The Small Glories: Live At The Kennedy Center

Small Glories

Perhaps this is not something unique solely to Team GDW, but as we moved beyond the restrictions and thwarted travel plans that the Covid-19 pandemic cost us, we’ve eagerly compiled a checklist of all the Canadian artists we long to see live in concert again now that some sense of normalcy has returned. And yes, we’re constantly adding and crossing off significant numbers on that list since venturing to shows again. But there’s a long way to go – the checklist lives in a constant state of flux, and keeps us scrambling to cross names from the list as rapidly as we add them.

So, imagine our delight during the latter part of 2022 when we learned that Winnipeg, MB folk-duo The Small Glories had a central PA date on their November tour schedule – only turning to dismay when the date clashed with our work commitments (our bosses only tolerate so much, after all). This was a duo that were one of the first added to that checklist – to give you a sense of how much we REALLY longed to see them again – and knew that when the next opportunity came around, we flat-out refused to miss out.

A pair of seasons would pass before tour updates from The Small Glories would drop into our feeds, and upon seeing their invitation to perform at the Kennedy Center’s Millennium Stage as part of the venue’s ‘Social Impact’ series, we quickly looked to compare our own schedules. The duo would arrive in Washington DC in early July – okay, that worked.  On a Saturday – even better.  And, on Canada Day too – oh, how the stars had aligned. Logging into our Kennedy Center account, we quickly reserved our tickets (shows for this series are free, but admission is limited) and circled the date on our calendar so rigorously that we dried up the Sharpie’s ink in the process.

Small Glories

We arrived at The Kennedy Center in plenty of time to snag some front row seats, and felt badly for Cara Luft and JD Edwards (The Small Glories) when learning that their travel plans were not going as smoothly as ours. Their pre-scheduled flight the previous day had been postponed, leaving the duo departing Winnipeg later than planned, and arriving in both DC, and at the venue, with seconds to spare. Of course, positivity is a virtue, and this duo’s collective aura contains an abundance of it – so with a rapid change of clothes and record-setting sound check, they commenced their show only a few short minutes later than planned. Through all of this, the only casualty was Cara’s banjo failing to make the final leg of the journey – and would mark the first time seeing them perform sans the banjo, but hey, we were just glad they made it and allowed us to share a little of the Canada Day festivities with them.

“Hello Washington, we’ve wanted to say that for a while,” Cara stated once the show got underway. “Thank you so much, we’re very delighted to be here.”  Launching immediately into an energetic Si Kahn cover, we knew we were in for a fun show, and as expected, many tales would accompany their choices of songs – tweaks made on the fly to accommodate the loss of the banjo. “So, normally we have a banjo on stage, but the airline decided not to bring it along with our flight, so it’s still in Montreal,” JD declared. “No one has a banjo by chance?” “Wouldn’t it be great though if somebody did?” Cara added. “Oh, that would be amazing, I’ve got one. And they’d come up and everyone would cheer,” JD continued. “That would be the first time anyone cheered for a banjo.”

Earlier this year, we caught a performance by James Keelaghan, who spun tales that evening about a makeshift songwriting group that included The Small Glories – and how they co-wrote “Secondhand.” And here, now, Cara and JD chose to perform this tune, with JD (a very gifted storyteller) eager to share a similar tale from his perspective. “[It’s about] the kinds of reactions we would get from our family and our friends when we show them all of these incredible places we have been, and they just have to stay home in Winnipeg,” he offered. “You could imagine, I’m standing out front of The Kennedy Center, and my wife and kids back home – I love showing them photos of where I’ve been – and the reactions I get are always like…”  “Meh,” delivered both JD and Cara, in perfect time, earning plenty of chuckles.

Never one to shy away from jokes and tales, Cara offered some insight prior to “Black Waterside” – a traditional tune that is a staple of their live performances. “We’re going to do a traditional British folk song for you. JD and I, we wear our folk hearts proudly, we’re part of the folk music community, but we also listen to a lot of different kinds of music and were influenced by a lot of rock and roll growing up,” she shared. “This is a song we both first heard on a Led Zeppelin record, and one of the things I love about them is a lot of their influences were these incredible blues, roots, jazz and folk players, and unfortunately Zeppelin was rather notorious for ripping off a lot of these players and not giving them any credit. I find that a lot of traditional songs have general themes, often about girls who go wandering through the woods, and they meet fella’s that want to sleep with them. And instead of saying, ‘oh sure,’ she’ll usually ask the guy a bunch of riddles and questions to see if he’s smart enough to sleep with. Keep that in mind, people.”

Small Glories

Later during the show, JD would return to the songwriting challenge, this time opting to share a tale about a collaboration with Catherine MacLellan. “I remember we were sitting in our songwriting room trying to figure out what we were going to write about, discussing the news of the day and all sorts of things,” JD offered. “And Catherine and I looked over at Cara, and Cara started vibrating because she had an idea. Smoke started coming out of her ears, they were really working, And, then she said, ‘WE SHOULD WRITE A SONG ABOUT SINGING AND THE POWER OF SINGING.’ So, we did … music and singing has the ability to crack a hard shell. It can take you back to yesterday, it can bring people together, it can mobilize people, it can bring hope, and all sorts of other amazing things.” Pausing to soak up the applause, the smile on JD’s face told us he was not quite done yet. “On days like this, when the banjo don’t show up, we’ll sing for the banjo and we’ll sing for our brothers and sisters back home. It’s Canada Day, the day we celebrate Canada.”

Prior to the performance of another cover, an interpretation of the Tommy Sands composition, “Your Daughters and Your Sons,” the conversation steered from Cara choosing to not have children of her own (and being a big kid around her nieces and nephews), to a tale from JD about the joys of parenthood. “I’ve got three children – Charlie, Harry, and Jimmy, eight, six, and four – and in Winnipeg, when the snow melts – in June – the bikes come out of the shed. And so, my eldest, he knows how to ride, and we let him ride on the street. It’s terrifying, but we let him do it,” JD recalled. “And his younger brother, Harry, he just wants to do everything his older brother does, you can understand that. So, on this particular day, the bikes came out, Charlie threw on his helmet, jumped on his bike, and was out there ripping on the street.  And Harry just wanted to go right out there with him. I said, ‘whoa, whoa, whoa, Harry, hang back, we’re gonna hang out on the sidewalk, we’re gonna learn to ride our bikes better, learn the rules of the road, and then, maybe, we’ll go out onto the street with your brother.’ Well, he wasn’t having any of that. He started stomping, and breathing heavily, and then pointed at me and gave me the stink-eye and said, ‘DAD, I WAS BORN TO RIDE ON THE STREETS, I WASN’T BORN ON THE SIDEWALKS!’ And then he ran in the house, and I keeled over laughing, ‘cause I thought it was funny.”

Set List:

  1. What You Do With What You’ve Got (Si Kahn cover)
  2. Secondhand
  3. Black Waterside (trad.)
  4. Sing
  5. No Friend Of Mine
  6. Your Daughters and Your Sons (Tommy Sands cover)
  7. Oh My Love
  8. The Witch of The Westmoreland (Stan Rogers cover)

This event was professionally live-streamed by The Kennedy Center. The recording can be found here:

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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