Patio Series concerts bring some of Alberta's best singers back to the spotlight

"They (love songs) don't come naturally to me. I'm much more inclined to write when I have to get something off my chest, stuff that bugs me." - Kimberley MacGregor

Kimberley MacGregor shares a double bill concert at Festival Place on Wednesday, July 24. Erin Walker / Supplied

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Every summer Sherwood Park’s Festival Place takes the music outdoors for its seasonal Patio Series concerts. It’s a chance to sit back on those long summer evenings and enjoy a range of musical genres. If the weather doesn’t cooperate they can move indoors at a moment’s notice.

This year’s Patio Series is already underway, but Wednesday, July 24 is notable for the double-bill show featuring two award-winning Alberta singers, Kimberley MacGregor and Lauren Mayell.

Banking on music

By her own admission Kimberley MacGregor was “always musical.” She wrote her first song at age seven, studied flute and opera, sang in bands of all description, even led her own jug band.

The Calgary-born, Edmonton-based singer just couldn’t give up on her musical dreams. Even after working herself into a stable career as a bank manager, she set the profession aside to record and perform. The material she came up with reflects a range of styles most easily tied to folk-rock, but that only hints at the strident power of her voice and some of the themes she’s taken on.

“I’m probably more afraid to write love songs than other songs,” she laughs. “They don’t come naturally to me. I’m much more inclined to write when I have to get something off my chest, stuff that bugs me. But lately I have been stretching myself and embracing different stories.”

MacGregor released two notable full-length albums, True (2014) and I Am My Own (2015), and promptly won Female Artist of the Year at the Edmonton Music Awards in both 2015 and 2016. Between those albums she also put in her first successful tour of Western Canada, playing 18 stops in 18 days. It was an excellent start on building a musical career, until the unexpected happened.

One week after the release of her second album MacGregor’s mother suffered a brain aneurysm and eventually died, forcing the singer to postpone tour plans for that second album until months later. An invitation to a five-week residency at the Banff Centre — geared toward writing material for another album — came entirely too soon.

“After my mom passed I was in a pretty sad place,” MacGregor explains. “It took a while to process everything. I decided that I wanted to explore the relationship between joy and sorrow and eventually I started to find a balance, a yin and a yang between the songs. But it needed more time.”

MacGregor’s time to grab the spotlight is coming back. She guesses that she has written around 200 songs since her last album release, and she has pulled together the best 15 of them to record. Plans are now set, and she hopes to have her third release out this fall.

In the meantime, you can hear the singer and her band road-testing some of that new repertoire on stage for the Patio Series. Slide guitarist Nathan Burns, bassist Melissa Walker, drummer Kevin Brereton, and backing singer Lindsay Walker will join MacGregor’s voice and guitar Wednesday.

Mayell’s budding career

It’s one thing to win the Alberta Country Music Association’s award for Female Artist of the Year, but to do so as an unsigned artist without a full-length album out — as Calgary’s Lauren Mayell did last year — is even more impressive.

While the singer does have an E.P. and six recent singles behind her, that award speaks well for her strong stage presence and aggressive touring schedule.

Lauren Mayell shares a double bill concert at Festival Place on Wednesday, July 24. Dave Benedict / Supplied

Mayell looks forward to releasing her best new material on a forthcoming full-length album this fall (look for The Journey). But you can catch her with her regular four-piece band at this Festival Place gig, trying out some of those new tunes and throwing in a few covers.

Cody Teather is Mayell’s lead guitarist and also her fiance as of a few months ago, when he proposed to her during a trip to Nashville. She’s thrilled to have the support of her favourite guy, co-writer, and bandleader on the road and in the studio.

The MacGregor and Mayell co-bill concert happens Wednesday, July 24 at Festival Place. Tickets for the Patio Series are $8, in advance from festivalplace.ca, or at the door.

Danny Coady and Crystal Shawanda share another Patio Series co-bill July 31. During August the concert series features several more double-bills, including 6 Minute Warning with the Bix Mix Boys, King of Foxes with Carter & the Capitals, The Give ‘Em Hell Boys, The Suitable Men, Scott Cook and more.

Withnell & Bennett House Concert

Some of the city’s most versatile musicians don’t surface often in public venues.

Several years ago, singer Rhonda Withnell and bassist Don Bradshaw formed one of the best duos around, but they’ve been too busy working corporate gigs or teaching to follow their art. You can hear them when they perform as a duo on Saturday, July 20.

Rhonda Withnell and Don Bradshaw kick off a new set of house concerts at Wolf Willow Studios July 20. Supplied

The setting is a brand new Live Off The Floor House Concert series set for Ian Armstrong’s Wolf Willow Studios (9336 49 Street), offering a unique chance to witness how professionals work in a recording situation. The audience will be part of a live audio-video recording.

Withnell and Bradshaw are most often associated with the jazz vibe, but that’s only part of what they can do. The singer promises a fresh set of material ranging from her previous album Once Was, a few covers that touch on blues and folk material, and several brand new co-written tunes.

Tickets for the concert are $25 in advance from Tix on the Square (780-420-1757 or tixonthesquare.ca).

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