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Prairie gothic artist Wendy McNeill returns to South Country Fair

wendy mcneill

Wendy McNeill will perform at 3:15 p.m. Sunday, July 19 at South Country Fair. She will also be part of a workshop at 7 p.m. Saturday, July 18.

Prairie gothic artist Wendy McNeill returns to the stage this weekend at South Country Fair.
McNeill is touring in support of One Colour More, her sixth studio album, and is making her third appearance at South Country Fair.
“I love the feeling when you just drive into the Fort Macleod area,” McNeill said. “The wind, and the kind of people that seem to have gathered there. It’s kind of an extreme environment and I think it’s gathered some really eccentric and intriguing people.”
South Country Fair is July 17-19 at Fort Macleod Fish and Game Park.
McNeill loves the atmosphere of South Country Fair, its size and its scenic setting including the Oldman River.
McNeill, who grew up on the prairies but now lives in Europe, also likes the diversity of music that is part of South Country Fair.
Performers this year include Steve Dawson, Jenny Ritter, Romi Mayes, The Wet Secrets, Oka, Rachael Cardiello, The Misery Mountain Boys, Leeroy Stagger, Jenny Allen, Washboard Hank and Sweet Muriel, The Dead South and Scott Duncan.
The line-up also includes The Good Ol’ Goats, Derina Harvey Band, Sean Rowe, Blue Moon Marquee, Brock Zeman, Skye Wallace, Rotary Park, Muerte Pan Alley, Ben Rogers and the Bloodred Yonder, Linda McRae, Matthew Robinson and Ranche Deluxe.
The Circus Act Insomniacs Copperhead, Ron Pearson, NQ Arbuckle, Christian Bok, Larissa Lai, Jay Gamble, Richard Stevenson, Nikki Reimer and Joan Shillington will also perform.
“I love how the other musicians, whether they’re super successful or just starting out, everybody is on the same tier,” McNeill explained. “There isn’t any isolation between bands or anything like that.”
McNeill was studying dance at an art college when she developed a need to express herself artistically through songs.
At first the songs were autobiographical, as on her first album, but over the years she began writing songs about the compelling stories of other people.
“As a decade goes by a person starts to find other persons’ stories more interesting than their own,” McNeill said. “At the same time you start to see the universality of things. People might have completely different experiences but those raw emotions that are behind the experiences, everybody has those.”
“Even though a lot of the songs I write might be about other people, or an animal, behind that there is still something that is an authentic feeling for me. It’s still very close to the heart and very personal.”
McNeill happily embraces the terms “folk noir” and “prairie gothic” to describe her songs.
“I think I alway had sort of a dark edge to my writing,” McNeill said. “As soon as I took up the accordion it probably pulled people in the direction of saying it was more noir or more gothic. I think the accordion definitely has that timbre, that sounds to it.”
“I think that a lot of characters in the songs have a twist,” McNeill said. “That’s a very noir thing. A character makes one decision and it alters their life. I like stories like that.”
McNeill is travelling solo on this tour, and plans to perform a mix of songs from One Colour More and her five previous albums.
“This will be interesting because I’m travelling for the first time without my little red diatonic accordion,” McNeill said. “Some of my older songs, I could only play them on that accordion. I don’t even know how to play them on a piano accordion, so if somebody asks for one of those I won’t be able to play it.”
McNeill has learned to play Such a Common Bird, a popular one usually in demand from long-time fans.
Long-time fans and people who are just discovering McNeill’s music are responding well to One Colour More.
“Overall the reception has been really good, but with some of my long-term fans they told me it took them a couple of listens before they really started to dig into it,” McNeill said.
McNeill isn’t certain whether it is length of the songs or the subject matter that caught long-time fans by surprise.
McNeill was inspired to write some of the songs for One Colour More while working on the Acres of Dreams project with Kris Demeanor, Cadence Weapon, James Keelaghan, the Calgary Philharmonic and other musicians.
“That project was all about people who were coming to settle the Canadian prairies,” McNeill said.
The rest of the songs were inspired in Europe where McNeill was living. For example, she learned about the atrocities that drove a large Kurdish population to settle in Sweden, and she was also intrigued about the treatment of the Roma people.
“I found some poetic moments in their struggle and I sort of wrapped it up in one Roma artist,” McNeill said.
Another song is about someone from Italy who travels to America to make a new life.
“I was more than pleased, absolutely,” McNeill said of One Colour More. “The recording process itself was fantastic. I love working with Christoffer Lundquist in Sweden. He’s amazing.”
“When I work with him, it’s like working in magic land. As soon as I get an idea it can be put to tape immediately. It’s great.”
McNeill continues her tour after South Country Fair but returns to the area with a performance at Twin Butte Opera House on Aug. 6.

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