Monday, February 17, 1997

Concert Review: Connie Kaldor

Published in the Mountainview

The Knights of Columbus Hall on Merchants' Row in Middlebury filled on Saturday evening, February 8. People came from all over Addison County to hear Canadian folk-singer Connie Kaldor play as part of the After Dark Music Series. Kaldor, from Regina, Saskatchewan, is an accomplished musician who has won, among other awards, the Juno Award, which is Canada's equivalent of the U.S. Grammy Award.

Kaldor and her bassist, Bill Gossage of Montreal, were a bit stiff during the opening few numbers, but loosened up before too long. A fast stress-filled narrative about all sorts of things needing doing in this life led into a song called "Relax," advice Kaldor could have taken at the outset. Her ad-libs and song introductions seemed rehearsed and at times forced, until just before intermission.

She played keyboard, guitar, and sang a capella at different times, and Gossage provided backup vocals. As the two became more comfortable on the small stage in the silent room, Kaldor's "dry crop-failure" sense of humor opened up. Explaining that the broad, open Canadian prairie is very different from Vermont's rolling hills and forests, she contradicted herself and suggested that Vermonters might appreciate the advice prairie-dwellers give each other: "The three main routes out of Saskatchewan are marriage, crop failure, and the arts."

Despite Kaldor's escape, she returns often and draws her inspiration from the people and the places of the Saskatchewan landscape. She sang an old Canadian favorite, "Saskatoon Moon," but had to teach it to the Vermonter audience first, leading to come confusion on the part of the audience. The audience did well, though, and Kaldor seemed pleased.

Her lyrics were indicative of the difficult landscape in which she was raised: "Mother's Prayer" was a touching song about how mothers view the world and their hopes for their children's future and safety. "For the First Time, I Don't Care" was a paradoxically-named love song drawn from a musical Kaldor wrote last summer.

Her musical range was impressive; not just the notes which she could reach - very high and very low - but moving from ballads to hymns, from blues and soul to country style songs. Gossage kept up ably, and played fiddle as well as appropriate. Kaldor's musical experience is broad: she taught songwriting at an arts school in northern Saskatchewan, as well as writing musicals, operas, songs, and performing on multiple instruments.

Her songs come from the heart and from the desperation of the lonely and the hardworking poor. "Coyote's Call" expressed a feeling many Vermonters have: "at least there's a roof overhead and the kids got a yard" to play in. She mixed a "cheap, trashy, and tasteless" song together with a wrenching song about a recently-deceased lifelong friend. The eclectic mix worked for her as it would for few others; she showcased her talent and held the mood and attention of the audience throughout the evening. Her long stories leading into songs gave a sense of perspective and an insight into Kaldor as an artist and a songwriter; the audience was able to understand some of what life is like on the prairie.

The universality of her songs is no doubt what has won her such acclaim in Canada; it guaranteed her success in Middlebury as well. The prairie and its inhabitants have as strong a sense of place, community and tradition as Vermonters do; the trials of human existence come through in her songs with a clarity and simplicity rare in even folk music today.

The After Dark Music Series brings prominent folk-influenced musicians to Middlebury each month during the winter. It is sponsored by many local businesses, including Otter Creek Brewing, the Middlebury Inn, and Main Street Stationery. The next performance will be by Lucy Kaplansky and Greg Greenway on Saturday, March 8, at 8 pm at the Knights of Columbus Hall. Doors open at 7 pm. Tickets ($13 in advance, $15 at the door) are expected to sell out, but are currently available at the Middlebury Inn or Main Street Stationery. Kaplansky and Greenway are sharing the show; they are not a duo, but will perform separately throughout the evening. Both are excellent musicians with national reputations; it, too, should be an excellent show!