Monday, August 18, 2014

Singing at the Log Drive Café, Friday September 12, 2014

Thanks to Maura Volante for inviting me to sing at the Log Drive Café next month.  I'll be on my own, and probably not amplified, so sit close and be prepared to sing along! 

I'm particularly honoured to be invited because this series normally features only traditional music, whereas I do mostly my own songs.  I'll try to give it a somewhat traditional feel...


Saturday, August 16, 2014

Stories and Songs of the American Civil War - August 9, 2014 in St Albans, Vermont

In January of 2012, as part of the Ottawa Storytellers' NAC 4th Stage series, Gail Anglin, Daniel Kletke, Paul Hornbeck and I presented a show of stories and songs about the Civil War. (See blog entry for January 11, 2012). The show went over very well, and Gail began to spearhead the search for an opportunity to repeat it.  Despite a couple of tantalizing leads, no such opportunity panned out, and we resigned ourselves to retiring another "one-night wonder."

One of the most interesting possibilities was the chance to do the show in St. Albans, Vermont, which is the scene of one of the stories Gail tells -- a true tale of Confederate commandos crossing the border from Canada into Vermont to rob banks, terrorize the good citizens of St. Albans, and if possible burn the town to the ground.  The St. Albans Historical Society was interested in having us do the show there, and so were we, but there were so many logistical obstacles (most importantly visa requirements for performing in the U.S.) that we eventually put the idea on ice.  Gail went back to the struggle the following year, but again the efforts on both sides appeared doomed.  However, the seed had been planted, and imagine our surprise some months later when our St. Albans contact, Al  Weldon, contacted us: the plan was back on track for the summer of 2014!

By now, of course, we had to relearn all the songs and stories and put the show back together. Fortunately we had good notes!  Our banjo player, Paul Hornbeck, was unable to join us this for this outing, but we were most fortunate to recruit Ann Downey (of Finest Kind fame) to support us on banjo and vocals.  We called ourselves "The History Gang" for this outing, as it was not done under the formal auspices of Ottawa Storytellers.

To make a long story short: we made it at last to the lovely town of St. Albans (SO glad the Confederates didn’t succeed in burning it down!), and were met with a very warm welcome before, during and after the show.  For me (as a Canadian) it was a very different feeling, performing these songs and stories in the United States, where the Civil War is woven into the nation’s history, culture and identity.  Perhaps not surprisingly, the traumas of the North and South, and all the accompanying myth and imagery, seem to be much more viscerally present to Americans.  The Battle Hymn of the Republic was a rousing song when we did it in Ottawa, but in St Albans it brought the audience to their feet. It is humbling to reflect that, although the personal accounts from the war that we presented have a universal dimension, for Americans they are also, in a sense, part of their own family history.  I think knowing this added depth to our performance.