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John Wort Hannam hosts fund-raiser for ALS Society of Alberta

john wort hannam

John Wort Hannam

John Wort Hannam was moved last year by the support shown for a fund-raiser he organized for the ALS Society of Alberta.
“Songs For Ken” paid tribute to Wort Hannam’s childhood friend Ken Rouleau, who died from Lou Gehrig’s disease, raised $10,000 for the ALS Society of Alberta.
The event brought together a number of musicians and artists, as well as a large crowd that packed the seats of the Empress Theatre.
“Being around friends who believed in what I was doing, raising money for a good cause, all while paying tribute to a great friend was magical,” Wort Hannam said.
Rouleau died in 2012 from ALS, which is also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease for the famed New York Yankee whose career was cut short by the fatal disease.
ALS is a progressive neuromuscular disease in which nerve cells die and leave voluntary muscles paralyzed. According to the ALS Society, every day two or three Canadians die of the disease.
“Songs For Ken” returns this month, with shows Friday, Feb. 12 at Calgary and Saturday, Feb. 13 at 7:30 p.m. at the Empress Theatre in Fort Macleod.
The event features some new musicians playing short, three-song sets in a format that appealed to last year’s audience.
Performers this year include Maria Dunn, Dave McCann, Karla Adolphe, John Rutherford, The Polyjesters and Amy Bishop.
“I attempted to find artists with different styles,” Wort Hannam said. “All very much songwriters but each is rooted in a different genre — blues to southern country rock, celtic to gospel.”
People were once again willing to join “Songs For Ken.” Edmonton artist Maria Dunn contacted Wort Hannam after hearing about the 2015 show.
“A well-beloved sound engineer in Edmonton named Colin Lay also died of ALS in 2012, the same year Ken died,” Wort Hannam said. “The Edmonton music community all knew and worked with Colin. Maria jumped on board for 2016 immediately. I already have a list of artists who want to play 2017.”
Musicians are often asked to perform for free at fund-raisers and are willing to lend a hand. While most artists make a modest living and aren’t in a position to contribute financially, Wort Hannam said, they are ready to lend their voices and musical talents.
“It warms my heart that artists, who didn’t even know Ken, answer the call and lend a hand,” Wort Hannam said.
The art component last year had two artists complete paintings on stage while the musicians were performing, with their work auctioned at the end of the night by Bob Westrop.
Wort Hannam said his friend Ken Rouleau “dabbled” in painting so it made sense to make visual art part of the fund-raiser.
“Many of us have seen paintings hanging in galleries or may even have an original piece or two in our homes, but few of us have ever had the opportunity to actually see it’s creation, start to finish, in front of our eyes,” Wort Hannam said. “The music and painting complimented each other beautifully.”
This year Rosebud artist Randall Wiebe will paint a portrait of an audience member on stage, in just 15 minutes. Tickets will be sold for the chance to have one’s portrait painted, to raise more money for the ALS Society.
“He doesn’t get to practice with the subject beforehand,” Wort Hannam said of Wiebe, who undertook the same project at a small festival at Rosebud. “It is all improvisational painting.”
Wort Hannam was hopeful last year that Songs For Ken might grow in popularity and spread to other communities, so when Calgary roots music promoter Vic Close, who was in Fort Macleod for the 2015 show, suggested doing one in Calgary, it was an easy decision.
“Ken grew up in Calgary and most of his family are there so it’s a great fit,” Wort Hannam said. “I’m glad it started here in Macleod but I would love the event to grow. How great it would be in 2017 to add an Edmonton or Medicine Hat or Grande Prairie event.”
Wort Hannam made note of the strong support from Empress Theatre executive director Tim Ransom and the society’s board of directors, who waived the rental fee for the theatre, allowing more money to go to the ALS Society of Alberta and in turn, families dealing with the deadly disease.
Wort Hannam said his friend Ken Rouleau would be happy there is a fund-raiser for the ALS Society of Alberta, but would be shy about being in the limelight himself.
“I organized a fund-raiser in Calgary while Ken was still alive,” Wort Hannam explained. “When I told him about it he said, ‘Oh, I’m fine, you don’t have to do that.’ He wasn’t fine. He had lost the use of his arms and was unable to work and bills were coming in. That sums Ken up to a tee — he’d rather people spend their time and energy assisting others.”
“I know he was grateful when his friends and family helped, but he always had this attitude that there were people out there worse off than him and it was those people who really needed a hand.”