It takes a lot to get me out of the house, but I seldom miss an opportunity to catch John Wort Hannam live. Fort McLeod’s most famous folk resident stopped by for an appearance at The Hideout, Red Deer’s newest bar and grill featuring live music.
As always, John was in excellent form and voice. On this evening, he was joined by fiddler Scott Duncan. I don’t believe I’ve previously heard JWH with accompaniment, so I was intrigued from the start.
What is it about an energetic fiddler that makes any set better? That was certainly the case tonight/last night; in some places Duncan simply added additional life or texture to the songs, and in other places- as on “Infantryman”- brought a sense of increased solemnness.
Kicking off his performance with the apt “Requiem for a Small Town” (“How about we get all dressed up, go out and get all messed up”), JWH covered most of the essential ground within the 22 songs performed, including a couple choice covers.
“Annabelle,” JWH’s revisioning of “Long Black Veil” had Marty Robbins got a hold of the Marijohn Wilkin/Danny Dill classic, was another early highlight. One in a series of peaks, as expected, and complete with toe-tappers and knee-bouncers and a couple almost sing-a-longs. Actually, the most crowd participation came on a song I hadn’t heard before, a lovely children’s lullaby entitled “Chompy, The Head Biter-Offer.”
I’m always pleased when a familiar song ‘pops’ on a particular evening, and for me on this night that song was “Gypsies Grove.” The line “My boots may be dirty but my conscience is spit polish clean” hit me as particularly impressive, even though I’ve heard it twenty or more time while listening to Dynamite & Dozers.
“Two-Bit Suit,” “Church of the Long Grass,” Sweet, Sweet Rose,” “Tonight We Strike,” and especially “Wheatland” all sounded great and met with appreciation from the audience. I love that lyric “I guess some of us are wheat, and some of us are chaff.”
“Lucky Strikes” was performed late in the evening, long after many of the listeners had departed, and the evening ended with a gentle performance of “50 Miles.”
As for the covers, in honour of the never-ending winter we’re experiencing- including a blizzard JWH had to drive through on his way to Red Deer- Robert Earl Keen’s “Merry Christmas from the Family” was trotted out for (hopefully) one last time this spring. I’d never heard him perform Guy Clark’s “L.A. Freeway” before so that was a most excellent treat. Duncan’s fiddle added a lonesome despair to that one. Nicely done. But now that I reflect, I wasn’t surprised when he started to introduce the song, so maybe I have heard him do it previously. Doesn’t matter, the duo nailed it.
A bit of a strange venue for a folk show certainly. I’m not sure if a pool-table laden bar and grill is the best atmosphere to experience JWH, but so be it. If he’s willing and the booker is too, I’m game. I’d never visited The Hideout before tonight/last night, but I’ll be back- it is quite a nice place, very roomy. The beer was cold, and it was good to see 40 or so folks come out specifically to hear John.
John Wort Hannam is next in Vermillion on Saturday night before heading to Calgary and Fort McLeod for performances of The Gift, the Ian Tyson tribute before heading to California and Ontario.