MARSHFIELD, P.E.I. - A crystal chandelier casts a cheery glow in the living room where musicians Joanne Ford and Michael Buell are warming up their voices for the concert.
In the kitchen, plates of cheese and crackers are being prepared for guests to enjoy, along with tea and coffee, at intermission.
In the hallway Boomer, a red Persian cat, purrs loudly, making his final rounds before the doors open at 6 p.m. and the first guests are welcomed.
This is not a typical concert venue.
It’s the residence of musicians Tim Archer and Ricky Lee. They’ve restored the 200-year-old building, complete with nine-foot ceilings, hardwood floors and a decorative bronze ceiling, and have opened the doors of the former Presbyterian manse to welcome the public in for Friday night concerts.
It definitely feels like home, says Alycia McGuire, the first guest to arrive.
“I love the place. Everything is so homey. I also think the world of Tim and Ricky. They’re so down-to-earth. And they make you feel so welcome,” says McGuire, who attended the opening night performance the week before.
She liked it so much, she returned for a second concert.
“It’s such a wonderful experience and a beautiful place, you just want to come back,” says the Charlottetown woman.
At precisely 7 p.m., the musicians take their places at the front of the room and, after introducing themselves, get down to business.
“Everyone knows ‘Country Roads’, right? Feel free to sing along,” says Buell.
With the audience onside, he picks up his guitar and starts strumming, and Ford plays a few chords on the electric piano.
Soon the John Denver classic becomes a singalong with the 10 or so people in the room joining in.
At break, the newly-formed duo, whose repertoire includes everything from Johnny Cash and Emmy Lou Harris to Fleetwood Mac, John Prine, Bonnie Raitt and their own songs, says they like the venue’s cozy atmosphere.
“It’s a lot of fun. It’s intimate, like a house party. You can really get up close with people,” says Buell.
“As a musician you want to form a relationship with people. And performing in a small venue like this allows you to do that,” says the vocalist/keyboardist adding the duo will return today to do another show at 7 p.m.
Archer says the idea for the venue “really crept up” on him.
“I had been hosting concerts across the Island, and my fans actually encouraged me. They thought it was a great idea and a great location and there’s nothing better than a home concert,” says Archer, who also performed several songs during the show.’
“In opening the doors, people feel like they’re coming home.”
A perfect match
JoAnne Ford’s and Michael Buell’s musical worlds came together three years ago. They met at the Sturgeon Ceilidh, where Buell regularly backed up musicians. That night Ford, a regular at the Murray Harbour Ceilidhs, happened to be there with her ukulele and fiddle.
Over the weeks, their musical friendship grew as they backed a variety of people, including Marie MacIntyre and each other.
Buell had played in a band with the late Donnie MacLean, but ever since the late guitar player’s death he had stopped singing.
But when Buell heard her voice and learned she also played keyboards and guitar, he was thrilled. He asked her to become a musical duo. They are celebrating their third anniversary this month.
“Our harmonies worked. Our voices seemed to connect. And we just clicked,” he says.
Ford says it’s easy to harmonize with Buell. “We just support each other, weaving in and out of each other’s music.”
People can catch this duo at these upcoming dates at Music at the Manse: Jan. 18, Jan. 22, March 29 and April 12. For a complete list of dates at the venue, click here.