Edmonton singer-songwriter Ann Vriend is back from a successful April to June European tour where she performed in Germany, Austria, Belgium, and England.
Feeling rejuvenated after sharing her music with appreciative crowds on the 46-stop tour, Vriend — who sings a hybrid of folk, soul, pop, and Americana — makes her debut at the Arden Theatre’s Plaza Series on Thursday, July 21.
“The tour was really a high point. I was lucky to have great musicians. They were easy to work with and very cooperative. People loved our shows, and we were invited back to 100 per cent of the ones we played,” said Vriend.
Although celebrities are booked into concrete stadiums, less well-known recording artists are billed at smaller but decidedly more charming venues. Vriend has certainly enjoyed her share of the latter.
They include the Fruz Halla, a large German venue that once housed a fruit market in the basement, a vineyard on the French-Belgian border, and a 1,100-year-old converted church in a tiny village. Vriend also took part in the Vienna Blues Festival, which bills itself as the longest performing festival in the world, running annually for three months.
The two-time Maple Blues winner has released seven records, with close to 85 per cent of her record sales coming from Europe. She believes the overseas popularity of her music is due to factors related to lifestyle and population.
“People in Europe have a better work-life balance. They have more holidays. People don’t have large houses and don’t spend as much time at home. People go out more, and in every little town there are cultural events,” Vriend said.
“Here, people make a lot of money, but they come home and fall into bed, and they choose to go see huge blockbuster artists. In Europe, they go discover new talent playing around the corner, and their population is so much bigger — less spread out. In Germany alone, the population is 83 million, and it fits into Alberta.”
In March 2021, the pianist began releasing singles off her latest album Everybody Matters. The album shines a direct spotlight on the disenfranchised, those living on society’s fringe who face daily poverty, systemic racism, and injustice.
Vriend has lived in the McCauley area in Edmonton for 14 years on a block near several homeless shelters.
“It’s a sad and traumatizing place to live. You see the effects of the opioid epidemic every day. You can walk around and see people passed out. There’s lots of drug dealing and unacceptable behaviour. I’ve tried to make the city aware of the ghettoization of people, but it’s been very hard,” she said.
“It’s no secret racism plays a large part. Refugees come here to live and their children find discarded needles in sandboxes. If we say all children matter, why aren’t these children protected? And it’s not right that people are enslaved on drugs where they are preyed upon by people who want to make money. You can talk a lot, but if you don’t walk the walk, it’s pretty hollow.”
As our interview progresses, she reveals more frustrations about the lack of progress on basic rights and necessities for folks living in poverty.
“Society likes to value the idea of human rights, but when it comes down to it, it’s about saving money and some people’s issues are never addressed. As a society we need to put more pressure on people who value money over people.”
As a resident, Vriend also sees the positive of living in McCauley.
“It’s also a very tolerant and diverse neighbourhood. People stick together to solve problems often with timely institutional support. If I leave ... I may leave the problems behind, but the problems don’t go away. One way for me to help is talk about these issues. And it’s not just in this city. It’s happening globally.”
Interestingly, the singer-songwriter does not consider herself an activist.
“It’s where I live. It wasn’t planned. It’s a part of the community I live in. As a society, it’s one we don’t want to project to the world, but it is part of Canada — but it’s not all doom and gloom, many people here have a code of ethics.”
Recently, a man offered to mow Vriend's lawn in exchange for bottles.
“I can help him with that, and he feels good earning extra money. People want to earn what they get. Many don’t have the opportunity to contribute what they can.”
When COVID forced a grinding halt to the entertainment industry, Vriend set up a keyboard and amplifier on her front porch and sang impromptu weekly concerts. Professional musicians and neighbours dropped by to sing. By the middle of August 2020, close to 50 people were sitting on lawn chairs nearby, enjoying the much-needed music. Even people pushing shopping carts stopped to listen.
Few could offer a donation. However, appreciation was still conveyed. One person brought plants. Another offered food. Still another man cleaned up debris behind her yard. When 1,000 CDs were stolen, kids living several streets away helped her recover several boxes.
“People take care of their own,” said the singer, who makes it her mission to treat everyone with dignity and respect.
At the Plaza Series, Vriend welcomes guest artists the Kinjo Brothers from Calgary. Jory is an R&B artist who plays ska and reggae, and has toured North America with B. B. King and ZZ Top. Kaley is a versatile, multi-instrumentalist.
Showtime is 7:30 p.m. at 5 St. Anne St. Single tickets are $15 and premium table of six is $120. Tickets are available at www.stalbert.ca/exp/arden/events/ or at 780-459-1542.