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Singer-songwriter chooses Empress Theatre in Fort Macleod for record release

Dave McCann begins his release tour in support of his new record ‘Westbound Til Light’ at the Empress Theatre on Friday, March 1.

A Fort Macleod audience gets first crack at a southern Alberta singer-songwriter’s new record.
Dave McCann starts his release tour in support of Westbound Til Light at 7:30 p.m. Friday, March 1 at the Empress Theatre.
“I’ve always been fascinated with that theatre,” said McCann, who has performed as part of other shows at the Empress. “I just jumped at the opportunity. It’s an amazing theatre . . . it just seemed like a great place to celebrate the release of the record.”
Westbound Til Light fills a desire McCann had to create an acoustic-based record, which represents a return to his early days as a recording artist.
McCann has five critically acclaimed recordings, including Woodland Tea, Country Medicine and Shoot the Horse with an early band known as Dave McCann and the Ten Toed Frogs, and Dixiebluebird and Circle of Light with the Firehearts.
McCann was at a workshop at Banff where he was urged by Oklahoma-based singer-songwriter Kevin Welsh to write narrative story songs.
“I love the old school story-telling,” McCann said. “It felt really good to me so I really wanted to write more story-based songs and have them have some kind of historical basis.”
Westbound Til Light is made up of 10 songs such as Can’t Cheat the Mountain, which tells the story of the 1903 Frank Slide that took out the small town at the base of Turtle Mountain in the Crowsnest Pass.
The song Swing Your Lantern tells the story of hobos caught in a Lake Superior blizzard near the end of the Great Depression.
The song Johannah’s Line is based on the unsolved 1880 murders of Jim and Johannah Donnelly in the farmhouse in Lucan, Ont. The family gained renown in Canadian history as The Black Donnellys.
“I love folk music,” said McCann, who was raised in Ontario and now lives in Lethbridge. “I grew up on AC/DC and Iron Maiden and stuff, but my mom always had AM country music on, so if I heard Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald it made sense to me and was kind of exciting.”
McCann has recorded in Nashville and at Leeroy Stagger’s Rebeltone Studio in Lethbridge but this time chose to record in Steve Loree’s studio at Nanton.
Benj Rowland, who plays banjo, guitar and accordion, and Josh Fewings on drums and percussion, from the Mayhemmingways played on the record.
Dave Bauer played guitar, bouzouki and mandolin, Shawn Worden played bass and Ethan Askey played harmonica on Westbound Til Light, with Lori Reid on background vocals.
“This record really is more of a solo process for me but a lot of the guys who played on those other records are such dear friends of mine, they came together and we made this record as well,” McCann said.
They recorded Westbound Til Light over a period of about a year, getting together as the individual musicians’ schedules allowed.
“It was a really interesting thing. Our music sort of comes from the great plains out here on the prairies so it felt good to be in a small town building the songs.”
McCann experienced an unexpected feeling of relief when the recording of Westbound Til Light was finished and is pleased to have had some time to reflect on the songs and the process.
“It was really an experiment in narrative songwriting and trying to find interesting stories of ordinary people in small towns, people on the edge. That’s kind of where you get your excitement is characters who come from the edge, and small town Alberta is full of characters.”
Rowland will play a set on Friday to open the show, and then McCann and a six-piece band that features people who played on the record takes the stage.
McCann will auction one of his own original works of art during the concert.
McCann is appreciative of the Empress Theatre Society, which takes on the challenge of keeping the historic theatre open while presenting live music, movies and other entertainment.
“Really, the theatre itself is such an amazing feature in such a small town, it really is something that should be celebrated.”
The Westbound Til Light tour takes McCann to Jasper, Edmonton, Canmore, the Last Chance Saloon in Wayne, and Calgary.