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Your Apt613 guide to all things Prairie Scene, plus a chance at free tickets!

By Trevor Pritchard on April 25, 2011

library voices

Photo courtesy tom cochrane on Flickr

prairie scene

Photo courtesy Agent Magenta on Flickr

Editor’s note: Throughout the week, Apartment613 will be giving away Prairie Scene tickets and other awesome stuff on the site, on Facebook, and on Twitter. The first giveaway is today – click through for more details!

Every year, I lay down 800 bucks or so on a plane ticket and make my annual pilgrimage back to Saskatchewan. While I can get a bit negative about certain aspects of the trip – my parents’ suburban home makes it near-impossible to get around without a car, for instance, and the mosquitoes are more like military-grade helicopters than insects – once I’m there, under those expansive skies, there’s honestly no place I’d rather be. Such is the compelling lure of the prairies, and it’s why I’m personally so excited for this year’s Prairie Scene, which gets underway tomorrow.

For those of you who might be unfamiliar what, exactly, a “Prairie Scene” is, here’s some background. Since the early 2000s, the National Arts Centre has been organizing various “scenes” – showcases of the best art, music, dance and theatre different regions of the country have to offer – roughly every two or three years. So far, they’ve covered B.C., Alberta (which is why you won’t find any Edmontonians or Lethbridgites on the schedule this year), Quebec and Atlantic Canada. I’d like to say they’ve left the best for last, but there’s still north of 60 to come, and quite possibly the rest of Ontario, too.

It’s my belief that one of the strengths of an event like Prairie Scene is that it offers a glimpse into the peculiar identities of places. What does it mean to be a Winnipegger? A Reginan? How are categories like “rural” and “urban” defined and dissected? How do the experiences of, say, a Doukhobor farmer and an urban First Nations poet each provide depth and colour to the concept of being of the prairies? Whether it’s through visual art, food, dance or music, each Prairie Scene artist is, at some level, and either consciously or not, trying to tackle those sorts of questions.

Of course, I hope that little bit of academic navelgazing won’t leave the impression that the next few weeks will be a ponderous, stuffy bore. Because trust me – I’ve been around prairie folks, and nothing could be farther from the truth. From the time the first SWARM gallery crawl hits the pavement until the last note at Mavericks stops chiming, Prairie Scene also promises to be a rockin’ affair, done up in the way only us gap dwellers know how. So to get you started on what you need to know about this year’s festival, here’s a city-by-city rundown of some of the more noteworthy acts hitting the capital over the next two weeks, starting with my hometown: Saskatoon.

south saskatchewan river cityscape, saskatoon

Photo courtesy busysignals on Flickr

Saskatoon

Population: ~250,000
Home to:  The Bessborough Hotel, Amigo’s (only establishment west of Ontario that made CBC Radio 3’s list in 2009 of Canada’s top 10 music venues), Yann Martel, berries
Reason for skyrocketing mad scientist population: the Synchrotron

Let’s start with music, since it feels a bit like Saskatoon’s entire music scene got together, commandeered a Greyhound, and made a beeline for the nation’s capital. There are two shows I’m particularly excited for: the laptop indie rock of Maybe Smith (April 28, Mavericks) and the moody folk of The Deep Dark Woods (May 6, Black Sheep Inn; May 7, NAC Fourth Stage). Joining DDW on stage will be Shuyler Jansen (May 7, NAC Fourth Stage) and – hopefully – his collection of cool effects pedals, all part of the Winnipeg Folk Festival workshop. There’s also the acoustic guitar assault of Volcanoless in Canada (April 29, Mavericks), one of the city’s more buzzed-about bands these days. And speaking about buzz, The Sheepdogs (April 30, Mavericks) and their throwback 70s rock are currently vying for a spot on the cover of Rolling Stone – too bad they’re stuck opening for Wide Mouth Mason, who, let’s face it, you all thought had disbanded years ago. And expat Saskatonians of a certain age probably recall catching Megan Lane (May 6, Library and Archives Canada) unleash her crunchy blues riffs at one of the bars on Broadway – she’s here, as is her older sis Jen (April 28, NAC Fourth Stage).

On the art front, Ottawans can take part in Adrian Stimson’s Re-Herd/1885 (April 26-May 8, NAC foyer) – a metaphorical re-population of the vast herds of bison that once roamed the prairie – by painting one of 4,000 stone bison. There’s also a reading by Saskatchewan’s former poet laureate, Louise Bernice Halfe, aka Sky Dancer (May 4, Ottawa Art Gallery), whose work explores topics that range from residential schooling to religion to first love. Theatre lovers might want to catch Persephone Theatre production Gordon Winter (May 5-8, Arts Court Theatre), loosely based on the life of controversial First Nations politician David Ahenakew, or the French-language Rearview (May 4-7, La Nouvelle Scene) by young Fransaskois playwright Gilles Poulin-Denis. Finally, there’s also a chance to sample some cutting-edge prairie flavours, like northern pike roe and wagyu ribeye, from chef Dan Walker (May 4, NAC) of Weczeria – which is Ukrainian, by the way, for “evening meal.”

