Festival du Bois 2016: Dara and I make noise!

This year was the third one that Dara and I have made it up to Festival du Bois in Coquitlam (previous visits having been in 2012 and 2014). We have grown rather fond of this cozy little festival and hopefully will get to start attending yearly rather than every other year!
Day 1: Saturday
This time around, we had a lovely lineup of acts I wanted to check out, two of which were familiar to me and one of which was not. My main point of interest was the power trio of Le bruit court dans la ville–who, of course, were the most excellent musicians who were my draw to Fiddle Tunes this past summer, Lisa Ornstein, André Marchand, and Normand Miron. But also quite noteworthy was Maz, who I’d already become aware of; I have both of their albums. I had not to date had a chance to see them live, though!
And last but not least was ReVeillons!, who came highly recommended by a few of the folks in our local session crowd. I wanted to check these guys out in no small part because they include Jean-François Berthiaume, who I’d already known about courtesy of his being the percussionist for Galant Tu Perds Ton Temps.
We did get to see all three of these acts, and I am pleased to report that they were all excellent. But as it turned out, this time around Dara and I actually got in some time getting to play ourselves!
Continue reading “Festival du Bois 2016: Dara and I make noise!”

Fiddle Tunes 2015, Part 1: The Classes

I meant to write this up several days ago, but between having to get caught up on my backlog of stuff that needed doing while I was gone, then going to Clallam Bay Comicon, and dealing with a bunch of stuff at work, I didn’t have time to do a proper writeup of my first Fiddle Tunes. Let’s now rectify that, shall we?
For those of you who didn’t catch me talking about this on the social networks, and/or who might have missed my earlier posts on the topic, I spent an entire week at the Festival of American Fiddle Tunes workshop at Fort Worden State Park in Port Townsend, WA. Fiddle Tunes, as it’s known, is an immersive music workshop. Despite the name emphasizing the fiddle, it’s not actually exclusively focused on the fiddle–which is good, because as y’all know, I don’t actually play that instrument!
Instead, what drew me there was learning that André Marchand would be on the staff and giving guitar lessons–André Marchand, comma, previously known to me as a veteran of the genre, both in La Bottine Souriante and Les Charbonniers de l’Enfer. I had decided way back in March that I’d be crazypants bonkers to pass up an opportunity to learn from him.
And, bonus: Lisa Ornstein and Normand Miron also were on the staff. Lisa is notable as a non-native-Quebecer who nonetheless has a strong history with the genre, since she’s actually played with La Bottine too. And Normand Miron is also known to me via the Charbonniers. The three of them together perform under the name Le Bruit Court Dans La Ville.
With this kind of a powerhouse trio at my disposal, I wound up having a delightful time attending classes. M. Marchand’s guitar classes were my primary interest, so I made a point of showing up for all of his sessions each morning. Since André was teaching guitar, he brought in a colleague, Kevin Carr, to play the melody line of the various tunes we worked on, so that all the students could get an idea of how to play support for a melody.
André was delightful as a teacher, with a great sense of humor (my favorite quote of his was “play it again, but with more coffee”). The biggest thing I learned from him was reassuring: i.e., that I actually knew a bit more as a guitarist than I’d previously realized. He did interesting things with progressions, adding an extra note in on chords, that I’d sorta kinda already picked up on as a thing but which I did not know how to do.
By progressions, I mean playing a bunch of (say) A chords, only adding in a G on the first, and an F# on the next, so that you get an interesting little almost-melody that can support the actual melody being played. (I’d run into this kind of thing when listening to Great Big Sea playing “Old Black Rum” on the Road Rage live album–I kept wanting to put a little progression I could hear in my head into the choruses, and didn’t know how to properly do that. Now I have a better idea of how to try it!)
Also notable: some of the chords that André threw at us were things I could not actually finger on the General, because my hands were smaller than his. But at least in the case of one chord, a D/F# (that’s a D with an added F#), he showed us a trick to get around this if your hands are small: you wrap your thumb around to your deepest string, the low E, and use that to hold down the string on the second fret to get your F#. NEAT.)
