By TANDI CHABWA
Sometimes in our lives we all have pain, we all have sorrow.
Some musicians hide behind the illusions they create on stage. They wear crazy outfits, use stage names, and have a multitude of special effects to create a disconnect between themselves and the audience. This was not the case at a recent songwriters circle at Niagara College’s Niagara-on-the-Lake [NOTL] campus.
“Can you guys move closer to the stage? I feel like we’re in an audition,” laughed Canadian singer-songwriter Craig Cardiff.
On the afternoon of Nov. 17, Student Administrative Council’s [SAC] NOTL student centre The Armoury hosted an intimate singer songwriter circle featuring musicians Cardiff, Laurent Bourque and Steven Ryan.
The performance lasted nearly three hours, with each singer taking turns to play their respective music, occasionally providing back-up vocals during each other’s performances. The songs ranged from self-creations, to covers and even included songs made up on the spot.
Cardiff, who had been performing in Yellowknife the previous day, encouraged audience members to write their own songs in the moment, and performed the finished results with students on stage.
“Let’s see if you’re just as crazy as I am,” he smiled.
Ryan and Bourque also offered up their advice to prospective song writers, staying after their performances to chat with students about music, before heading to Hamilton for another show that evening.
“Don’t write to make a hit,” suggested Ryan. “Write songs for the garbage can.”
The Armoury was full of students, but the ongoing show only seemed to hold the attention of a handful who stayed from the beginning until the end, creating a strong sense of community. Of the bunch, two were self-proclaimed “super-fans,” who had listened to Cardiff’s music for over five years, who watched the whole show with smiles on their faces. Neither was available for comment.
General Arts and Sciences student Matthew Reeves found a new passion for song writing that afternoon. “Honestly, I’ve never listened to any of these performers before today … but wow,” he says. “These guys were all amazing.”
The trio finished their performance by singing Lean On Me with the audience in what could be described best as a campfire circle. There were forgotten lyrics, made up for in plenty of jokes and laughs.
Ottawa native Bourque says, “I love doing [the songwriters circle]. You can be honest. You’re less worried about having a set, you’re just free to try things and it kinda brings the fun back into it. [Performing is] always fun, but the songwriter circle brings it back home.”
Front and centre was SAC’s Social Programmer Brittany Lightheart, who planned the event. She says she was inspired by the recent renovations to The Armoury, using words like “warm,” “acoustic” and “mellow” to describe the show.
“I had the privilege of meeting these three young men over the summer,” she explained. “I absolutely fell in love. … So, the afternoon show, the concept came from just knowing that students are already in the pub and to give them a little bit of entertainment while they’re sitting around doing homework, or just hanging out with their friends.”
When asked why the songwriters circle format was chosen instead of a regular set, Lightheart stated that increased audience engagement kept the students’ attention longer, and made for a more pleasant viewing experience.
Twenty-four-year-old singer Ryan explained his affinity for performing on closer terms with the audience.
“People get to hear a little bit of the stories behind the songs. … There’s more of a discussion than just watching a show. So it’s pretty cool.”
Among the songs he performed was one composed when he proposed to his wife called I Do. A crowd favourite, audience members asked him to play it again at the end of the performance.
The cozy, close-knit vibe Cardiff, Bourque and Ryan wanted to create that afternoon was achieved. Interacting with a smaller audience made for an extremely memorable show. How often can you tell the singers what to sing?
But if we are wise
We know that there’s always tomorrow.