Photo courtesy Sporked on Flickr

Winnipeg

Population: ~700,000
Home to: The Golden Boy, the Exchange District, crazy Etienne Gaboury architecture, extremely pleasant winters
Pines for: The return of the Jets, John K. Samson’s approval

Contrary to what The Weakerthans might have you believe (though any band that sings about the ‘Peg as much as they do clearly loves the place), Winnipeg is pretty awesome – primarily because of its thriving arts and culture scene. I’ve sung the praises of Manitoba guitar hero Luke Doucet on this site before, and for Prairie Scene he’s returning to the capital alongside another excellent Winnipeg indie rocker, Greg MacPherson (April 29, NAC Studio). The city’s quirky side is embodied by Royal Canoe (April 28, Mavericks) and their poppy, keyboard-heavy tunes about conjoined twins and Russian chess champions; they’re joined by The Liptonians (April 28, Mavericks), another Winnipeg band generating a bunch of buzz these days. Grand Analog (May 6, Ritual) should satisfy your old-school hip-hop cravings, while CBC radio host and sun dancer Wab Kinew (May 7, Ritual) brings his beats to Electric Pow Wow the next night. And if it’s folk you’re up for, there’s the Wailin’ Jennys (May 3, NAC Fourth Stage), accompanied by former prairie girl and modern-day Ottawan Jill Zmud.

Cinemaphiles should check out Tales from the Gimli Hospital: Reframed (April 30, NAC theatre), a curious pairing of auteur Guy Maddin’s iconic 1988 film with live narration from German cult movie hero Udo Kier and music from Winnipeg composer Matthew Patton. Group exhibition Winter Kept Us Warm (April 26-May 8, Ottawa Directive Dance Studio @ Arts Court) promises to present Winnipeg as a “mytho-poetic territory of the body and desire” and features work by Marcel Dzama, Karel Funk, Diana Thorneycroft, and at least a dozen others. If dance is more your thing, Freya Björg Olafson incorporates the online world into her interpretive piece AVATAR (April 28, Arts Court theatre). And the aforementioned tasting night also includes Winnipeg chef Alexander Svenne of Bistro 7¼ (May 4, NAC), who puts his spin on the cuisine of his province with dishes like pickerel cheek ceviche and braised elk shoulder.

Photo courtesy daryl_mitchell on Flickr

Regina

Population: ~200,000
Home to: Wascana Lake, Bushwakker’s Brew Pub, the most frustrating Canadian sports team of the past two years
Rhymes with: North and South Carolina, Toronto’s Spadina Avenue, Aunt Jemima

Sure, Regina’s got a bit of a bad rep – especially amongst Saskatonians, many of whom would have you believe that, on the liveability scale, the fair provincial capital lies somewhere between Mogadishu and an Ellesmere Island research station. Truth is, though, that Regina has one great reason to stand tall: it’s home to rousing indie pop collective Library Voices (April 29, Mavericks), one of the more exciting bands currently dotting the Canadian musical landscape.

Perhaps even more intriguing, however, is the city’s love of words – both published on the page and spit through the mic. Regina lays claim, for instance, to some groundbreaking hip-hop, like Danny Fernandes, aka Def 3 (May 6, Ritual), one of the local scene’s founding fathers. It’s also the source of inspiration for award-winning novelists like Sandra Birdsell (May 4, the Ottawa Art Gallery) and Diane Warren (April 29, Mayfair Theatre), whose 2010 novel Cool Water won the Governor General’s Award for English language fiction.

There’s also some intriguing visual art from the city: Jeff Morton’s interactive exhibit All the Horses and the Egg (April 26-May 7, Artengine) encourages people to manipulate toy electronic instruments in an exploration of the “seemingly malicious intent” of children’s educational toys. There’s also the film I Heart Regina (April 26, NAC foyer), which peers into the prairie heart of the city.

Elsewhere: Catch the pride of Punnichy, Saskatchewan as Jeffery Straker (May 5, NAC Fourth Stage) brings his theatrical piano pop to town. Or relive your fondest Corner Gas moments with Tisdale comedian Brent Butt (May 1, NAC theatre). And since we’re speaking about tiny Saskatchewan towns, the Mind the Gap installation (April 26-May 8, the Ottawa Art Gallery) presents the work of artists “from every nook and cranny” of the rectangular-shaped province. Finally, Pimâskweyâw (April 26-May 8, Gallery 101) showcases female artists from each of the three main cities; the exhibit’s intention is to explore the diversity of Aboriginal women’s experiences on the prairies in the wake of colonialism.

Told you there would be a giveaway, didn’t we?  Let’s start off with two tickets to this Friday’s Library Voices/Northcote/Volcanoless in Canada show . It turns out Canada is not volcanoless after all – in the 18th century, a volcano erupted in B.C., killing more than 2,000 Nisga’a. What’s its name? Send your guess in an email with the subject line “Prairie Scene” to apartment613@gmail.com, and the second person with the right answer gets the pair of tickets.

Update: We have a winner! For those of you who were curious, the Tseax volcano (also known as the Aiyansh volcano) was the site of the last fatal eruption in Canada.