MORRISBURG – “You know, it really is true: you honestly ‘don’t know what you’ve got ‘till it’s gone.’ It’s just the best to be back again, live on the stage. When I perform now, it feels like everyone in the audience is leaning forward, and taking in the music in a new and special way: I think my shows themselves have never been better.”
Two time Juno-award winning singer/song writer, Dan Mangan is coming to the St. Lawrence Stage on Saturday, January 21. A prolific performer who has released five albums (including 2022’s ‘Being Somewhere’ ), numerous singles and EPs, scored the feature film, ‘Hector and the Search for Happiness,’ and co-founded Side Door, a forum for connecting artists with in-person and on line shows, Mangan is something of a Canadian musical phenomenon. And now that the world is finally opening up, and touring and concerts are a reality again, he is looking forward to live performances both at home, and in the US and in Europe in the months ahead.
“Recording on line is good,” Dan said, during an interview with the Leader, “but it’s just not the same as live. You want that reflective back and forth that you get, sharing with an audience. A concert is a kind of conversation between me and the audience. I want to break down barriers, knock down the pedestals, and show that this is really me on the stage. The same person, off stage as on. A live show is kind of a one on one with an audience, and you have to be a little vulnerable, and give the audience the chance to be the same. I love to leave a concert filled with joy. A concert, for me,” he explained, “is like getting to the promised land.”
The board of the St. Lawrence Stage has been eager to bring Mangan to perform in Morrisburg since chair Sandra Whitworth first saw him in 2010 at the then Ontario Council of Folk Festivals. Scheduling and events didn’t align for a long time, but “thirteen years later, here he is!”
He is a composer as well as a singer: I asked Dan about creating music, finding the words and the melody.
“Sometimes an idea just keeps you awake at night, swirling around in your head, and you know you have a song brewing,” he explained. “Song writing can become almost therapy. And it’s always been my experience, that a song can be sent out like a kind of smoke signal: you often find others may be sharing and experiencing the same feelings. Each song makes itself known to me in a special way. Of course,” he added, “it may take half an hour or a year, but I know that I will find that song. That’s why I stay try to stay in ‘discovery mode’ so that I will be open to what that song wants to say.”
The down time occasioned by COVID, actually gave him an opportunity to develop his voice in some new ways. Like all performers, he has had to struggle with vocal exhaustion, and stress, but with the support of collaborator/producer Drew Brown, he has changed the way he does things. “He pushed me in my vocal range, encouraged me to try other approaches. Frankly, I like my voice now more than ever before.”
He was not ‘formally’ schooled in voice or instrumental, “but I think intuition, feelings and emotion motivate me, and find expression in my music. I’m writing better songs now than I ever did.”
The audience enjoying Dan Mangan’s January 21 concert will have the opportunity to hear an outstanding, and talented performer at the height of his powers. “There will be lots of songs, old and new. The old songs have a special place, but I want to approach music – and life – in a mind set of ‘what is happening now.’ This is what keeps me fresh. I’m ambitious, a hard worker, and I have a certain audacity, which you need in this career. Frankly, I just finished my sixth album, and it still feels like this is just the beginning.”
Dan Mangan is looking forward to that “powerful energy” which will flow between him and the audience at his January 21 concert. “I’ll invite the audience to hum, even sing along. It’s just me alone, on the stage, but that strong energy will be there, and so will a link to the audience through the music.”
An equally powerful link will also form between the audience and the exciting opening act for this concert, the duo known as Tragedy Ann.
For Liv Cazzola and Braden Phelan, Tragedy Ann, returning to the St. Lawrence Stage is actually going to be a kind of homecoming. In 2015, just at the start of their professional career, they played an Intimate Acoustics Showcase, an event that was a powerful influence on their future decisions.
“We were very new to the music scene,” Liv and Braden explained. “The SLAS offered us our first professional, established folk venue. They treated us and all the artists wonderfully. For us that concert was a very impactful experience, and gave us a lot of hope for our future as Tragedy Ann. The board was so generous. It was amazing.”
Like Dan Mangan, Liv and Braden are thrilled to be out performing live again. “It feels like it’s been a long time.” And, like many other performers, they turned to ‘on line’ for a time, but “it was hard to lose that feedback you get from a live audience. It’s a new kind of experience to be back again, and a great opportunity to connect with people, to get to know them, to learn what appeals to them about our music.”
Tragedy Ann just released a new album, ‘Heirlooms,’ in May of 2022, and they have been on the road since then, introducing audiences to their unique musical style and sound.
“We call our music forward-looking folk,” they explained. “We draw from and inhabit the folk music tradition, but we also look to move forward, to explore song structures and subjects that perhaps aren’t normally considered ‘folk.’ Yet the social commentary that was so much a part of the ‘60s folk, well, that hasn’t gone away. In our music, we also look at themes of justice and morality; we explore social issues like climate change, because we feel that we must work to develop the energy to be a force for change. As artists, we have a responsibility to speak out through our music.” In creating their fresh, and dynamic songs, they remain a deeply collaborative team, who “communicate clearly and compassionately. We get along famously when we write.”
Braden and Liv bring honesty and passion to their music. And they incorporate exciting harmonies into their songs using instruments ranging from guitars to accordions. “One of our ‘newest’ instruments is a travelling pump organ,” they said. “This pump organ shaped many of our arrangements in our recent album, and we love to share its sound with audiences. This organ brings a whole new magic to our music.”
Braden and Liv, Tragedy Ann, are looking forward to their return to the St. Lawrence Stage, and to touring again. “We love sending our music out, and to communicating with an audience. We speak through our music.”