The Once // 11-16-11 // Winnipeg Folk Exchange

Wednesday night at the Winnipeg Folk Exchange, the renowned folk trio from Newfoundland, The Once, took the stage in the corner of the small brightly coloured room, and went on to perform yet another magical show.  This was their fourth such show on their current tour of Pop Up shows, promoting their second album Row Upon Row To The People They Know, in smaller more intimate venues across Western Canada, and it was simply incredible.  No other stage could be more suitable for the power and honesty, the poise and wholesomeness produced by The Once.
A near twenty song set with ten songs played without amplification made this unlike any normal concert, but more of a family gathering in the host’s kitchen; Newfie hospitality is unmatched. True to their roots, The Once played several of their own compositions, half a dozen or so traditional songs from the Maritimes and the British Isles like “By The Glow Of The Kerosene Light,” and of course their own priceless covers of Leonard Cohen’s “Coming Back To You” and “Anthem,” Bob Dylan’s “I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight”, Queen’s “You’re My Best Friend” (which they originally took on for a wedding), and Al Pittman’s “Cradle Hill” and “Nell’s Song.”
The stories they told about the history of the songs ranged from the truly heart wrenching tales of Geraldine Hollett’s father’s brushes with death as a fisherman which were retold in “Three Fishers” and “Charlie’s” to Phil Churchill’s playing his first shows in St. John’s pubs and ordering a beer from the beautiful bartender in “A Round Again,” and Andrew Dale’s explanations about the Feast of Cohen which lead to The Once performing two great Cohen songs.
Artistically I have no doubt that The Once could take any song and produce a cover that combines warming ingenuity and strong resemblance to the original; likewise for their own creations.  Individually any member could have a strong career as a musician, but together their voices and instrumental abilities create remarkable sounds that are crisp and thoughtfully cultivated to bring audiences to a dead silence practically begging for yet another note to be struck.  Beyond the impeccable musical and vocal abilities of the trio they have the stage presence to make any show memorable with casual banter, Andrew’s especially witty remarks, and personal conversations with young audience members.  The best moment from this particular evening was when a young man with an infectious laugh was invited to the front of the room so he could have a better seat.  There is one negative thing, however, that I must say about this show and the limitations of The Once in general: they’re only in Winnipeg for two shows—so disappointing! Jesse Blackman