And in one class, they even brought in Dejah Leger for support. :D
IMG_4267//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.js
(Dejah turned to me just before she moved forward in the class that day to take a seat beside the two gentlemen, and on the way she hastily whispered at me to get me to take pics. I assured her I totally had her back. Because yeah, if I got to help teach a class with one of my musical heroes, I’d be pestering my nearest buddy to take pics too!)
Speaking of Dejah, I should also totally mention that I sat in on a couple of her guitar tutorials as well. Not all of them, because by mid-week I started running out of steam and had to vanish in the afternoons to go take naps and have downtime away from people. And I had to maintain brain power to be able to try to keep up with Lisa Ornstein’s and Normand Miron’s classes, too.
Lisa Ornstein is a superb teacher. She was great about giving us the background on the tunes she had elected to teach, and about playing through the phrases of a tune until we could play them back at her–a strategy which, I’d already learned courtesy of André Brunet, works well for me. It was in fact reassuring to figure out that I’m not entirely hopeless at learning things by ear. (It’d be nice to be able to do it faster, but I have been working on that, and will continue to do so.)
I’d say I’m sorry to have missed some of her classes–except that Normand Miron was also fun. His English was not as good as André’s or Lisa’s, so he made use of Dejah as an assistant as well. His classes were not as heavily attended as Lisa’s, but still there were several folks who showed up for him as well.
And with both Lisa’s classes and Normand’s, it was fun for me as a wind player to try to figure out how I could make noises to mimic all the fiddle players (in Lisa’s classes) and accordion players (in Normand’s) around me.
In Dejah’s classes that I made it to, last but definitely not least, I had a chance to play with DADGAD tuning. Dejah is a splendid guitarist, and is very fond of using alternate tunings–so I got to learn a few things with her that I couldn’t with André, since he (as he told us) always plays in standard EADGBE tuning.
What I learned from Dejah about DADGAD is that, at least on the higher-pitched strings, I have an easier time trying to finger-pick than I do in standard tuning. However, I found trying to do that by ear way more challenging than trying to play by ear on my wind instruments–possibly because I’m just not used to using a guitar as a melody instrument at all. This, I think, requires further musical exploration!
All in all, if I hadn’t done anything else at all at Fiddle Tunes, the classes by themselves would have been worth the price of admission. I very, very much got what I was hoping for: i.e., the chance to sit down with professionals, learn some things, and maybe get an idea of the things I need to work on if I want to progress as a musician. I have no aspirations of being anything more than a serious hobbyist–but still, it was hugely valuable and meaningful to just be able to spend time learning from four excellent teachers.
And I brought home plenty of practice material as well! I’ve got recordings from most of the classes I went to. André handed out chord sheets for all the tunes we worked on as well, just about all of which were songs he’s recorded on various albums–and which I happen to have, so I can practice trying to play along with the recordings in question. FUN. :D
Ditto for Lisa Ornstein’s classes. She made available to all of us who attended her classes various PDFs of the tunes we worked on, so I will have those to play with as well.
And of course, I was focused like a laser on the Quebecois-themed classes. There were dozens of other classes going on as well, and if I had had the time, I totally would have checked out the Irish trad classes, or maybe the ones being held by the musicians from Kentucky. (Because there WERE a couple, and as a born Kentucky girl, I felt kind of sheepish that I didn’t have the chance to go give those guys a listen!) But they advised us early on in the week to not try to do everything, and I took that wisdom to heart. (Note: I was particularly grateful as well that on Monday and Tuesday of the week, they had intro classes for Fiddle Tunes newbies. I found those extremely valuable, especially with the tips about how to try to begin to keep up in a session environment–with some wisdom I’d also learned from Dara, which is to say, I don’t actually need to play all the notes. More on this later!)
And this was only the beginning of the awesomeness of the Fiddle Tunes experience. Next post, I’ll talk about the big organized music efforts in the afternoon: the band labs!

Going to Fiddle Tunes!

