John Wort Hannam and his talented friends will perform Saturday, Feb. 11 at the Empress Theatre in support of the ALS Society of Alberta.
The third annual Songs For Ken event is a mix of music and art that has raised about $12,000 for the ALS Society in each of the first two years.
Songs For Ken is not just about raising money.
“I was telling someone the other day that raising money for ALS is nice and all but it really is just a bonus that comes with what I think is the real objective of the event,” Wort Hannam said. “That is, once a year to take some time for all of us to reflect on people in our lives who made an impact on us and are gone.”
Songs For Ken is named for Ken Rouleau, Wort Hannam’s life-long friend who in 2012 died of ALS, which is also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.
ALS is a progressive neuromuscular disease in which nerve cells die and leave voluntary muscles paralyzed. Every day two or three Canadians die of the disease.
In addition to a performance by Juno Award nominee Wort Hannam, Songs For Ken will feature The Polyjesters, The Sadlier Brown Band, Brooke Wylie, Tanner James and Maureen Chambers.
“Being a songwriter I tend to be friends with other songwriters and there are some really good songwriters coming this year,” Wort Hannam said.
Brothers Jason and Sheldon Valleau from Carstairs are The Polyjesters, a duo Wort Hannam describes as Tin Pan Alley meets old-time music meets jazz.
Brooke Wylie, who performed at the first Songs For Ken, toured her soulful style of country music for years with her band The Coyotes.
“She routinely blows the audience away with her strong and commanding vocal ability but she’s also a bit cheeky on stage and together those parts make up a great performer,” Wort Hannam said.
The Sadlier Brown Band is composed of Mark Sadlier-Brown, Bev Bruce and Derek Pulliam. Their music ranges from the early tie of country, rock and roll and rockabilly in the 1950s into the ’60s.
Wort Hannam describes Tanner James, originally from Taber, as a storyteller whose songs are honest and sometimes funny.
“I watched him kill it at a show we did together in Swift Current last year,” Wort Hannam said. “The audience loved him.”
Maureen Chambers is a Fort Macleod singer-songwriter and co-founder of South Country Fair.
“She is a great interpreter of songs and the only musician to play that actually met Ken when he was alive,” Wort Hannam noted.
Wort Hannam said it is not difficult to find people willing to perform, but last year he started providing a small honorarium and arranged for discounted rooms at the Fort Motel.
“I realized that all the people I approached were more than willing to donate their talents and time but without covering those travel expenses, I was actually asking artists to pay to play.”
Artist Randall Wiebe from Rosebud returns this year to paint a portrait of an audience member who buys the winning ticket — on stage in just 15 minutes.
Last year Tenille McDougall of Fort Macleod had the winning ticket, and Wort Hannam said the audience appreciated watching Wiebe work.
“Watching Randall paint someone’s portrait on the spot in 15 minutes really is a show,” Wort Hannam said.
There is strong support for Songs For Ken from musicians, sound and light technicians, Empress staff, graphic designers and the public.
“It’s nice to know that I belong to such a giving community,” Wort Hannam said.
A Songs For Ken event will also be held at Southwood United Church in Calgary at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Feb. 10.
For tickets to the Fort Macleod show, call the Empress Theatre at 403-553-4404 or 1-800-540-9229.