Hillbilly Highway – Mary Gauthier, Scott Nolan, Joanna Miller @ Park Theatre



by Sheldon Birnie

Monday night’s packed show at the Park Theatre was one of those perfect stops along the Hillbilly Highway that at once make you feel so glad that you’re wherever you happen to be at, while at the same time igniting (or rekindling) an “aching wanderlust” to hit the road at once. Backed by Winnipeg’s own Scott Nolan and Joanna Miller (who also opened the night), the crowd at the Park was treated to a magnificent performance from one of the best songwriters (and a dang entertaining performer and storyteller, to boot) in the biz, Mary Gauthier.

Scott and Joanna started the night off with a set of Scott’s tunes. I arrived about midway through, and even at that point the place was standing room only. I did managed to catch “You Rock, We Roll,” “Darlene,” and a few other choice cuts before the intermission. These two are tight as all get out, their years on the road together very evident by the subtle way they can turn a tune.

What was even more impressive was how they were able to work that musicality behind Mary Gauthier’s tunes. It was unbelievable. I got goosebumps many times, and grinned ear to ear many more. Early in the set she delivered classic Gauthier numbers like “I Drink,” “Christmas in Paradise,” and “Your Sister Cried,” leaning into every line like she fuckin’ meant it.

Gauthier is a serious songwriter, but she can turn a phrase out of nowhere that’ll bust your gut, then stick the knife right in with the next. This was particularly in evidence on tunes like “Mercy Now,” the aforementioned “I Drink,” and the epic tale “The Last of the Hobo Kings,” to which she gave an extended introduction. I’ve loved this tune since I first heard it, and it gained some larger space within my psyche after spending a brief bit of time in Britt, Iowa, where the annual Hobo Convention takes place. What a great little piece of Americana.

Mary was brought back out for not one, but two encores, and the crowd couldn’t get enough. After her performance at the Winnipeg Folk Festival last year, and now this sold out Monday night gig, I’m sure we’ll be seeing more of Mary sooner than later (here’s hoping, anyhow).

As for Scott & Joanna, well they’ll be on the road with Mary well into 2014, so for those of us who can’t get enough of their act, or those who missed out on Monday night, Transistor 66 will be releasing a live record, North/South, here soon enough. There were some advance copies for sale last night, but sadly I couldn’t scrounge up the $$ to grab one (and I’m not-so-secretly holding out for an LP release, anyhow). The album was recorded in part at the Park Theatre about a year and a half ago, with the other “south” part recorded down in Texas. Definitely looking forward to its wide release, and for the next time any of these troubadours book a River City gig again.

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