The second instalment of the Arden Theatre’s outdoor Plaza Series veers into the sphere of folk-roots music. While its heyday was in the 1960s, it never fully went away, and today it is more exciting and urgent than it has been for years.
The songs are powerful and raw, recognizing current events and social politics, as they weave into magical musical motifs. Addiction, consumption, mental illness, destruction of the planet. It is a genre that uncovers small, but powerful stories of overlooked people we can learn from.
Edmonton roots balladeer Scott Cook & The Indoorables headlines this Thursday, Aug. 12 outdoor concert, even as St. Albert’s own folk singer-songwriter Amanda Penner kicks off the evening.
Not one to let moss grow on his shoes, Cook was one of the region’s hardest working singer-songwriters, touring an average 150 shows a year before COVID hit. His last release and seventh album, Tangle of Souls, even included a 240-page book.
“My songs are primarily plain spoken, story-telling songs formed by a variety of people I’ve met. The time I lived in a foreign country helped me as a global citizen,” said Cook.
He lived in Taiwan for seven years teaching kindergarten, making music and friends before returning to Canada in 2013.
“Living abroad makes you see our way as common sense and not necessarily common. It’s an especially polite country. We have a lot of open space. And when you live in a country where people live on a lot less, it shines a light on our compulsive consumerism. It definitely broadened my empathy and widened my sphere,” he said.
In March 2020 the troubadour was on a country-wide tour of the United States promoting Tangle of Souls when COVID hit home and the Canada-United States border closed.
“I felt very grateful living in a country with a social safety net. I studied online and learned how to produce an Internet TV show the way many of us did, and I formed a band with my housemates.”
Forced into isolation from provincial health restrictions, the three musicians went from daily jams to a full-fledged band with the tongue-in-cheek moniker as The Indoorables. In addition to Cook, the trio includes singer Pamela Mae on upright bass, guitar, and banjo. Elliot Thomas is the band singer-songwriter as well as a meticulous multi-instrumentalist playing fiddle, slide guitar, and banjo.
“The enforced slowdown from COVID allowed me to play catch-up from touring most of these past 13 years. It was a gift I wouldn’t have given myself. For a lot of people, having so many things taken away showed us the things we take for granted. It reminded me how lucky I was to go around and sing for people.”
Tangle of Souls was inspired after Cook was hospitalized in 2017 with severe pancreatitis from too many years spent partying.
“It was an experiment. I turned my life around and saw the bigger parallels with how we are all addicted to the behaviour of consumption and it is killing us. We’re destroying the planet. We seem to be more interested in denying or looking for a magical way out without doing anything. I saw all that in my behaviour.”
During the Plaza Series concert, The Indoorables will play a mix of older recorded tunes and newer songs written during the pandemic.
Opening the concert is Amanda Penner, 19, a young maker of contemporary folk who grew up during the turn-of-the-century indie-folk revival. It was an era where taboos surrounding less-mainstream styles began to die out.
Penner has picked up the mantle of older generations and once again echoes the struggles of the modern age, reminding us how much folk culture was overlooked. To date, she has recorded a five-song EP titled Honey & Heartache.
While Cook spoke positively about the pandemic, Penner suffered from depression. She reached a low point last summer as a vehicle rear-ended her while driving home from an outdoor backyard gig. The collision led to wrist injuries that prohibited Penner from playing guitar for several months.
“I have not written as much music as I would’ve liked due to my struggles with mental illness ... It’s real and honest, which I think the world needs more of. Surviving a global pandemic is not easy and I don’t think we as a whole give ourselves enough credit that most of us gave up an entire year-and-a-half of our passions, relationships, and life in general to keep each other safe,” Penner said.
Despite personal struggles, the singer-songwriter applied to the Banff Musicians in Residence Winter Program and was accepted. Since the program was offered online through Zoom, she booked an Air B&B in Canmore for the program's three-week duration, and came away with five new songs.
Recognizing the privileged life she enjoyed growing up in St. Albert, the Paul Kane High alumna is determined to uphold her values and use her platform to bring about positive change.
“I believe being an artist means learning how to be vulnerable and sharing these parts of yourself to make other people feel heard,” she said. “At the end of the day, the music I write is about how I view the world, but it’s not for me. Once it’s out into the world, it can be interpreted in so many different ways, and I think that’s really beautiful.”
Determined to spread a message of personal equality and global sustainability, she hopes people will collectively change the path we are on. One of her songs, Unhappy Earth Day, chastises governments for doing too little to affect climate change. Instead, Summer Within, is a deep dive into mental illness, and Ego Shopping is an anthem speaking about individuals' lack of confidence.
The two-hour concert starts at 7 p.m. at St. Albert Place. Tickets are $15 for a single seat and $120 plus tax for a premium table of six. Details at www.ardentheatre.com.