Muskoka Music Festival: Sunday Songwriter Circle

Muskoka Music Festival Workshop

For Team GDW, we regarded the early Sunday afternoon workshop as the most highly anticipated segment of this year’s Muskoka Music Festival. In our opinion, when you pool together the sweet soul sounds of Toronto’s Claire Davis, the powerful folk presence of Dayna Manning, and the talented, affable Andrew Shaver (Clever Hopes), you bring to the table some solid ingredients that makes for a successful recipe.

Combining for a 75-minute performance in a traditional ‘in-the-round’ format, each artist would have time to share four songs, and with some great chemistry that very quickly developed between the three musicians, added some entertaining ‘you-had-to-be-there’ moments too. We’ve summarized each of these performances below.

Claire Davis

Describing herself as a retro-soul artist, Claire was no stranger to us, having featured on our pages on several occasions since bursting on to the music scene. Releasing her debut full-length studio album just a few months ago (on UK label LRK Records), Claire was eager to share four tunes from this fabulous offering. “I like to write soul music based on self-worth and loving yourself,” she shared. “Even though I write love songs, sometimes they’re from the perspective of working on yourself in order to make the love work.”

Opening with “Get It Right,” the album’s title track, Claire would explain the impetus for this smooth number. “I wrote this about my relationship with my partner. If you find the person you want to make it work with, and you do the work on yourself and with each other, you can adapt and get it right.”  Taking Andrew’s lead (following a tale about a relationship gone sour), Claire stated that she only had one break-up song, a track titled “Here Comes The Fall.” “It’s [about] when you get to the point in a relationship where you still have a lot of love to the person, but you know it’s not going to work,” she explained. “That you’ve grown apart, you’ve changed. It’s just not what it used to be.”

Claire Davis

Claire would also discuss a tune written about breaking toxic cycles in her family. “I don’t know if anybody else can relate, but if you’ve ever overcome hard circumstances, this song’s about being focused on your own path despite what other people may think, or say, or behave towards you, and being true to yourself and overcoming obstacles.”  Closing with “Colours,” coincidentally the last track on the album, Claire returned to her theme of “self-worth.” “When somebody shows you who they are, believe them the first time,” she would profess. “This is a lesson I had to learn about creating a lot of boundaries for myself with certain people, and to just hold your own. You’re worth it.”

  1. Get It Right
  2. Here Comes The Fall
  3. Times Have Changed
  4. Colours

Dayna Manning

Another long-time friend of GDW, we have enjoyed many Trent Severn shows featuring Dayna Manning over the years, but this would be our first opportunity to witness Dayna in a solo environment. The post-pandemic era has been a busy one for Dayna, who released her first book, got married, and moved out to the Maritimes. “I was born and raised in Stratford, ON, and I’m living out in Nova Scotia now,” she announced prior to her first tune. “I play a lot of story songs that I’ve gathered from my life, but I also do some nice covers sometimes.” Progressing into “Love and Maple Syrup,” many fans of the late Gordon Lightfoot would enthusiastically show their appreciation for Dayna’s choice.

Choosing to follow both Andrew’s and Claire’s lead with her next tune, Dayna stated that she too has a break-up song in her repertoire, and would share “Walk On The Moon,” one originally found on her digital-only “Volume 1” album. And with her third offering, Dayna skipped forward a decade to share “Truscott,” one of many tracks she contributed to Trent Severn’s self-titled debut album. “Steven Truscott was the youngest person ever put on death row for a murder he did not commit when he was 14 years old,” she explained. “Years later he was exonerated. Such a tragic story, I remember reading it when I was really young and being very affected by it.”

Dayna Manning

With her final turn, Dayna would return to some of her Trent Severn material once more, and unleash her powerhouse vocals during “Freedom.” “About 2006, I got asked to sing the anthem at an airshow, and one of the Snowbirds came up to me who had been to one of my concerts in Winnipeg … and asked if I wanted to see the planes and meet the team,” she shared. “Years later, I wrote this song with the team in mind, but never told [them] … and I just thought I’d put it into the universe and see what happens.” And like any great storyteller, Dayna saved the best for last – introducing her husband (in the audience), who just once happened to be one of those snowbirds she’d met previously.

  1. Love And Maple Syrup (Gordon Lightfoot cover)
  2. A Walk On The Moon
  3. Truscott
  4. Freedom

Andrew Shaver (Clever Hopes)

As one half of Clever Hopes (one quarter, he would jest) – with musical partner Eva Foote currently in Europe – Andrew Shaver brought his natural humor and theatrics to this songwriter circle, selling perfectly his hard luck story of having to follow Dayna Manning each round. “Okay, this reminds me of a Wilco show I saw years ago where Neko Case played support,” he stated, “And Jeff Tweedy came up on the stage afterwards to play his set and was like, well, you’ve had the voice of an angel, now for the bullfrog. Man, right on.”

“Artefact,” the debut album from Clever Hopes, is Andrew’s autographical account of a relationship that not only went sour, but imploded – one that saw him leave his Montreal home and seek refuge in Australia, to escape as far away as possible for a while. “It was late November, and I landed in Melbourne,” he shared, prior to performing “The Other Side.”  “I bought a little cedar guitar and set about writing songs that would become my debut album.”  As for the ‘break-up song’ theme, Andrew claimed that “Chez Simone” was THE breakup song for him, sharing a tale of the last hearted effort to repair the relationship, only to learn it was truly over. “I have plenty of break up songs,” he added.

Clever Hopes

Sharing a tale about having moved on, recovered, and found true love once more, Andrew announced that he is currently working on the next Clever Hopes album, and would road test an unreleased tune titled “Running Out.” And, as for those theatrics, poor Andrew had drawn the short straw, having to follow Dayna after her unbelievable performance of “Freedom.” “Bullfrog! That has to be the end! I’m not playing! We’re done! We’re out of time, we’re out of time,” he exclaimed, earning plenty of laughter. “How can I follow that? We’re done! Go away, go away! Come on man, what time is it? … All of a sudden, there’s all sorts of time.” More laughter – he was really selling the hardship factor. “I’m not sure where to go from here,” he stated. “It better be good,” hollered somebody in the crowd. Taking requests to yield control to his audience, Andrew would ultimately close with “Corner Hotel,” and with it an intriguing tale about finding a note taped under a table in a Melbourne hotel.

  1. The Other Side
  2. Chez Simone
  3. Running Out (Unreleased)
  4. Corner Hotel

The British guy that crossed the ocean and crash landed in central Pennsylvania (to quote Greg Keelor, “And I wonder what am I doing here?”). As the youngest of four siblings, exposure to music from a very early age nurtured my passion and appreciation for many musical genres. Continuing to discover some amazingly diverse and talented musicians based in Canada, I gravitate to live music experiences and remain devoted to spreading the word about such a vibrant music scene.

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