In The Dead of Winter Music Festival (Day 2): Storytellers at Spatz Theatre

What a difference a day makes.  Thursday night I arrived at The Company House for Day 1 of the In The Dead of Winter music festival  with every intention of spending all three nights watching the performers at that venue.  The Company House has quickly become my favourite Halifax live music venue and there is an exceptional list of people playing there.

However, as I was leaving for home following an exceptional night of music on Thursday (read aboutThursday here), a trusted music source overhead me say that I was not planning on attending Spatz Theatre to see Mary Gauthier.   In my defence of not planning to attend Spatz Theatre (not in defence my not knowing this great songwriter), I had never heard of Mary Gauthier prior to IDOW  and there was one performer I really wanted to see at The Company House.  Anyway, following a brief conversation I had second thoughts about not attending at Spatz.  I spent most of Friday not knowing which venue I was going to attend.  Having watched Sarah MacDougall Thursday night, I knew I would enjoy her performance.  Owen Steel, however, was another performer I was unfamiliar with.  Finally, I decided to go to the Spatz to see the headliner of the festival.

I think I made the right decision.  Unfortunately my camera broke after Owen Steel’s performance so there are very few pictures.

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Don Brownrigg

There was a fair crowd at the Spatz Theatre (about 1/2 full).  This crowd was markedly different from that at The Company House the night before.  Prior to the show I overheard a number of conversation about how good Mary Gauthier is.  It was obvious that most of the people in attendance were there solely to see her.

Don Brownrigg hosted the show and introduced the first artist- Owen Steel

Owen Steel

As stated earlier, I was not familiar with Steel, nor his music.  I quickly discovered that he is a storyteller.   Funny, charming and with great timing, he told stories…all the while strumming/picking on his guitar.  Oh, and he played some really good songs.

Steel, originally from New Brunswick, now makes Halifax his home. He told a story about travelling to British Columbia and the adventures that ensued…followed by the song “Medicine”  He told a story about the “Queen of Poutine”, which he turned into a fantastic song (it is available on 7inch vinyl).  During a period of witty banter with the audience, Steel asked if he could sing a cover song “My Walking Stick” and said this might have to be a sing along song, because he might not remember the words.  He told a story about finding four live lobster in a bag in his apartment and trying to give them one last good time before they became supper.  He put them in a bath tub…hilarity ensued…until…(you’ll have to hear him tell it).  He followed this story up with a new song “This Time I’m Going To Get It Right”.

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Owen Steel

All of these stories were great, but the one that resonated with me the most was the story behind the song “Wake”.  It is a song written from the perspective of an older man whose wife has passed away.  This man is just waiting to die to join his love – “every time I wake I get closer to my wake…and closer to you”.  Having witnessed someone live this way for 20 years, this beautiful song brought back a lot of memories.  I could have left after Steel’s performance and been satisfied.

Here is Steel performing Medicine:

Sarah MacDougall

Next on stage was Yukon’s Sarah MacDougall.  I had seen MacDougall perform at The Company House on Thursday.  That was my introduction to her and her music. She was excellent – (you can read about it here).

Friday night brought another magnificent show from this talented musician.  It was clear that the crowed loved her from the opening song.  At the end of the opener, I heard some audible gasps.  Later, when MacDougall asked backstage if time for one more song, a number of people in the audience called out “Yes!”.

MacDougall played some of the same songs as the night before, like my favourites “Sometimes You Lose, Sometimes You Win”,  ”Perma Frost” and “It’s A Storm”, and some different songs.  She also continued the audience participation theme, having the audience sing along to the gentle “We’re All Gonna Blow Away” instead of howling like wolves (“Cry Wolf”) as she had the night before.  A smart choice for the venue.

Once again, MacDougall gave an excellent performance.  I even heard some people during intermission speaking about how good she was.

Mary Gauthier

Mary Gauthier is the 2013 IDOW headliner.  Most of the members of the audience were there purely to see her and were very familiar with her work.   Although I knew nothing about Gauthier before Don Brownrigg “read her (lengthy) Wikipedia page”, I was hooked from the first song, titled “I Drink”.

Gauthier is known as a great songwriter, but for me she is more of a story-teller who just happens to express her stories through song (sidenote: I put 2 of my favourite East Coast songwriters (Ron Hynes & Dave Gunning) in that category).  I got the impression that if she wasn’t singing, Gauthier would still find an outlet for her stories.  Every song she sings tells a story.  A story that has purpose.  A story that has meaning.  A story that many can relate to…and those who can’t are thankful.

Gauthier is also very engaging.  Early on in the performance, she asked the audience to call out songs for her to play.  And play them she did.  When she was finished, she was given a (partial) standing ovation and returned for a nice finishing encore.

My favourite songs on this night were “I Drink”, “Mercy Now” and Gauthier’s story about the hobo king.

Gauthier’s website has her listed as playing The Bus Stop Theatre Saturday (although she is not on the IDOW schedule).  Maybe she knows something we don’t?

Saturday is the last night for the festival.  Hopefully you can get out to see some music before it is over.

Click the links below for more informaton on:
In The Dead Of Winter festival
Owen Steel
Sarah MacDougall
Mary Gauthier

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