Think of the North and you’re likely to picture documentary footage of polar bears running over vast expanses of windswept snow and ice. That’s certainly part of it, but the country’s northern regions are also home to many more layers, each with a human story behind them, says singer-songwriter Pat Braden.
Noting that most Canadians only get sound bites about the North, he’s travelling south to tell the other stories. He’ll bring his one-man show, A Place to Call Home, to The Registry Theatre in Kitchener next Thursday night.
Today, news of the North features pieces about polar bears and global warming, H1N1 flu in remote villages and military exercises asserting Canada’s sovereignty.
The reality is much more complex. The Northwest Territories, in particular, is almost a colony of Ottawa, with a mix of aboriginal groups, pioneers, developers and multinational companies extracting resources, he explained. His goal is to put a human face on those sound bites that appear in the media, to tell personal stories.
“This really is a dynamic place to be,” he said this week in a phone interview from his Yellowknife home, where the days are already short and snow on the horizon. “What I’m trying to do with the show is to introduce you to some of the characters who live here.”
Drawing together songs from his catalogue and stories from his lifetime of experience in the region, Braden has woven together a portrait of the North most of us never get to see.
He grew up in a cabin on the edge of the old town of Yellowknife, at a time when there were two goldmines operating there. Although the place was small and isolated, the mines brought in workers from all over the world – “there were guys here from Scandinavia, from Italy, from China … it had a very cosmopolitan feel.”
With A Place to Call Home, Braden guides you to the family cabin where he grew up, to “the shacks and shanties of the Woodyard” in the old town of Yellowknife, describing them within the context of the northern lights, the bitter cold, the endless days of summer and the migrations marking the passing of the seasons.
“These are stories and songs from a personal experience of growing up and playing music here,” he said.
He sings of the people in his community, the eccentric characters, musicians and old timers who lived in those old town shacks, and of friends, family and loves, celebrating their influence on his life. He weaves story into song, song into story, sometimes the spoken word resonating over a textural bed of music, a rolling chord pattern or a shimmering soundscape.
“I’ve had a lot of good reaction from these stories. I was doing a show in B.C. and a man came up to me afterward and said, ‘I’ve never been north, but I feel like I’ve had a visit up there.’”
Musically, Braden’s is a bluesy-folksy sound. A bass player, he also plays the Chapman Stick, a 10-string instrument akin to a guitar, but meant to be tapped something like striking piano keys rather than strummed. The layered, textural sound that it produces goes well with the storytelling – think about the music of Daniel Lanois and Robbie Robertson.
Pat Braden performs at The Registry Theatre Oct. 15 at 8 p.m. Tickets are $20 (or $10 with the purchase of a ticket to any other Registry Theatre event), available at the Centre In The Square box office by calling 519-578-1570 or online at www.centre-square.com.