Why re-invent the wheel?
That may have been an adage that came to Jenny MacDonald as she met with the Chedabucto Performance Place Theatre’s volunteer committee to discuss bringing shows to her new home community of Guysborough.
“It sort of dawned on me – why create something new, when this has worked before,” the singer-songwriter said of her ‘Songs of …’ idea.
The Antigonish native developed the concept a few years ago while living in Canning, a small rural community just north of Wolfville in the Annapolis Valley.
“I was, mostly, playing music for a living and teaching a little bit, and sometimes putting on some different productions,” MacDonald said.
“Originally, I was gearing up for my second album – I did a fan funding campaign, like a Kickstarter campaign – and I had received some grant money and I was just slightly shy of actually being able to do it.”
She decided to stage a concert fundraiser to help put her over the top.
“I didn’t want to put on a concert of my own music, because I was going to do that for the CD release, so it would, sort of, be redundant,” she said.
MacDonald said she decided to ask some of her “musician friends,” some of whom worked on the album, to put on a show at the Al Whittle Theatre in Wolfville.
“Some of whom were ECMA award-winning musicians and some were local high school students – and everything, sort of, in between,” she said.
MacDonald noted a monthly music series in the Annapolis Valley community – Night Kitchen – served as a blueprint for ‘Songs of …’
“It is like a variety show – everybody of different calibres, different experience and different ages – there’s music, there’s poetry, there’s skits, there’s comedy,” she said.
“It is probably primarily music, but it is open to all art forms, and everybody comes up and does one piece, and there is, sort of, a standalone microphone on the stage … that picks up the whole stage.
She noted Night Kitchen usually attracted 25 to 30 performers.
“I modelled it off that because it was a simpler way to organize it – I didn’t need as many suppliers, as many technicians and as many hours to, sort of, go into this last minute concert idea,” MacDonald said.
“I also didn’t want to add a lot of work on the plates of people who are volunteering their time. I didn’t think it was fair for one person to carry a show, if they were going to be volunteering their time.
“I very much believe that artists should be paid for their work. They work very hard and put in a lot of money into their training and their instruments and all that kind of stuff, so I didn’t really want the burden of volunteering to be – to come out and do a 30-minute set or something, or a 45-minute set of something, so everybody had one song in each half; they had two songs – they had five minutes in the first half and five minutes in the second half,” she added.
Canadian icon Joni Mitchell was the artist honoured during MacDonald’s first ‘Songs of …’ show.
“I am huge fan of hers but I can’t remember back to why that was the decision,” she said, with a laugh.
“I was on a Joni Mitchell kick, at the time, and listening to lots of her music and learning some at home. I have a piano book of Joni Mitchell songs and was learning some.
“I guess I thought I would love to perform some of these; I probably will never perform them at my own shows, because I did mostly original material,” she added.
MacDonald noted she gave each artist the freedom to cover the song in whatever way they desired.
She remembered one “very, very skilled [blues] musician,” with decades of experience, who had concerns with how he would cover a Mitchell tune.
MacDonald recalled her advice – ‘don’t do it like Joni Mitchell, do it like you.’
“This was someone who has toured across Canada and the United States and was very, very confident in his craft, and had developed this artistry of his own, and I said do Joni’s song in your own [style],” she said.
“Because, to me, that’s one of the biggest tributes to good song writing – that a good song can be covered in any genre, with any amount of instruments, with any amount of people involved, and still be a good song.”
MacDonald added great songs “still translates – no matter how you do it.”
“We ended up having an almost sold-out show. It was really well received,” she said.
“People I had never seen before – I had no idea who they were [laughing] – walked in the doors and came to enjoy the show.”
MacDonald noted the feedback for the show was tremendous.
“I had several people – both artists who wanted to play, because they were excited to get to do something different than what they were doing in their own music careers and to be able to tribute their influences – and also people in the community asking when are you doing the next one and, when you do it, you should do so and so,” she said.
MacDonald noted they also staged tributes to Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash and June Carter, and Tom Waits.
Bringing it back
After leaving Wolfville – and a couple moves later – MacDonald landed in Guysborough, where she has made her home for the last couple years.
Her aforementioned desire to bring shows to her new home community will come to fruition later this month.
“I made a list of artists that you could potentially do. I could have done one of the ones that I had done before,” MacDonald said, quipping the previous shows took place four hours away.
“But, when I made the list, it just seemed like a no-brainer. I mean the Beatles are universal.”
‘Songs of the Beatles’ will take centre stage Saturday, Feb. 25, at Chedabucto Performance Place Theatre.
“There are a lot of different generations that walk through the doors of that theatre – from elementary school children to senior citizens – and I thought – ‘what is an artist that is going to speak to everybody?’” MacDonald said.
“In keeping with the theme of a tribute song writers, I thought that was still apt, because they are not only known for their, sort of, pop culture influence, but also for their writing and they have their iconic radio pop songs, and then they are also known for a few albums where they strayed quite far from that, and they were known to take a lot of risks. In that sense, they were very historic.”
The eclectic performer list for the show includes Jess and Greg Favaro, Tom Curry, Andre Pettipas, Garth Wilson and Jenn Laudadio, along with Favaro School of Music youth performers Celina Schrader and Con Brio choral group, featuring Gianna Pellerin and Ava Worth.
Curry, a music therapist at St. Martha’s Regional Hospital, is an Antigonish native who plays with The Scrapes, along with being a solo performer.
Pettipas is songwriter and frontman for Andre and the Giants, a local rock band that released a single – Long Way from Home – in 2016, which featured fiddler Ashley MacIsaac.
Jess and Greg Favaro run the Favaro School of Music in Guysborough, where they “encourage students to explore music, creativity, leadership, and self-confidence through musical education and performance.”
Many of their students perform original material at events in the region.
MacDonald said the performers range in age from approximately 10 to senior citizens.
“There are people who have toured with bands and who still play music for a living, and front bands, and there are people who are students,” she added.
MacDonald noted show advertising and promotion, purposely, does not indicate the experience of each performer.
“Because, for me, everybody who is walking up on that stage, whether they are 10 years old or 50 years old, are equal. There’s no opener, there’s no one being billed as less than or more than; everybody is there for the same thing – the love of music and song writing,” she said.
“That 10-year-old’s experience, the 20-year-old’s experience, the 40-year-old’s experience, the 60-year-old’s experience are all valid and we will all, sort of, see why they are there and the different perspectives.
“That’s one of the more interesting parts of the show, to me, to see the perspectives of why this music is important to you, or why you enjoy being in the seats at the show and listening to the music. The person playing it may also have a totally different perspective, which is cool as well,” she added.
Get your tickets
Tickets for ‘Songs of the Beatles’ can be reserved, with a credit card, at 902-533-2015, or purchased at the door, which include adult, youth and family rates.
Doors open at 6:30 p.m.
Performers who may be interested in participating in a future ‘Songs of …’ show can contact MacDonald at [email protected]