One of the popular features from the original Sawdust City Music Festival was the singer-songwriter circle, which last year included Devin Cuddy, Liz Stringer, Justin Rutledge, and Jeremy Dutcher. Having enjoyed this moment last time around, we were more than happy to see the format return to Gravenhurst this year. Held on a beautiful Saturday afternoon at the Trinity United Church, four artists would once again unite to share stories, perform songs, and delight all seated in the pews. With the foursome this time around, a diverse musical palette once again made for a unique and cohesive collaboration. As the unofficial captain of this particular ship, the legendary Russell deCarle would act as host, joined by Dana Sipos, Liam Russell, and Lydia Persaud. With each artist performing three tracks each ‘in-the-round,’ there were plenty of opportunities to share their wonderful musical choices.
Seated to our right (stage left), and entrusted by his companions to take the lead, Russell deCarle took time to not only perform his selected tracks, but also converse extensively with both his fellow artists and the audience. With the recent release of his fantastic “Alone In This Crowd” album, Russell surprisingly offered up only one new track during this performance. “I’m often associated with being a country singer, but I’m just a singer of all songs,” he stated, before opting to perform “Tanqueray;” a track he described as an urban honky-tonk song. Surrounding this ode to the popular brand of gin, Russell looked to his 2010 “Under The Big Big Sky” album, opening the set with “Fingernail Moon,” and ultimately closing with the title track from this release. “This track started out as a ragtime sound, then became a Latin groove,” stated Russell, “I asked myself, how would Bing Crosby cut a country song?”
With her recent signing to Miranda Mulholland’s own “Roaring Girl” record label, Dana Sipos naturally wanted to share a couple of tracks from her brand new “Trick Of The Light” album. Opening with “Lighthouse Nights,” Dana would tell a tale of how she once toured with an ‘anarchist theater company’ on a tall ship during hurricane season in Florida. Being temporarily refused entry into Canada, she recalled meeting a woman who grew up in a lighthouse in New York and the impact this had upon her. Stepping away from her new material during her second turn, Dana discussed her travels across North America, and how a small border station between Maine and New Brunswick partly inspired her song, “Stone Of Our Losses.” Returning full circle to the new album for her final time in the spotlight, Dana reminisced about time spent travelling between Toronto and Nashville, and her appreciation for the Blue Ridge mountains and the Shenandoah; leading nicely to her closing track, “Blue Ridge.”
As the only artist in this singer-songwriter circle that we had not heard perform live until now, we were very excited to discover what Liam Russell had been doing for these last few years. Having left his former musical identity behind, Liam was keen to talk about how he had taken a hiatus from recording, and was now starting out once again with a different perspective on his music and his life. We soon learned that he had spent considerable time living in Nashville, TN, making this a wonderful opportunity to welcome Liam back for his temporary visit to Ontario. Fulfilling his urge to write and record once more, Liam brought three brand new, and as of yet, unreleased tracks to Gravenhurst. “I Think About You” would be performed first, a track that he dedicated to the memory of his late grandfather. Liam also shared a story of his love and appreciation for Cajun music, before sharing “Lafayette,” a Southern influenced number that will be on his upcoming EP tentatively set for release in October. Closing with a tale of how he and a friend were writing a song in Nashville, he had wanted to find an obscure town name for the title. With a little help from his fiancee and a popular internet search engine, fate drew them to Half Chance, Alabama; and thus the new track “Half Chance” was born. With some additional harmonies added by Lydia Persaud, this was a beautiful closing number for Liam Russell.
With a new full length album currently in production, Lydia Persaud was naturally excited to share some of her brand new material on this Saturday afternoon. Prior to her opening track, “Changed,” Lydia commented how both personal reflection and her surroundings inspired the song. “It’s how we change and evolve, through loss, and travel, and how hard it can be to deal with change,” offered Lydia. Prior to her second turn, Russell deCarle would ask Lydia if her parents were John Prine fans. “Prine had that track ‘Donald and Lydia,” he offered, “You are the only Lydia I’ve ever met.” Lydia would respond that she could not account for her parents’ influences, but acknowledged that Bill Withers had been an early music influence for herself, and an inspiration for her second track, “Well Wasted.” Closing the show with her brand new single “Honey Child,” released shortly after the festival weekend, Lydia offered her gratitude for being embraced by the folk music scene. “I’m [musically] active in Toronto’s jazz and RnB communities,” offered Lydia, “But the folk music community here is incredibly welcoming.”
This ninety minute singer-songwriter event made for a wonderful start to the musical festivities on the Saturday in Gravenhurst. For Team GDW, it was a pleasure to catch up with both Lydia and Dana once again, to finally hear and meet Liam, and especially to Russell deCarle for his generosity and time to chat after the show. Another successful collaboration of artists courtesy of The Sawdust City Music Festival, and another good reminder to circle this weekend on your calendars for next year. What could possibly beat a weekend in cottage country over a holiday weekend, spending time with great people and some amazing music thrown in too?