This summer I will be doing a first for me: going to a musical workshop camp! Specifically, I’m going to Fiddle Tunes!
“But Anna,” I hear you cry, “you’re not a fiddle player!” This is true! But I am a guitarist, and there are several guitarists that will be teaching at this camp. Most notably, André Marchand!
If you know anything about Quebecois music at all, you may know this man’s name. At minimum, if you know anything about La Bottine Souriante, you’ve very likely heard him. He’s a veteran of the genre, with a long history with La Bottine and later with Les Charbonniers de l’Enfer. He also has recorded with flautist Grey Larsen, is one third of the trio Le Bruit Court Dans La Ville (all of whom will also be at Fiddle Tunes!), and has recorded with a few of the other Charbonniers gentlemen under the name Les Mononcles as well.
While my blatant fangirling is reserved for Le Vent du Nord and De Temps Antan, my general musical respect for the Quebecois trad genre owes a lot to Monsieur Marchand. He’s an excellent singer–several of my repeat-play La Bottine and Charbonniers tracks are things he sings lead on. But he’s also a fine guitarist, and I feel I would be entirely bonkers crazypants to pass up a chance to learn from him.
Bonus: my pal Dejah will also be there, and she will in fact be acting as M. Marchand’s assistant, providing translation assistance to help jump the language barrier. And a bit of a musical barrier as well, since Francophones use a system of scales oriented around “do re mi fa so la ti do”–so what an English speaker thinks of as the key of C, a French speaker’s going to be calling the key of do. D becomes re, E becomes mi, and so on.
I am very much looking forward to tackling this. Not only for exposure to a different way of thinking about musical scales, not only for a chance to learn from a veteran of the Quebecois trad genre (and maybe get in a bit of practice listening to someone speak French), but in general to just be able to sit down with people who know what they’re doing and improve my general ability to play. I feel like I’ve gone about as far as I can on my own, as a self-taught guitarist who just likes to doink around with the instrument. Talking to skilled musicians and learning from them will open up all sorts of new and exciting things to practice!
I’ll also be taking my carbon fiber flutes and the good whistle, mind you–because if any all-melody-instrument tunes sessions break out, I want to be prepared to practice learning those, too. And there will be some organization of participants into bands, too! So maybe somebody will want a flute or a whistle. :D
These musical shenanigans will be taking place in the last week of June, and will be taking place out in Port Townsend in Washington–which is the other reason I want to go to this thing. It’s a camp I can get to by car. And since I won’t need to get on a plane, I can bring the General.
Because if I’m going to learn from a veteran of the Quebec trad genre, better believe I want to bring the good guitar!
SO EXCITED. This is going to be huge fun. Y’all may expect I’ll report on the experience in depth!

Quebec band recommendations, round 2: La Bottine Souriante!

As I’ve written before, La Bottine Souriante has the distinction of being the first Quebec band I ever saw perform live, and I said a great deal about them on this post over here. Most of what I had to say there still stands, with some notable exceptions.
First and foremost, as of this writing, La Bottine’s discography has become available for digital purchase on both iTunes and Amazon’s MP3 store! So if you’re a US fan of Quebec music like me, your chances of finding a La Bottine album have now improved considerably.
Which of course brings me to the question of what album should you get? The answer to that’s going to depend on what era of La Bottine you want to investigate, since they seem to come in four overall eras to their sound. I tend to break La Bottine down into “Yves Lambert era” and “Eric Beaudry era”, both of which have their massive appeal to me.
Yves’ Lambert’s era is classic La Bottine, and saw the rise of their mighty, mighty horn section. M. Lambert’s era also saw such seriously impressive musicians as André Marchand and Michel Bordeleau being in the lineup. This era is well worth your time, and if you want to sample it, I’d highly recommend La Mistrine as a studio album at the height of the band’s power in that era. Or, En spectacle for a marvelous live performance. Especially the opening “Ouverture” track, which features what’s kind of the canonical La Bottine tune–Sheepskin and Beeswax, one of the ones I’m trying to learn. I LOVE how they fire this one up, with the rumble out of the bass, then layering in the feet and the melody, until at last the horns start punching in with syncopated goddamn glory and oh, it’s wonderful.
The Eric Beaudry era kicked in with the album J’ai jamais tant ri, and at least as of that album, La Bottine also had Pierre-Luc Dupuis singing a lot of the lead, as well as André Brunet’s fiddle firepower and occasional lead singing as well. All three of these boys have gone on to form De Temps Antan, of course–so that particular La Bottine album rather sounds like “De Temps Antan plus a horn section”. This is not a bad thing!
If you want to get an idea of what La Bottine sounded like as of that album, check out this YouTube fan vid. It’s somebody’s almost entire vid of a La Bottine concert, in which you get to see Eric, André, and Pierre-Luc all rocking it the HELL up. There’s a jumbotron. There’s crowdsurfing. It’s AWESOME.

