Thursday, June 12, 2014

Barbara Ford on Music at the Montreal Fringe

(photo by Patricia Summersett)
The Fringe Festival ... waaaaaaaaaaaaay more than theatre
Theatre artists making waves on the music scene
by Barbara Ford

The annual bacchanal, otherwise known as the St-Ambroise Montreal Fringe Festival, is about much more than theatre. It’s the L’Après-Fringe 13th Hour at Cabaret du Mile End, the St-Laurent street sale, the camaraderie, the easy mix of performing arts genres in both official languages and of course it’s about the Beer Tent. This is the festival that truly kicks off the outdoor festi-frenzy, or what I’ve dubbed MonFestÉté, a marathon of outdoor entertainment that casts a blind eye on the boundaries of language, culture, ethnicity, religion, and all the other hot topics politicians and media like to bandy about. 

The boundary-bustin’ Fringe has a history of cross-over fare from Burlesque, comedy and dance to puppetry, circus and improv, earmarking it as one of the ‘funnest’ fests of the season. Music plays a major role ‘cause let’s face it, Fringers are rockers, but like everything Fringe, square-pegged artists won’t be shoved into round-holed musical genres … and that’s how we like our Fringe!
Contrary to what social media would have us believe, we can’t all be stars … who’d be left to cheer? Many of us (and I wholeheartedly include myself here) struggle to maintain an acceptable level of mediocrity. Others among us, however, house a super-concentration of creativity and multiple channels through which to express it. 

Most of their songs tell a story and if you close your eyes and just listen

Case in point: Patricia Summersett and Nick Carpenter, founding couple, on and off stage, of Summersett, formerly known as Summersett Fred. (For some unfathomable reason, that moniker proved too big a mouthful for locals.) Both Patricia Summersett (hence one half of the original tag) and life partner Nick Carpenter (and where, you ask, does Fred come into the picture, to which I respond that Nick’s full name is Frederick Stanley Carpenter the IV, thank-you-very-much), have distinguished themselves in the Montreal theatre community with multiple Mainline productions (together and apart), Centaur, Segal, Imago, Geordie and Infinitheatre appearances as well as film and TV work and teaching. But since 2011, Summersett has been developing a distinctive style, rich in evocative images and insightful, narrative lyrics performing on small stages around the city. 

Summersett describes itself as a “baroque pop band”; more specifically “an offbeat blend of piano-based Pop, Folk and New Chanson” with such eclectic influences as Led Zeppelin, Franz Schubert, Rufus Wainwright and Fiona Apple though I also detected a little Nina Simone, Joni Mitchel, Tom Waits with a side order of Country and Western two-step and Native melodies. 

Patricia and Nick are joined by Sheila Hannigan, Pierre Gaudreault, Ariane Gruet, Guillaume Perron contributing string and electric bass, cello and violin … percussion-lite but you hardly notice. An unusual choice of instruments for a new hipster group but it absolutely works for them and I foresee that as they really get into their groove, more innovative instrumentalists will be added and hopefully a few back-up vocalists so Summersett can really let go and showcase her vocal and emotional range.

No Pop song recipe here: verse chorus verse chorus break chorus. Most of their songs tell a story and if you close your eyes and just listen, you can see Paris in the ‘20s, a 1930s Berlin cabaret, a gypsy camp, vast plains, lonely shores, endless seas, and a cramped NY Village apartment. You are in love, out of love, elated, aching ... For a couple of sets, Summersett creates a world that both artist and audience inhabit and navigate together. 

Check out a few tunes at Bandcamp and if Summersett strikes a chord with you, 'like' them on Facebook, follow them on Twitter @summersettband, and stay tuned for the launch of the web site

Let’s make sure home-grown artists know how much we dig what they’re doing so they don’t have to leave town to feel appreciated and get the recognition they deserve. Summersett’s ties to the theatre community remain loyal and true, with Summersett making regular appearances at former Mainline Theatre and Fringe head honcho, Jeremy Hechtman’s, The Wiggle Room, or providing the musical portion of theatre events such as the METAs at the Rialto last October or the recent indie theatre launch at the Monument National this April. 

Now you can return the favour at this year’s Fringe. Summersett will be performing free on June 19 at … you guessed it … the Beer Tent in Parc des Ameriques. Please consult the Fringe web site for details. Show up and show ‘em some love.

June 2 - 22

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