Sweet spring night at The Dunk

Todd MacLean
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No matter how big the crowd or what kind of a day it is, an evening out at The Dunk is always a special experience.

And so, on a cold spring day like last Saturday, when folk musicians Sherry Ryan and Shirley Dalton of Newfoundland found their way to the Dixon Road for their evening performance, the fact that it was a small audience that arrived to embrace their music did not seem to matter too much at all.

As the two longtime-pal musicians took the stage, set against a June evening window backdrop of rain-soaked green maple leaves on the lush trees of Breadalbane behind them, that unique kind of spirit-in-presentation (that only The Dunk can bring about) began to weave its way into the night.

St. John’s folk singer/songwriter Ryan has been recording and performing since her first album, Bottom of a Heart, was brought to fruition in 2005; and since then she has recorded two more — the latest being 2011’s Sister of Mine.

Fittingly, Ryan was accompanied by Dalton on this mini-Maritime spring tour as Dalton has been singing backing vocals alongside Ryan for over 20 years.

Through original songs like This Old Boat, Blue Ridge Mountains, Burn My Journal, and Hangin’ On we received a good taste of Ryan’s songwriting style right off the bat, which seems to be often characterized by short tunes that lure you into a moment, a feeling, an enveloping story, as they offer up a glimpse of a new melodically-illustrated perspective on life.

As her captivating voice blended beautifully with Dalton’s smooth high harmonies (showing the experience of their years in singing together), the duo particularly shone in tunes like The River (which was a perfect one to hear next to the flowing Dunk River, of course) and Heap of Human Kindness (which was a fun story-in-song about the Christmastime of 2000 when Dalton actually started a successful 50/50 draw in their community to bring the travelling and broke Ryan home for Christmas).

After an intermission that brought the two artists off the stage and co-mingling with the audience, good conversations (and a realization that there were many musicians in the house) gave way to the notion that the rest of the night should be rightfully spent in a collective musical format.

And so, after some did prompt trips to cars to bring in instruments (myself included, as I brought in a sax, a guitar and shakers), before we knew it, we were all breaking out into song together — with everything under the sun, from Newfoundland folk classics to jazz standards to originals by those present.

What an unforgettable time it was — definitely unlike any show I’ve ever been to. And yet, in the way that this venue continues to unite and celebrate in the love of music, it was not all that surprising for a night at The Dunk.

For more on the music of Sherry Ryan, check out sherryryan.com

And if you’re interested in enjoying a piece of peace at The Dunk this summer, keep in mind these upcoming shows: Summer Solstice on June 21, featuring Amanda Rae Gallant, Jon Rehder and more; Mid-Summer Magic, with Laura Cortese and The Dance Cards on July 26; and Seafood and Song in August, featuring Catherine MacLellan and more.

Next week: This is the first of two weekends for the sixth annual P.E.I. Festival of Small Halls. There are 14 days of music, over 40 shows and over 100 artists this year, with so much to choose from — check out all the info at www.smallhalls.com and I’ll see you Out and About!

Todd MacLean is a local freelance writer and musician. If you have a comment or suggestion for a review, you can get in touch with him at tmaclean@theguardian.pe.ca or at 626-1242. But he won’t be offended if you don’t.

Todd's weekend picks

1. P.E.I. Mutual Festival of Small Halls: The Best in Bonshaw – Bonshaw Co-Op Hall, Bonshaw, today at 7:30 p.m., featuring Valdy, Roy Johnstone and Doris Mason.

2. Small Halls: Songwriters Circle in Cymbria – Cymbria Lions Club, South Rustico, today at 7:30 p.m., featuring Rose Cousins, Meaghan Blanchard, Mark Haines, Lennie Gallant, Eddy Quinn.

3. 1864 Concerts in the Park – Victoria Park, today, 5-9 p.m., tomorrow, 5-10 p.m. and Sunday, 12:30- 6 p.m. Today's Indie Pop Stage presents Coyote, Wildcat, Colour Code and more; tomorrow’s Blues Stage features acts like Got Blues with Doris Mason, Scott Parsons Band and More Soul; and Sunday’s Family & Diversity Stage presents Vishten, Larque, John Connolly Band, Paper Lions and more.

4. Small Halls: Late Nights Festival Club – Old Triangle, today and tomorrow at 10 p.m., featuring various festival artists in performance.

5. Small Halls: Music Mash-Up West – St. Louis Community Centre, tomorrow at 7:30 p.m., featuring The Marrieds, Archer and Annalivia.

6. Small Halls: The Big Fiddle Show – Dundas Plowing Match Heritage Hall, Sunday at 7:30 p.m., featuring The Chaissons, Richard Wood, JP Cormier, J.J. Chaisson, Cameron Francis and more.

Organizations: The Dunk, Human Kindness, Bonshaw Co-Op Hall Late Nights Festival Club

Geographic location: Newfoundland, Dixon Road, Breadalbane Dunk River Bonshaw Cymbria Rustico Victoria Park St. Louis Community

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