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Tag Archives: Songs

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Honestly Unforgettable Performers

By James Keelaghan
Sometimes an artist owns a song. Chances are they didn’t write it, but it’s their voice that you hear when you imagine the song being sung. Judy Garland—no one since has owned Over the Rainbow. Arlo Guthrie still has the definitive version of City of New Orleans.

Sometimes, you witness a hand off — that moment when one artist takes possession from the previous owner.

Since Irish Mythen and I share a bit of heritage, I have a confession to make. The first time I actually heard her, rather than just hearing about her, was at last year’s Folk Music Ontario conference. I walked in on the last song of one of her showcases. She ended the set with The Auld Triangle. The song was written by legendary Irish poet/playwright Brendan Behan, though the rumour persists that it was actually written by his brother, Dominic. The song has been owned since the 60s by Luke Kelly, the gravel-voiced singer for the band, The Dubliners. Shane MacGowan, of the Pogues, covered it in the 80s, but never really owned it.

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Irish Mythen

When Irish Mythen started singing it, I did a subconscious eye roll. So many have attempted the song. So many have failed to do it justice. By the second line of the song, however, my hair was on end. By the time she finished, it was clear the song had a new owner. It was like the spirit of Behan and Kelly had descended from the sky and placed their fingers on her.

Irish is a powerhouse. If you combined the output of every generating station in North America, it would still not come close to matching the energy in her voice. It’s a voice built to silence a Dublin pub.

I’ve gone out of my way to see Irish several times since that conference. I have rarely seen a performer more in command of herself or her audience. The darkness of some of the material is tempered by a between-song personality marked by deep humour and a sharp, quick wit.

She is not just a voice. She was named SOCAN’s songwriter of the year in 2015. She has the Irish gift for a turn of phrase. She speaks her mind and the songs can be pointed or poignant as the occasion dictates.

What Irish Mythen has in spades is honesty. It’s the hallmark of all great performers and contrary to the old adage, it can’t be faked. Old Man Luedecke has the same quality, though he and Irish have distinctly different personas.

Music conferences can open a window on a performer’s stagecraft, but they can also let you have a more intimate glimpse of a performer’s personality. I was at the Folk Alliance conference last February in Kansas City. Nice though the hotel was, after a couple of days I had to get out of the conference atmosphere and get some real food. When you are in Kansas City, the real food is barbecue.

Fortunately, not far from the hotel, was the famous Jack Stack restaurant. I was standing in the lobby looking at a map when I saw Chris Luedecke. I asked if he would like to join me, as he had a hungry look about him.

We had a pleasant walk, but when we got to the place, it was jam-packed. The hostess mentioned that there was takeout at the back. That’s how Chris and I ended up eating a mass of burnt ends (you’ll have to trust me) under a bridge beside the railway tracks.

I have rarely had a better meal—it wasn’t just the food, it was the company. Chris is down to earth and although soft spoken, he has an easy humour and is a great conversationalist. You would be hard pressed to pick him out of a crowd, but there is no mistaking him on stage.

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Old Man Luedecke

Chris writes about ordinary lives, but does it with extraordinary insight. He captures the everyday with such truth that you can’t help but see yourself in his lyrics. When I listen to an Old Man Luedeke song, my first thought is always, “I wish I’d written that.” I think that not because I am jealous of his writing, but because he is saying the things that I think, but never put into words.

His power is simplicity—a voice, a banjo—mostly—and some lyrics. With that, he creates an entire world. He seems like a modern day Pete Seeger, but where Seeger was earnest, Luedecke is laid back. There are no big issues, just small moments illuminating truth.

His is the kind of music that sneaks up on you. The first time you watch one of his shows, there is a pleasure that washes over you, some laughs, a knowing nod of the head, a hint of a tear. It’s not until a day or two after that you realize you have witnessed something extraordinary. It happens as you find yourself singing lyrics that you have only heard once. It’s the second time you see him that it really hits home. You hang on every note and every perfectly placed word resonates.

Folk music is about truth and honesty. We are pleased to present two of the most honest performers you will ever meet- Irish Mythen and Old Man Luedeke at this year’s Summerfolk Music and Crafts Festival, August 19, 20 and 21st at Kelso Beach Park in Owen Sound. Find out everything you need to know at summerfolk.org.

