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Empress Theatre hosts Tyson tribute ‘The Gift’

Stewart MacDougall, who wrote songs and performed for years with Ian Tyson, leads ‘The Gift.’ PHOTO BY BOB BLOCK 

With a career that has spanned seven decades, Ian Tyson is established as a preeminent Canadian singer-songwriter.
The songs of the legendary Tyson will be presented at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 6 at the Empress Theatre in Fort Macleod during a show titled, “The Gift: A Tribute to Ian Tyson.”
“The Gift” started two decades ago when a group of musicians came together to celebrate Tyson’s music with two weekend shows in central Alberta.
“The Gift” has continued to surface for performances at festivals and other venues, covering songs from the days of Ian and Sylvia and The Great Speckled Bird through to Tyson’s more recent cowboy culture tunes.
“Ian has one of the strongest songbooks — like Neil Young, Leonard Cohen, Joni Mitchell, Lightfoot —to ever come out of this country and it just shouldn’t be lost,” said Peter North, producer of “The Gift.”
Former Tyson band members Stewart MacDougall, Thom Moon, Myran Szott and Gord Matthews will take the Empress stage with guests Julian Kerr, Ian Oscar, Tracy Millar and John Wort Hannam.
The audience will hear the stories behind the music.
MacDougall and the other performers will set up some of the songs, explaining where they came from and at what stage of Tyson’s career they debuted.
“We don’t do it chronologically,” North said. “It sort of bounces around. It’s more about the musical flow.”
The audience will be treated to songs such as Four Strong Winds, Eighteen Inches of Rain, I Outgrew the Saddle and Songs from the Gravel Road.
“These guys really know how the music is supposed to be played, how it’s supposed to breathe” North said of “The Gift.”
The concert is broken into two one-hour sets filled with popular tunes written and performed by Tyson, who made his singing debut in 1956 at the Heidelberg Cafe in Vancouver.
After graduating from art school Tyson moved to Toronto where he began singing with Sylvia Fricker. The couple later married and formed The Great Speckled Bird.
Tyson fronted a self-titled national TV program from 1970-’75, and in 1980 he began concentrating on cowboy and country music.
Tyson was inducted into both the Canadian Music Hall of Fame and the Canadian Country Music Hall of Fame, and is a member of the Order of Canada and the Alberta Order of Excellence.
North said the audience for “The Gift” has changed as musicians such as Corb Lund started playing Tyson’s songs to a younger crowd.
“It’s such a large body of work,” North said. “That’s a big reason why we’re doing it, but the original reason was just so we could pay tribute to Ian while he was still here.”