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international arts presenters and music bookers flown into Ottawa for the event. The hot ticket acts here should go back to Alberta with confirmed gigs in locales from Austin, Texas, to Seoul, Korea.

It’s less clear how much exposure to Alberta’s finest artists the citizens of Ottawa are garnering. The Edmonton Arts Council’s John Mahon gives the event a favourable review but concedes, “We’d have liked to have seen more people attending the Alberta Scene events in general.” Certainly, the low turnout at many of the venues suggests the arrival of the cultural entourage caught many Ottawans unawares.

Attendance is not an issue, though, as the McDades break out of a sizzling sax instrumental into an a capella vocal harmony, in French. The group has evolved over the years from down-home family band to bilingual Celtic fusion, teaming up with Montreal musicians to create a hybrid sound not easy to define. That border-hopping sound is characteristic of many of the acts at the festival. The McDades are followed by

Wendy McNeill, an Alberta songwriter whose solo accordion and cabaret sound are reminiscent of 1920s Paris.

The Alberta trademark speaks of vitality and exploration as much as it does of western prairie. Over at the National Library, we hear the playful cadence of cowboy poetry coming from the theatre as we push through the massive glass doors, but our destination is a literary reading elsewhere in the building. Here we listen to Greg Hollingshead read from his brilliantly evocative novel Bedlam, and Shree Ghatage read from her engaging first novel, Brahma’s Dream.

We’re brought home to the land and its formative moments through the historical narratives threaded through many of the Alberta Scene offerings. At the roots-music lovers’ Black Sheep Inn on the Gatineau River in Wakefield, Quebec, historical songwriter Maria Dunn plays to a boisterous standing-room-only crowd. After an enthusiastic introduction by the inn’s owner, Paul Symes, Dunn introduces

her first song by saying, “I’d like to put the ‘red’ back in redneck.” It’s a reminder to Liberal Ontario that although we may paint Alberta Tory Blue, there have always have been Albertans who lean left. She takes us to Market Square (now Winston Churchill Square), Edmonton 1932, when 10,000 hungry working-class Albertans massed to express their rage at a government neglecting them in a time of desperate need.
 

We were good people,
gathered in the square
It wasn’t ease and comfort
had driven us there

 

It’s a hauntingly beautiful song.

Across the river, at the NAC, two-time national newspaper award-winning writer Linda Goyette reads from her strikingly original Edmonton in Our Own Words. Applause greets the announcement that Goyette has won the $25,000 Grant MacEwan Writing Award—which she shared with

researcher Carolina Jakeway Roemmich—for the book which draws on the voices of countless Albertans to create a multi-layered account of the province's capital over many centuries. Goyette worked on the centennial project at the Edmonton Public Library for two years, and also wrote a companion book for children, Kidmonton: True Stories of River City Kids.

In contrast, down at the Capital City Music Hall, we’re treated to a contemporary glimpse of First Nations’ culture with a show by Alberta’s celebrated hip-hop artists, War Party. The Hobbema-based artists have been garnering lots of attention for their politicized rap. War Party’s Rex Smallboy jabs the air and cajoles us to push up to the front of the stage before the group swaps staccato cadences about suicide, pride, and life on the Rez. The history of our First Nations is further from the collective

For years now, Crystal Plamondon has been travelling back and forth between Louisiana and her native Alberta to explore the ties between the French culture she grew up with and Cajun music. Playing in homes and bars along the bayous of the Atchafalaya River, she has encountered much of the same music she grew up with as a kid "deep in the bush" around Lac La Biche where her family homesteaded 100 years ago. It was a youth of community hall dances, gathering in farm kitchens every Sunday after church to play the songs and dances that told you who you were.

This spring she returned to Alberta to perform in the Plamondon community hall. The community she grew up in was named after her grandfather, who arrived in Alberta in 1908 from Michigan by covered wagon. The night she played, the hall was ringed with pickup trucks, and a host of stars sparkled in the clear northern sky. Inside, her foot-stomping fusion of Acadian, Cajun, and country music packed the hall with farmers and roughnecks from the surrounding district, even the odd trapper like her dad. She says that the building, half dance hall, half curling rink, has been host to weddings, funerals, bake sales, and political meetings about saving the French language in Alberta. In its prime, a dance was held here every Saturday night to the music of any one of 12 bands drawn from a town of only 500 people. Plamondon herself

played her first concert here at the age of ten— “I was a skinny little thing with braids down to my waist”—and was paid five dollars, all in quarters collected from the bar. “It felt like a fortune . . . a bag full of quarters.”

The music Plamondon learned to play here has had a long, unpredictable journey of its own: travelling from France to the New World, from New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, to Louisiana with the expulsion of les Acadiens, and eventually out West with the hopes and dreams that brought her family to Plamondon. Her concert this spring ended with “Ce Va Brasser,” a rocker that defies logic and somehow finds its place among the musical traditions the community holds close to its heart. Plamondon had the audience shouting the last verse—“Baby, all the way!”—from grandmothers to the punkers and city slickers who drifted in from Edmonton. As people poured out into the cold night air, it began to snow—a benediction worthy of a Fellini film. Down the street, the tall white frame church made the town look more like Quebec than western Canada, a reassurance that the Alberta of 2005 is still not without its share of surprises.
 

Tom Radford is an Edmonton filmmaker who wrote and directed the White Iron/CBC television special “ Alberta Bound,” celebrating 100 years of Alberta music.

The McDades
War Party
Crystal Plamondon, by Tom Radford
Linda Goyette

The McDades

Linda Goyette

War Party

LEGACY   Fall 2005
LEGACY   Fall 2005

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