Now, I tend to prefer classic La Bottine over current, but that said, Eric Beaudry IS right up at the top of the list of Quebec musicians for whom I want pretty much every note they ever recorded (he’s fighting it out with Olivier Demers for the top spot on that list!). As I’ve also mentioned before, any band with a Beaudry in it gets my immediate and undivided attention. M. Beaudry’s vocals are splendid, and he is an amazing bouzouki player. In fact, musically speaking, he is my current favorite bouzouki player, and I do not say this lightly–as anyone who knows I’ve been fangirling Alan Doyle for the last 13 years knows! So his contributions to La Bottine are not to be underestimated in the slightest.
So if you go with Beaudry-era La Bottine, get their most recent release, Appellation D’Origine Contrôlée. I have a full review of this album right over here. I am madly, madly I tell you, in love with “Au rang d’aimer”. I’m trying to learn that one on the guitar. And yes, it’s one of the tracks M. Beaudry sings lead on. You may now show me your lack of surprise faces, Internets. ;)
Also, I’ll add that if you want to track what happened to other members of La Bottine who are no longer in the band, the aforementioned Yves Lambert is still doing music, and he’s got excellent albums available here. Michel Bordeleau and André Marchand are both now in Les Charbonniers de l’Enfer, deploying their massive vocal talent, and they’re also doing double duty as two of the members of Les Mononcles, where they’re doing instruments as well as vocals.

Dangerous Podorythmie is my Les Charbonniers de l'Enfer cover band

Hey, look what I found! Video clips of the Les Charbonniers de l’Enfer concert, from the album I was posting about before! \0/
This one is “Yes Very Well”, the second part of Track 10 on En personne, where it suddenly turns into an entirely different and MUCH MORE LIVELY song. The gent singing lead on this is roaring out those lyrics, and now that I can see he’s a skinny rake of a dude, I’m all the more impressed by the force of his voice! It’s this specific song that, the first time I listened to the album this past weekend, made me go HOLY CRAP, they are much, MUCH better live than in the studio, and they don’t suck in the studio.
And this one, right here? This is what I mean when I say that there’s just something absolutely pure and primal about Quebecois mouth reels and podorythmie, making music with nothing more than your mouth and feet. That video is “Les Turlutes”, track 16 on the album! Look for the podorythmie stomp-off about three minutes in.
And now I can tell that one of their podorythmie guys must be one of the two of them who used to be in La Bottine Souriante. I am almost certain that the guy in the left-hand chair (left from the viewer perspective) is the one who was singing lead when La Bottine Souriante performed at Chateau Ste. Michelle back in 2000, the first time I ever saw Great Big Sea in concert. So he’s either Michel Bordeleau or André Marchand. Either way, he TOTALLY pwns the guy in the other chair, in the stomp-off in the second video.
Some brief audience reaction shots in the second vid, too, show that the audience is clearly getting into it, and there’s a bit of Quebecois-style vertical movement going on there. Or given that this is Quebecois music, maybe le mouvement vertical! I very, very much want to see these gentlemen perform in person now. I may fangirl all over Great Big Sea and Le Vent du Nord for having pretty pretty bouzouki players, but if you’re bringing it hard enough? You don’t have to be pretty.
And these gentlemen are bringing the HELL out of it. Well done, messieurs! XD
ETA: More videos! Sur la Vignelon, again from the same live concert. And also, Au Diable Les Avocats, which appears to be their official video for this particular song.
ETA #2: A bit of judicious Googling has educated me that in fact, both of the podorythmie guys in LCE are the former La Bottine Souriante members! And, in fact, the guy in the left-hand chair has got to be Michel Bordeleau, since from what I’m seeing on the French Wikipedia page for the group, André Marchand was no longer in the group by the time I saw them perform. Plus, that’s clearly Michel’s voice in “YoYo Verret”, the track I love the most off the old LBS album Rock and Reel, a.k.a. Xième! He’s also the one described on LCE’s current site as having “dangerous podorythmia” and they are NOT LYING. \0/