Montana folksinger, songwriter and ranch hand Martha Scanlan is here March 13 for Home Routes’ fifth “house concert” of the season in the Thompson Public Library’s Basement Bijou venue. Ticket prices are $20 and doors will be open at 6:30 p.m. with the performance starting at 7 p.m.
Scanlan, originally from Tennessee, grew up in Minnesota in the upper Midwest, and since 2008 has hailed from Tongue River Valley in southeast Montana, near the Wyoming border. She has been touring and headlining festivals across the United States and Europe since the release of her 2006 debut album The West Was Burning. The Tongue rises in Wyoming in the Big Horn Mountains, flows through northern Wyoming and southeastern Montana and empties into Yellowstone River at Miles City, Montana.
Home Routes is her third tour in the third month of 2012. She was on her Northern Rockies tour with Jon Neufeld, appearing with the Portland, Oregon band Blind Pilot in Boise, Idaho, Salt Lake City, Utah and Boulder, Colorado in January, as well as appearing at the high desert 28th National Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Elko, Nevada last month and also started an east coast tour in New York City and Philadelphia with Amy Helm, Byron Isaacs and Dan Littleton.
She first gained national recognition for her songwriting at the Chris Austin songwriting contest at Merlefest at Wilkes Community College in Wilkesboro, North Carolina in 2004, where she won awards in two categories. With the Reeltime Travelers, she was featured on the soundtrack for the film Cold Mountain, produced by Grammy Award winner T-Bone Burnett. Since then she has collaborated and shared the stage with a variety of roots musicians including Alison Krauss, Emmylou Harris, Levon Helm, Ollabelle, Black Prairie, Ralph Stanley and Norman and Nancy Blake.
While The West Was Burning evoked western landscapes, her most recent album released in 2010, Tongue River Stories, takes the listener right into the heart of the vast and quiet landscape with its meadows and cottonwood groves and the decades-old cabin where the songs were written and recorded. Arrowheads lie next to fossils next to 100-year-old cedar fence posts alongside tracks of horses set rock solid in the mud from rain.
This is the third season for Home Routes in Thompson.
Thompson is part of the “Borealis Trail” circuit of Home Routes in Saskatchewan and Manitoba. Other circuits on Home Routes include the Yukon Trail; Salmon-Berry in British Columbia; Cherry Bomb and Blue Moon in British Columbia and Alberta; Chautauqua Trail in Saskatchewan and Alberta; CCN SK in Saskatchewan; Central Plains in Saskatchewan and Manitoba; Jeanne Bernardin in Manitoba, Agassiz in Manitoba and Ontario; Estelle-Klein in Ontario and Québec and the Maritimes in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island.
Other stops beside Thompson on the Borealis Trail include Buena Vista Sask.; Porcupine Plain Sask., Prince Albert, Sask., Annaheim, Sask., North Battleford, Sask.; Green Lake, Sask.; Melfort, Sask.; The Pas; Minitonas; Eriksdale and Winnipeg.
Home Routes kicked off in Thompson on Sept. 22, 2009 with a show by Corin Raymond and Sean Cotton, who make up The Undesirables. They were followed during season one by Rodney Brown, Thunder Bay, Ont.’s award-winning singer and songwriter; Rob Lutes, a singer-songwriter from Montreal, whose work has sometimes been compared to John Hiatt and Fred Eaglesmith; Toronto’s Hotcha!, with Beverly Kreller on vocals, bodhrán, accordion, guitar, kazoo, mouth trumpet, spoons, and Howard Druckman, also on vocals, guitar, slide and harmonica; followed by John Wort Hannam and Matt and Shannon Heaton, a Boston-based husband-and-wife duo offering traditional – and non-traditional – Irish music on Irish wood flute, guitar, bouzouki and accordion.
Season two was kicked off by rhythm and blues/folk performer Treasa Levasseur, daughter of Leon Levasseur, a former Roman Catholic priest who was pastor of St. Lawrence Church here in the late 1960s. Her parents (her mom was the lay choir leader in The Pas) left Thompson in 1969. Treasa was born in Winnipeg, raised in North Bay and now lives in Toronto.