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Refreshing Classics And New Traditions

By James Keelaghan
It should be no surprise to you that with a name like Keelaghan, I know a bit about Celtic flavoured music. It might surprise you that it’s not the fiddle in Irish trad that really gets me going — it’s the tenor banjo.

There is a whole twisted and fascinating history of how the banjo got into Irish music, but however it got there, I think the music is the better for it.

For a number of years, the tenor banjo all but disappeared from traditional celtic music. In the ballad heavy 50s and 60s, the five-string banjo was king. But with the trad revival of the 70s, it came roaring back. Kieran Hanrahan of Stockton’s Wing and Mick Moloney brought it to the fore. I was backpacking in Ireland in 1979 at the height of the revival and the sound of the tenor banjo was the soundtrack of my travels.

It went out of fashion for a while, but there’s been another renaissance, though the resurgence has been mainly in Canada. Composers like the late Jean-Paul Loyer and players like Darren McMullen, who was with us last year as part of Còig, have been bringing it back.

Which brings me to The East Pointers, who are joining us for the first time at Summerfolk this year. The East Pointers are a wicked band. Wicked! Tim Chaisson is surely one of the finest fiddlers on the planet, and a great songwriter in his solo career. Jake Charron is a rock-solid rhythm guitar player-like a machine, he drives the tunes forward. And then, there is the tenor banjo player, Koady Chaisson. His playing is staccato, but it isn’t square. It pushes and it pulls, but it never drags. When all three instruments suddenly land on the melody line, it’s electric, played with a precision that is at odds with the laid-back look of the group. You wonder how much they must have played in order to be so pristine. They don’t play it sitting down, either, which is also a change. It adds to the raw energy of their sets.

The East Pointers

The East Pointers

Here’s the best thing—all the tunes are new. There are no old chestnuts, but every single tune sounds like it’s already a part of the tradition. It helps that the Chaissons (Tim and Koady are cousins) are one of the dynastic musical families on PEI. There have been at least seven generations of musical Chaissons on the island. While the taste in the family has always run to the Scottish, The East Pointers have brought in the Irish and the French to create a sound that not only raises the roof, but rattles the floor. Add Tim working on a stomp box and the pickup system that allows Jake to play bass as well as guitar—it is innovation-advancing tradition at its very best.

I get excited about music that has a bloodline that goes along with the melody line. Music that knows where it came from is inherently more interesting than a flavour of the week, or music from an artist that is dipping a toe into a genre.

Lindi Ortega is serious about the bloodline of country music. Last year she wrote an article partly in response to some things that Blake Shelton said. Specifically his contention that, “Nobody wants to listen to their grandpa’s music” and his reasoning that sales are the only measure of good country music. What bugged Ortega was that Shelton’s solution to making country more popular is that commercial country music is now a …“bro country” domain. It is a world full of frat boys, partying and drinking, and making sure their women wear tight jeans and are referred to as “girl”.

She summed it up beautifully. “Gone are the days of originality, not only in style but in songwriting. In that classic era you could tell the difference between Johnny Cash and Waylon Jennings. Artists were easily discernible and legends arose because of their unique qualities that made them not only country music legends, but revered and respected all over the world.”

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Ortega is nothing if not discernible. She doesn’t fit the mold. You get the feeling that she probably stands out at industry mixers. That’s bound to happen in a world that often mistakes fashion for achievement. In a town that is notoriously hard on artists that are “different”, critics have nothing but praise for her. Universally, the praise refers to her as refreshing. They then point out that the refreshing thing about Lindi is that she has a classic sound and classic sensibility.

Her songwriting style is confessional, but not self-indulgent. In this, she is solidly in the bloodline of country music. She writes and sings stories that are missing from mainstream commercial country. She’s not singing about pick-ups and beer. It’s about heartache and being from the wrong side of the tracks. It’s about good women and bad choices.

Her singing voice is true, but has rough edges. It’s a voice with character, easily identifiable. If you HAD to make a comparison to a voice from the classic generation, I’d choose Kitty Wells singing It wasn’t God that made Honkey Tonk Angels.

She’s been known to play some classic covers during her sets, but like The East Pointers, she’s really all about moving the tradition forward. To make people realize that their grandpa’s music was pretty good, and that’s the standard you have to write to.

The refreshingly classic Lindi Ortega and new tradition of The East Pointers will be gracing the stages of the 41st annual Summerfolk Music and Crafts Festival on August 19, 20, and 21st at Kelso Beach Park. There’s more info at summerfolk.org.

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