Allison Brown, Sarah Burton, Diana Catherine
Ironwood Stage and Grill
The Ironwood Stage and Grill is the sort of place where you can invite the performer out the back door to the parking lot, in order to conduct an interview in the urban assault vehicle, and nobody thinks twice about how weird that is. The front door is propped wide open, the stage is a tiny triangle at the back, a mere foot off the floor, where friends of the band will wander on and off to add a few vocals or some crazy harmonica, if the song demands it. Bar staff will cheerfully jump in and move an empty table or two over to the side if people feel like dancing, and with the grill going all night long, you never know whether that next song is going to be tempered by the wafting scent of grilled steak or some melty cheese.
We got there early, so that I could meet up with Allison Brown to ask her some questions about her cross-Canada Greyhound tour and the new album she just finished recording at David Essig's studio on Protection Island off the BC coast. When Allison was called up to the stage to start the show early, Urban Blonde (my charming date for the evening) and I chose a table right near the front, ordered drinks and settled back to hear an evening of roots and folk rock, done girl style.
In keeping with the lack of formality at the Ironwood, Allison simply walked onto the stage, looking ever so demure in her flowered dress and sensible sandals and her glasses, but when she let loose with those first notes, all preconceptions were out the window. With a gorgeous voice that seemed way too big for one person, and accompanying herself on guitar and ukulele, she easily sang over the building ruckus from the drunk guys at the front of the bar. And she was remarkably good-natured about it as well, fielding shouted requests for Iron Maiden with charm and an almost believable regret that sorry, she couldn't play that one.
Next on the playbill, Sarah Burton upped the rock factor in the folk rock evening, starting out with an accompanying drummer, inviting Allison Brown back onto stage to join her on "totally trad" Wayfaring Stranger, and finally morphing into a full band sound when playbill partner Diana Catherine brought her crazy harmonica playing and her bassist to the stage for several songs. They've obviously played together quite a lot, judging from the tightness of the sound, and it came as no real surprise that they had pocketed $30 from busking Tom Petty's Free Falling the day before at the Banff bus station.
Sarah Burton's incredible mullet came dangerously close to overshadowing the music, however. Scandinavian blonde to play up the no makeup look, and unevenly hacked, it was simply a marvel of DIY barbering. At the risk betraying my gender by focusing on a female artist's physical attributes, I have to say that I could not take my eyes off her hair all night, that's how awesome it was. Definitely keep the mullet, Sarah!
During the break, Allison and I retired to the urban assault vehicle to chat, so that my Barbie Cub Reporter recorder would be able to record more than just those drunk guys over by the tv. When we returned, Diana Catherine and the Thrusty Tweeters were already wailing away on stage, stealing hearts with their ballsy bluesy sound.
As I often do at shows, especially those featuring emerging musicians, I bought a pile of cds at the Ironwood that night, but I regret only buying one copy of Diana Catherine's release, The Spirit Ranch Sessions, because I would love to send each of you a copy. It's that good. It's an album that even manages to capture some of the stage presence that Diana oozes. You may not be able to see that swagger on the disc, but you can sure hear it in her voice and in her insane attack on the harmonica.
My advice to you is if you get the chance to see any of these incredible musicians while they are touring the country, just do it. Better yet, see them all on one playbill. I guarantee you will have one memorable night to tuck away into your mental scrapbook, and I am willing to bet you'll have a few new cds as well.