The 2021 Plaza Series at St. Albert Place closes on Thursday evening with one of Alberta’s foremost folk-roots recording artists.
Lethbridge’s John Wort Hannam releases his eighth studio album on Oct. 15, and the prairie troubadour will be in town with his trio. Longtime friend fiddler Scott Duncan and percussionist Kyle Harmon provide backup support.
The album title is Long Haul, the name of its title song. But it’s also an emblem of Wort Hannam, who quit his teaching job 20 years ago and spent a year learning the craft of songwriting. It was risky and daring. But time and various awards, including a Juno nomination, have proven the singer-songwriter is in it for the long haul.
“I’m not a very prolific writer. Once I have 10 or 12 songs I think are worthy, I make a record,” said Hannam. “As I’ve gotten older and have gotten better at my craft, my songs have become more personal. When I started writing, I wasn’t writing about me. I didn’t know what to say. I wrote about history — coal miners and such. I would write about other characters, historical figures. But I’ve realized that what happens in my life is universal. That’s where I make the connection with the audience. What I express in my songs is what happens in many people’s lives.”
For example, the theme of universality dominates Hurry Up, Kid, a song every parent inherently understands. It was inspired by Hannam's 10-year-old son Charlie, an active boy who was less than keen completing online schooling during pandemic shutdowns.
“I caught myself telling him to hurry up, hurry up. When in reality, time goes by so fast, and I needed to tell the kid to slow down.”
Hannam is a storyteller first. Music just happens to accompany beautifully crafted stories. And the 11-track is filled with varying moods and emotions. There’s The Other Side of the Curve prompted by a Nashville friend who lamented on Facebook she had not visited her partner since before COVID. He lived 2,400 kilometres away.
“I thought how lucky I was to isolate and hunker down with my family knowing at some point we could gather again.”
Meat Draw instead is a high-spirited chuckler about a small-town legion’s Friday night meat draw, while Beautiful Mess is a tongue-in-cheek duet with honky tonk songstress Shaela Miller written in the bantering style of Johnny Cash and June Carter.
What I Know Now reflects on life’s regrets, while Old Friend is a salute to a past buddy who fought the good fight and is now raising hell in the next world.
As an album, Long Haul forced Hannam out of his comfort zone.
“It was a tough record to make. We were all in separate cities. I like the process of sitting in a room with musicians. The object is not to make a record. The object is to make music.”
Steve Dawson, who produced his 2018 Acres of Elbow Room, was lying low in Nashville while the dozen or so support musicians on Long Haul were scattered across Canada.
“I would sing over drum loops and then Steve would layer it. I was surprised but it turned out really well. One of the bonuses was once my tracks were done, I had nothing to do with the process. I just let the skeleton go and let Steve flesh it out with other players.”
He recently finished playing a gig at Calgary Folk Festival and believes “we all need to shake up the rust, both as musicians and as audiences. At the folk fest it was heartwarming to see people come back, friends that hadn’t seen each other in a while talking and hugging each other. We’re all trying to remember what it was like before COVID, and I look forward to seeing the audience.”
Métis fiddler Zach Willier, who has performed at Amplify Festival and Arts on the Avenue's Front Porch Series, will open the concert with his country/bluegrass fiddling style. Willier comes from Sucker Creek First Nation near High Prairie. Among his accolades, Willier was hand-picked to perform at the Jube with Natalie McMaster and represented Alberta as a junior showcase performer at the Canadian Grand Masters Virtual Fiddle Celebration.
The concert starts at 7 p.m. at St. Albert Place Plaza, 5 St. Anne Street. Single tickets are $15. A premier table for six is $120. Call the Arden box office 780-459-1542.