March 22, 2014

Songwriters in the Round: a benefit for the music program at Westacres Public School

On Friday night, March 21, the Songwriters in the Round benefit that I wrote about in February took place at Cawthra Park High School.

For the third year running, community member and songwriter Rob Wells brought together a diverse group of artists for an informal, relaxed evening where songwriters tell the stories and inspiration behind their songs and deliver stripped-down performances, all while raising money for a great cause.

This year, the songwriters were Gowan, Emm Gryner, Rob Wells, Divine Brown and Dan Kanter. They were joined by Katia Zuccarelli, Jesse Weeks, Tyler Kyte and Jefrey Danger for an amazing night of stories and song. The format of the night was that each songwriter took a turn introducing and performing a song, followed by a second round, an intermission and two more rounds.
Gowan was the big star of the night this year (Dan Hill fulfilled that role last year and Randy Bachman was in for the inaugural event). Not only is Gowan a huge Canadian star, but he hits the age group of many of the parents in attendance just perfectly. I myself fondly remember seeing Gowan at the Ontario Place Forum when I was a teenager.

His playful sense of humour came across throughout the night. First, he pulled his chair up beside Emm Gryner and intently stared at her when she mentioned being intimidated by Gowan's presence and by using his keyboard. He later snapped a selfie with Katia, used Emm's bass-drum-like stomper pedal to lead us on an impromptu rendition of Queen's "We Will Rock You" and roasted Dan Kanter's story of the love song he wrote for his wife by doing an improvised version of Elton John's "Rocket Man" changed up to "Lonely Dan".

His musicianship and songwriting came through in the musical performances. He kicked things off with "Strange Animal", the title track from his second album, by telling us that the various rumours about what the song is about are way more interesting than the truth. Later in the night he performed, "When There's Time (For Love)" from his 1993 album ...But You Can Call Me Larry. He fulfilled Divine Brown's request for "Moonlight Desires" with Divine performing Jon Anderson's parts and finished up with "A Criminal Mind". He demonstrated his songwriting skill, musicianship and down-to-earth personality. He had the crowd, including myself, in rapt attention. Amazing.
I'm a big fan of Emm Gryner. As I have mentioned before, I've been a huge fan ever since I first heard "Summerlong". First round, Emm performed "Ciao Monday" from her 2011 release Northern Gospel. In the next round, she talked about being from Sarnia and the famous folks from Sarnia including astronaut Chris Hadfield, for whom she wrote "Christopher". Later on she talked about using Pledge Music to fund her upcoming April 8th release Torrential. She brought one of her Pledge Music Supporters, Jefrey Danger, on stage to perform the Gowan tune "Cosmetics" with her. To finish off the night she took to the piano to perform "Symphonic" from 2003's Asianblue. She described it as one of only two happy songs she's written. Her performances were magical. I can't wait for her show at the Rivoli on April 17.
Rob Wells has been the driving force and organizer of this great event for the past three years. Being worried that we were going to get bored with his stories after three years (not gonna happen, Rob), he brought Katia Zuccarelli and Jesse Weeks on stage to perform two of his songs and to perform one of their own each. It was a great way to add some variety to the format while introducing us to some up and coming pop performers. All three were wonderful to watch and listen to.
Divine Brown told us about how love and loss have inspired her songs. She showed off her incredible vocal range and wonderful sense of humour. I think she amazed some people who weren't familiar with her music as she performed tunes including "One More Chance", "Sunglasses" and "Old Skool Love". Great performance!
What Gowan is to the parents in the crowd, Dan Kanter is to a lot of the kids. He's the right hand musical man of many pop performers including a little-known Canadian named Justin Bieber. He told stories of his very early songs, a love song for his wife, and his co-write of "Be Alright" with Bieber. Dan brought Tyler Kyte with him to provide lead vocals.

All the songwriters graciously hung around to meet the audience, sign autographs and pose for pictures until we had to leave.

Overall, a truly great night for a fantastic cause.

Check out a smattering of tunes that were performed on Friday night.