Down home night in Victoria with Thom Swift

Todd
Todd MacLean
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Indian River

For several years, New Brunswick-born and Nova Scotia-based singer-songwriter Thom Swift lived in a small home just metres from the Atlantic Ocean, near Peggy’s Cove.

He can recall winter storm nights being alone in that home when the wind would be howling so strongly he really thought that he and everything he owned would be picked up and blown away.

Strumming and picking away on his acoustic guitar, playing happy old ragtime music next to a pumping wood stove — that’s what got him through those nights, he claims.

These times many years ago must have had quite the effect on him in the sense of building strength of character, of course, and, it would seem, in terms of crafting his demeanour as a performer.

For when you go to a Swift solo show, it is as though you are being welcomed into his own living room (perhaps in a little home by a stormy ocean), as he quite obviously hopes you have a good time listening to what he has to play. Certainly there is no flamboyant showmanship — it’s just what you see is what you get.

That’s the strong sense that is easily translated from performer to audience member throughout an evening with Swift. I can remember coming to this conclusion the last time I saw him several years ago, and it is still just the same today.

Clad in a shadowing baseball cap down over his face, with two acoustic guitars and an electric guitar standing beside him (all in various tunings), Swift sat in the centre of the Victoria Playhouse stage this past Monday night, part of the playhouse’s summer concert series.

Set to celebrate its 100th year of life as a building next year, the Victoria Playhouse is presenting Musical Mondays this summer. This past Monday was the third of six shows in this concert series.

And as Swift has racked up a total of 18 nominations and awards to his name to this point, including the 2014 East Coast Music Award for blues recording of the year for his latest album The Fortunate Few, this week’s concert by the blues and folk-based finger-style and bottleneck slide guitarist (formerly of the band Hot Toddy) certainly stood out as being one of the key shows to catch in Victoria this summer.

Beginning with a song written for his two daughters called Down the Road, Swift plucked melodic chordal decoration on an acoustic guitar in an open C tuning, as he sang in a soft baritone voice over top of it, luring in his audience right away.

Continuing on with a song co-written with Dave Gunning called Circle of Boots, and then going into some sweet picked-out ragtime, Swift got the crowd’s toes a-tapping on the playhouse floor.

Despite some rhythmic issues here and there, as unintentional ritardandos would occasionally take place when Swift was doing intricate picking along with singing at the same time, Swift continued to carry the show very well on his own and especially shone musically when he would break into slide guitar as he flew around the electric fretboard with tasteful licks all amid a steady thumping groove.

Musical comparisons could span between artists like Muddy Waters to Ray Bonneville to Bruce Springsteen. However, Swift also proved in this performance that one could even draw a comparison to someone like Frederic Weatherly (composer of Danny Boy) as he ended the concert by showing his Irish roots: a gently flowing Irish slow air, picked out on the guitar, which descended upon the audience’s ears like some sort of misty rain on an Irish field, to send us back to our own homes in a renewed and contented spirit.

The next show in the Victoria Playhouse’s Musical Mondays summer concert series is July 28 with Meaghan Blanchard and Katie McGarry. Then Aug. 11 will feature John Connolly, and you can catch Laura Smith with Don Brownrigg on stage in Victoria on Aug. 18.

Next week: It’s time to talk about the venue at the heart of P.E.I. 2014: The Celebration Zone.

At a glance:

Todd’s weekend picks

1. Fifth annual Frank Ledwell Storytelling and Comedy Festival – St. Peters Courthouse Theatre, today through to Sunday, all shows

at 8 p.m. Visit www.courthousetheatre.ca.

2. Indian River weekend concerts – St. Mary’s Church, Indian River, featuring Laura Smith today and Jan Lisiecki on Sunday. Both shows are at 7:30 p.m.

3. 61st annual Crapaud Exhibition – Crapaud Actiplex, today through to Sunday. The P.E.I. Has Talent youth concert is tonight and there’s a dance with the Grand Daddies of Rock ‘n’ Roll with special guest Kendall Docherty.

4. Laura Cortese and the Dance Cards are at The Dunk, tomorrow, 7:30 p.m. A potluck dinner kicks off the evening at 6 p.m.

5. Fringe Prom with Whale Skin – The Haviland Club, tomorrow at 9 p.m. Choose some extravagant attire; no date is necessary. All proceeds support the Island Fringe Festival.

6. Richard Wood and Gordon Belsher – today at the St. Peters Courthouse at 8 p.m., tomorrow at their World Class Kitchen Party (with Brad Fremlin) at the Stanley Bridge Hall, 7:30 p.m., and Sunday at the Rock Barra Artist Retreat, 7:30 p.m.

7. Fred Penner – Celebration Zone, Confederation Landing, Charlottetown, Sunday at 3:30 p.m. and 7 p.m.

8. Lennie Gallant at Rendez-vous Rustico - Rustico, Sunday at 8 p.m.

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.

Organizations: Peters Courthouse Theatre, The Dunk, Haviland Club World Class Kitchen Party

Geographic location: New Brunswick, Atlantic Ocean, Peggy Indian River Mary Charlottetown

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