Arthur O'Brien, from Bay Bulls on the Southern Shore, near St. John’s, and Fred Jorgensen, from Bull’s Cove on the south coast of the remote Burin Peninsula, both baritones and half of the four-member Newfoundland band The Navigators, closed out season two with their acoustic and electric guitars, whistles, mandolins, bazookas, bodhráns and fiddles. Also giving concerts last year were Hunter River, Prince Edward Island folk artist Meaghan Blanchard; bluesman Lester Quitzau, originally from Edmonton and now from the Gulf Islands of British Columbia; and singer-songwriter Katherine Wheatley, originally from Parry Sound, Ont., who graduated from university with a geology degree and spent five seasons roughing it in the bush, including four seasons working north of Flin Flon.
Other performers besides Scanlan this season have included Phil Churchill, Geraldine Hollett and Andrew Dale, making up the Newfoundland trio The Once; John Showman and Chris Coole from Toronto’s five-member Foggy Hogtown Boys; Conjunto Roque Moreira, a rock n' roll, reggae, funk, and soul fusion outfit from Teresina, Brazil, with world and Brazilian rhythms such as samba, forró, baião and bossa nova; and guitar-playing songstress Carolyn Mark, the long-time host of the Hootenanny in Victoria every Sunday and founder of The Vinaigrettes, an all-girl surfy twang popster band. After The Vinaigrettes, Mark did brief stints in such bands as The Metronome Cowboys and The Fixin’s.
Manitoba-born fiddler, singer and composer Anne Lederman, who now lives in Toronto, along with Emilyn Stam, a pianist originally from Smithers, British Columbia, who also lives in Toronto now, close out the season April 25.
Winnipeg-based Homes Routes is a not-for-profit organization. The cost of admission goes to the musicians, while Lisa Evasiuk, the local house concerts Home Routes host, puts them up or otherwise arranges accommodation while they're in town. O'Brien and Jorgensen crashed at now-school board trustee Janet Brady’s last April after their show – but not before a second kitchen party in Brady’s own Lynx Crescent kitchen.
Home Routes says it “owes its existence to the theoretical footprint of the Chautauqua travelling shows of the late 19th and 20th century.”
The Chautauqua movement was named after the Chautauqua Lake Sunday School Assembly founded in New York State in 1874 as an educational experiment in out-of-school, vacation learning. It was broadened almost immediately beyond courses for Sunday school teachers to include academic subjects, music, art and physical education.
“In the time before radio the Chautauqua was the cultural conduit between the urban east and the rest of North America. Traveling by horse and wagon, the Chautauqua was ‘The Medicine Show’ bringing the latest in show tunes, science, the gospel, fashion, snake oil and whatever was the latest invention for the modern kitchen. Almost every community had a ‘Chautauqua Society’ laying the groundwork locally and producing the show. The arrival in any rural community of the annual Chautauqua was a big event that was celebrated across the continent and even today, almost a hundred years later, the word "Chautauqua" still reverberates in existing concert venues and in cultural and educational institutions. The travelling shows disappeared as radio and the movies grew in prominence and those mini extravaganzas became a wistful lingering memory in North American history.
“The modern folk music ‘House Concert’ was born out of necessity in the early 1950's just at the time when the folk ‘boom’ began. In 1952 The Weavers had a number one radio hit with Leadbelly's ‘Irene Goodnight’ and the song ignited a mini folk song revival; suddenly folk music was popular. City people started buying banjo's and guitars and fiddles and began to learn the folklore that country people were born with and they began to create new songs about the world as they saw it then and ever since. There simply weren't enough places to play for all the young and enthusiastic men and women who decided that being folk musicians was for them and so the grass roots invented a grass roots solution to the problem. People discovered that their living rooms made fine venues for acoustic music and began what has turned out to be a long tradition of home based intimate presentations of folk music. What has been consistent has been the extraordinary level of excellence.
“Home Routes is a rough amalgam of these two historical approaches formulated and delivered with respect for all the work that went before we came along and re-kindled these excellent ideas. The volunteer hosts, like the Chautauqua Societies before them, play the role of community cultural animator. The musicians, like musicians and vaudevillians have for all time, get to work and play for these very special networks of vibrant committed people. The inter relationship between performer and host provides community after community with access to a brilliant array of artists. There is a trade off inherent between the parties, the artist brings their musical skills and the host contributes the effort to bring out an audience. One doesn't work without the other. The thought of "circuits" of house concerts flows logically from the experience of the Chautauqua and equally from the current needs of the communities and of the artists.”