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U of L Faculty Artists and Friends celebrate a soirée inspired by Downton Abbey

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The University of Lethbridge is visiting  Downton Abbey at least in spirit with a special concert in the University of Lethbridge Recital Hall, Feb. 28.Melanie York, Madison Craig and Camille Rogers perform Three Maids from the Mikado. Photo by Richard Amery
“I’m a huge fan of  Downton Abbey. I love it. I love the music, I love the costumes. I love everything,” said Dr. Blane Hendsbee who recruited a dozen of his students to participate in the Saturday night soirée which is part of the Faculty Artists and Friends  concert series, which combines the talents of University of Lethbridge professors and their students and their friends for five different concerts throughout the year
“Some of the songs have been performed  in the show,” Hendsbee said adding others are drawn from the eras. The 15 selections are six minutes long or shorter, in tune with  actual soirées  which took place during the actual time period.

“This was their entertainment. There was no  television or radio and early in the Victorian era, no record players. And people had short attention spans then,” he said adding as result such soirées never  featured full productions, just excerpts.

“There will be something for everybody. We’re all on stage at the same time and at the end we all come out  dressed in outfits from the Roaring ’20s— like this,” he said, indicating his plum velvet smoking jacket and bow-tie.   Blaine Hendsbee prepares for a Soirée inspired by Downton Abbey. Photo by Richard Amery
Performers include Blaine Hendsbee (tenor) and Sandra Stringer (mezzo-soprano) accompanied by pianists Glen Montgomery and Magdalena von Eccher, Airdre Robinson on violin and Mark Rodgers on cello. Music majors Alyssa Durnie, Madison Craig, Camille Rogers and Melanie York also perform.

“ There is a huge crossover. It will feature music from the Late Victorian era, Georgian and the Roaring ’20s. It was a radical new age  and a huge period of social and political change. The costumes are evocative of that period,” Hendsbee enthused adding selections include ragtime jazz, selections like “Three Little Maids From School we are” from Gilbert and Sullivan’s comic opera “the Mikado.”


Ron James not afraid to explore topical comedy

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Toronto based, Cape Breton raised comedian Ron James is excited to be back doing what he does best— making people laugh— after taking some well deserved time off.Ron James returns to Lethbridge this week. Photo Submitted
“I’ve been checking things off my bucket list,” said James, who just returned from three weeks off visiting his daughter as well as hiking in Chile.
“ I went on a 130 mile hike. I was the only Canadian surrounded by American Republicans,” he quipped.

 He has had a busy couple of years. In December, he filmed his most popular New Year’s Eve special and said good bye to his weekly television show on CBC.

 He is back on the road for his Pedal to the Metal Tour, which brings him back to the Yates Theatre, Feb. 28.

“The New Years special was on a big stage at the Fallsview Casino in Niagara Falls. It was different. Because the other specials were regional based. This special was more life specific. There is a lot going on today, so this helped connect some of the dots for people to help them make things make more sense,” he said adding the tour’s material is similar.
 He is not touring as hard as he used to earlier in his career.

 This tour has shows every other day.
“I’m playing a lot of casinos on this tour. There’s 10 dates across Western Canada. And I’ve got days in between them,” he said.
Stepping back from heavy tour schedule and the rigours of putting together a weekly TV show has allowed James to recharge and work with charities like the Global Poverty Project.

“ It helps improve sanitary conditions in the third world like bringing them toilets,” he said.

 While he enjoyed working on the TV show, he is glad  to not have to answer to the executives.

He noted it is important to question the status quo and despite a few first world  problems, Canadian comedians are fortunate to be able to talk topical.

“There is a reason there aren’t comedians coming out of China and Russia,” he observed adding he started in the Second City comedy troupe in Toronto for nine years, many of whose members went on to Saturday Night Live, which always did topical comedy.


“In Second City we never played to the lowest common denominator, we always played to the highest level of the audience’s intellect,” he said.
At age 57, James is at a stage in his life where he is looking back on his career.


It’s all about country music this week with a touch of rock and Pretty, Witty and Gay

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If you like country music, this is the perfect week for you with a couple of excellent  country and roots acts coming through Lethbridge.The Mudmen return to Lethbridge this week. Photo by Richard Amery
 For real, authentic cowboy music, check out a special show at the Lethbridge Folk Club Wolf’s Den, March 1 with New Mexico based musician/ college professor/ actor and cowboy Steve Cormier, who returns to Canada for the first time in  almost 30 years. He will be playing with Peter Paul Van Camp.

The other big country show is Regina musician Blake Bergland who will be bringing his band plus Manitoba musician Quinton Blair to the Slice, Feb. 26.

 The Owl Acoustic Lounge also has some excellent roots acts as they welcome back Kampukasing born musician Al Lukas on Feb. 28. The night before, the Owl Acoustic Lounge welcomes Warspite,  Alberta musician Jake Ian to the stage.
 You can laugh out February with  Toronto based, Cape Breton raised comedian Ron James who performs the at the Yates Theatre, Feb. 28. The show begins at 8 p.m. Tickets are $55.


Steve Cormier back on the road singing cowboy songs

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New Mexico based cowboy singer Steve Cormier has seen and done it all.Steve Cormier returns to Canada for several shows. Photo Submitted

 He grew up in Minnesota,  has competed in rodeos as a bareback rider, played hockey, has acted in movies and  TV shows like Breaking Bad toured as a musician, retired from that to become a college history professor and is back on the road to play a couple of Lethbridge shows, March 1 at the Lethbridge Folk Club Wolf’s den and a week later for a Home Routes Concert at Valerie McQuaid’s house, March 7.
“ I’ll be playing the Folk club with Peter Paul Van Camp. We’ll each do a set. Then I’ll be back in a week to do a whole show,” Cormier observed from his New Mexico home.

“ People tell me I’ve had an interesting life, but it’s not over yet,” he continued adding he is looking forward to coming back to Canada especially with Peter Van Camp.

“I don”t think there is a better MC than Peter Paul Van Camp. I’m picking him up at the bus station,” he said.
“I’ve got 10 concerts for Home Routes in Edmonton, Evansburg, High River, Lethbridge, Eastend, Saskatchewan, Medicine Hat, Rocky Mountain House, Olds and Okotoks,” he observed.

“ This is the first time I’ll have played Canada since the ’80s, he said adding he used to hit the summer festival circuit including Winnipeg Folk Festival, Edmonton Folk Festival and Toronto Folk Festival.

“ I don’t think I’ve ever played a bad show in Canada. I haven’t toured Canada  since 1987. I took off 22 years to become an academic to be a college history professor,” he said.
 He is excited to play Alberta because of  the cowboy history.
“ I play working cowboy songs, not Hollywood cowboy songs, there is a difference” Cormier said.


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L.A. Beat is Lethbridge, Alberta's only online arts and entertainment magazine.

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