The Vancouver Island MusicFest has brought performers together from many corners of the world, and while travel is still restricted, for this year’s special online celebration, the fest has reached out to some friends to put together something special to stream.
BettySoo knows MusicFest artistic director Doug Cox and has shared the stage with him at the Vancouver Island MusicFest.
Like countless performers through the pandemic, she hasn’t been able to get onstage. Still, recently she was able to gather some colleagues (fully vaccinated) in the studio of a friend for a performance of Texas songwriters.
“We just played the way we would on stage at MusicFest,” she says.
Live music is the lifeblood for Austin, and in normal times it’s not unusual, she says, for 100 shows to be happening on any given night. For now, online is the option, and Cox asked her to curate an event, so she brought together a mix of talent, some well-established and some new: Curtis McMurtry, Diana Burgess, Bill Kirchen and Bonnie Whitmore. The mix has BettySoo pretty excited. McMurtry, for example, is the son of singer-songwriter James McMurtry (and grandson of renowned author Larry McMurtry), with an expansive style. As BettySoo says, “He’s a collector of sounds.”
The same is true of Burgess. While trying to find a comparison, BettySoo mentions Jane Siberry, adding it’s hard to compare either to anybody else. Throw in young phenom Whitmore and a legend like Kirchen, known for many things including his work with Commander Cody and the Lost Planet Airmen, and you’ve got a broad sampling of Texas tunesmiths.
Some venues are starting to hold live events again, and BettySoo is hopeful they can all return to life on the stage soon, but in the meantime, she credits the support of fans in helping support performers weather the storm through streaming events or even by buying T-shirts.
“That has just meant the world to us,” she says.
In the meantime, fans can enjoy this gathering of songwriters, which BettySoo was able to line up in the studio. For her, it was a chance to exchange hugs again and sing sweet harmonies together.
Muscle Shoals Stories
At the 2019 festival, classic sessions musicians were celebrated, and one of the highlights was the Saturday night appearance of the Muscle Shoals All-Stars, a crack band of players anchored by bassist David Hood, one of the original Swampers — the core rhythm section for the legendary FAME Studios in Muscle Shoals, Ala. The studio and its players were the subject of the 2013 documentary, Muscle Shoals.
Over the years, as any liner note badger knows, the Swampers have shown up on records by Aretha Franklin, Wilson Pickett, Percy Sledge, the Rolling Stones, Paul Simon and the Staple Singers, to name just a few.
“I was a huge fan of the catalogue,” says guitarist Andreas Werner.
He ended up stepping in as both caretaker and, eventually when Jimmy Johnson was ready to step down, as a guitar player.
“It’s herding cats, that’s what I do,” he says.
Since the documentary, there has been more demand for the musicians to play live but Werner says the top priority remains recording.
“Our main focus is still making great records in the studio,” he says.
For the online event, Werner has put together something that chronicles the performers, though he cautions he’s not a documentary filmmaker. There’s already the acclaimed documentary, so instead, he’s done a bit of Q&A, used some archived material and some professionally filmed performances to give people a glimpse into the Muscle Shoals story.
“It’s kind of home movie in a way,” he says.
Postcards from Scotland
Scotland’s musical talent relies on performing around the world, says Lisa Whytock, something that’s been more difficult of late.
“We’re a tiny nation of five million people,” she says.
Whytock has spent years bolstering the Scottish music scene through the company, Active Events, and in 2020 she was honoured with the Hamish Henderson Services to Traditional Music Award from the Scottish Traditional Music Hall of Fame. Since 2012, she has also been the executive producer behind the Showcase Scotland Expo, which brings musical talent to international events.
Since COVID-19, things have slowed down. They were supposed to take part in a massive “Year of Scotland” celebration in Australia in 2020. They did get to put on some of the 350 concerts, but then everything had to shut down.
In the meantime, they are using online opportunities to spread the sound of Scotland. Whytock says within Canada, the Vancouver Island MusicFest project will be a special event.
“Doug’s festival is a Canadian exclusive,” she says.
She’s excited about the mix of talent to offer MusicFest fans.
“They’re going to experience all styles of Scottish music,” she says.
Fara, Elephant Sessions, Gnoss and Zoë Bestel are among the dozen highly-touted acts. For example, one reviewer doubted that any other fiddle group played music as complex and engaging as Fara. Of Elephant Sessions, Rolling Stone said the band uses its instruments like weapons to destroy cliches. With a second album now out, Gnoss has nabbed a couple of Scots Trad Music Award nominations while Bestel, who describes her music as Nu-Folk, has been nominated for Scottish Alternative Music Awards.
The online events for MusicFest will stream on Black Press websites from July 9 to 11. For more information on times, artists and how to check out the festival online, go to www.islandmusicfest.com