This year marks the third season for Sessions from the Martin Hanson – a unique concert series held at the Northern Great Lakes Visitor Center, hosted by Chance founders Cheryl Leah and Ed Willett.
What’s so unique about it? First off, it takes place in broad daylight, at 2 p.m., on a handful of Saturday afternoons between January and March. Secondly, it features talented musicians from the area who not only play original music but also perform with Chance (Willett on cello, guitar and vocals, Leah on vocals and recorder). Also, between licks the couple interviews their guests on interesting topics such as the process of recording and/or songwriting.
Improvisational yet polished to a luster, this series just keeps evolving, getting brassier and more brilliant each year.
“The first year we started off with trying to accommodate bigger groups,” Willett reflected. “We were also exploring the process of recording, enlisting duos and trios who were involved with making recordings.”
Some of these groups included Barefoot Wonder (T. Bruce Bowers and Ric Gilman) and Molly O, with portions of her Danger Band. The second year, Chance changed things up a bit. They collaborated with recording engineer Ryan Rusch from the Weight Room and recorded their guests for a Podcast series, soon to be posted on Chance’s website once Willett finds the time. Between playing with the Lake Superior Big Top Chautauqua, touring with Chance, and recording his own music, it’s a wonder he even has time to organize and book Sessions from the Martin Hanson.
Chance’s primary goal with this series is to cross-pollinate with other musicians, interacting with different styles of music. Starting in 2016, they expanded this goal to include cross-generational interplay.
“In the second season, half of our guests were my age, the other half Millennials. I love that concept,” Willett confessed.
Liesel Wilson, Danielle Diamond and Rowan Nelson-Ferris were just a few of their youthful guests. On Year Three, Chance now continues with the multi-generational theme but instead of groups has narrowed the focus to single songwriters.
“It’s just more manageable,” admitted Willett, who handles sound from the stage while jockeying between cello playing and interviewing his guests.
Another reason singles are more manageable is because of the weather. If only 30 people show up due to a nasty nor’easter, the losses are far less with a single than a group.
So far this year, Chance has hosted jazz/blues fiddler Randy Sabien, pianist Yazmin Bowers and guitarist Marlin Ledin – songwriters as well as awesome players. The next guest will be Michael “Laughing Fox” Charette on March 17 performing traditional Native American flute. Since it’s also St. Paddy’s Day, Chance will kick up their Irish heels with a few reels and jigs to add to this unique blend of styles and cultures.
“I worked with Michael in a Warren Nelson production at the Big Top,” Willett said. “In that show he was relaying part of the origin story of his people as well as playing the flutes he creates. In both capacities he was utterly captivating.”
Willett also played with him at another performance, with just cello and flute, setting the stage for a future invitation to Sessions from the Martin Hanson.
Charette, a member of the Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians, also has a spirit name: Bapa Waagash (Laughing Fox). Since childhood, he’s been immersed in art and the traditional wisdom of the Anishinaabe people. Living life from season to season, he gathers materials for his artwork: red willow to make three-dimensional dream catchers, driftwood for wood burnt stories, and beads, which he buys and trades for his intricate beadwork. He also spends a lot of time making and playing traditional Native American flute.
Just imagining the combination of cello, Native American flute, and Leah’s soulful/bluesy singing, Willett surmised, “I think we have the makings of an unforgettable afternoon.”
Sessions from the Martin Hanson is not like other places where musicians often play to make a living, such as bars or noisy coffeehouses. Instead of providing background music for social occasions, these artists are the center of attention. Audiences actually sit there and listen inside this small auditorium, until they can no longer contain themselves. They rise like a cresting wave of fans at a football game, clapping and cheering, as they did at Yazmin Bowers concert on Feb. 3. It’s a great venue for any musician wanting to be heard and appreciated.
“I not only want to give young songwriters this opportunity, but I also want to learn from them what I can,” Willett said. “This whole thing is about exchange of ideas. Hopefully, everybody gets a lot out of it.”
Instead of lounging about on March 17, why not make a reservation for the Laughing Fox/Chance concert? Advance tickets ($16 general, $8 student) can be purchased at: https://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/3358372 or at the door ($20 general, $8 students). Showtime is 2 p.m. at the Northern Great Lakes Visitor Center, 29270 Co Hwy G, Ashland.
For more info about Chance, including future performances, recordings, and Blogs about their recent national and international tours, go to: http://www.chanceworld.com/.
Hope McLeod can be reached at email@example.com.