 2023 on a high note

MORRISBURG – Judging by the cheers and applause which greeted the six performers who opened the SLAS 2023 season in the Intimate Acoustics showcase January 7, 2023, there is a lot to look forward to in the months ahead.

Musical artists Emma Lamontagne, Joey Vinegar (with Natalie Cross), Connor Veinotte (with Reid Warren), Oddeline, Keegan Larose and Claude Plamondon (with the two other Claudes) presented an evening of varied, exciting and highly original music – to the delight of the crowd.

Based in Ottawa, Emma Lamontage is an award-winning singer who has worked with groups like Glass Tiger and Ezra Jordan. Despite the fact that she daily contends with chronic medical issues, she is blessed with both a ready, witty sense of humour, a strong, vibrant voice, and a sure hand on the guitar. In her set, she made it clear that she refuses to let her physical challenges define her songs or her attitude. At six feet one inch, she laughed that
“I look like a tree when I dance” and followed with a song “I’m Not a Dancer” about “anyone who fears he may not possess the right moves.” Emma’s lyrics were often thoughtful, reflecting on the nature of love and of relationships. “What if I knew a place/ We could go and spend our day/ Counting clouds in the sky….every day you show me how to love…” She clearly loved being back on the live stage, completely at ease with the audience. In fact, her song “All Isn’t Nothing,” suggested her musical joy and her triumph over life’s challenges.

Also obviously delighted to return to the live stage, was Ottawa singer/musician Joey Vinegar, joined by very talented fiddler Natalie Cross. Joey seemed to burst on to the stage with songs that possessed decidedly Celtic undertones, complete with toe-tapping rhythms. His music is exuberant and dynamic, and he loves to tell stories. His song “Dustbowl”was a tale of the Great Depression, “My tractor’s abandoned in the field/ My heart just won’t grow the beds that I see… in this Dustbowl.” Yet later he had the audience laughing and singing along with him in a jubilant, interactive song “All the Ways You Say Good-bye” with a chorus that included lyrics like “Adios/ C’est la vie/ See you later, Crocodile/ Sayonara.” His vocal range is striking, his music and lyrics highly appealing.

Next to take the stage was Connor Veinotte whose musical background stretches back to the band Sons of Gord, a performing group he created with his brothers. He brought with him outstanding fiddler Reid Warren (and joked that Reid would “handle the soprano harmonies” in his set.) A graduate in song-writing from Carleton, Connor’s strong, and very versatile voice, played particularly well in his original and thoughtful ballad, “The Day John Henry Died,” a song about the challenges of “getting ahead, especially in these tougher times.” A skilled guitarist, his lyrics reflected the passions and the challenges of finding love in the song “If” released on his debut EP Four Years. “I’d soar to the edge of space/ …maybe she’d still hold my hand/ If I drove fast and recklessly/ Maybe she’d still want me…” Connor may still be deciding the direction of his life, but, based on his performance at the SLAS, music must always remain a powerful force in his world.

Oddeline has been described as a “stunning singer/songwriter” who sees her music as a way to better understand the world and the people around her. Her songs, her voice, make it clear that she is not afraid to face the sometimes tough realities that face us all. Soft-spoken when addressing the audience, she later stunned us with her multi-octave vocal range, singing with extraordinary power. There is a sometimes thoughtful, even pensive air to some of her songs, particularly in “Despondency.” “I don’t know why /You’re still on my mind…/The sky is foggy with meaning…and I don’t know why..” In “Take Me Back to the River,” Oddeline sought to capture the longing for a special love in one’s life. “Let me ride your waves tonight/ And get lost in your swelling tide…” Her music is warm, alive and appealing.

Keegan Larose is a powerful force on the stage. His voice is strong: his vocal range unexpectedly broad and exciting. When he writes and sings, Keegan, now a Cornwall resident, refuses to be locked into any one style or genre. He has said that he prefers to call his style “Indie-rock” and his themes can range from the thoughtful “Forks” (about choices we make) to the bouncy positivity of an exuberant song like “Enjoy Yourself.” At the same time, he is willing to reflect on the problems of a 9-5 world. “On the other side the grass is green/But all I see is grey/…And so I’ll stick it out for a while/Not everyone’s alright.” A sense of community (however one defines it) and working together (he is also a teacher) are themes that Keegan often explores in his music: his easy repartee with the live audience make it clear that he is a singer and guitarist for whom the performing stage is a natural home.

Claude Plamondon, joined by the other two Claudes in the Plum’s Too Young to Die Band, is a seasoned, skilled performer. Claude is completely at ease on the stage, establishing a strong, easy-going rapport with the audience. His virtuoso skills as a guitarist, a composer and a singer delighted. He and his very talented fellow musicians “and childhood friends” performed homey, sometimes bluesy, certainly heart-felt songs, that clearly appealed to listeners.
At one point Claude exuberantly announced from the stage “Morrisburg is the Nashville of South Dundas,” and proceeded to prove it in selections like “When We Were Young” and “Misery Express.” Yet there was always an irrepressible sense of humour underlying his songs. The audience was delighted to join in the chorus of his song, “Home”: “Home is where my heart is/ Even though it may skip and roam/ It’s never far from home.” Claude Plamondon and his band ended the SLAS Intimate Acoustics evening on a joyous and feel-good note.

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