Meet Me in Mississippi: Blue Chair Cafe

Edmonton may be descending towards winter, but the temperature outdoors was far from everyone’s minds at the Blue Chair Cafe on Friday. For two nights, the restaurant was transformed into a juke joint, with blues artist Kat Danser at the helm (or as Kat put it, a “Saskatchewan bush party with a roof”). Mack, Jill and I had made reservations several weeks back; the Blue Chair had not only sold out both nights, but had enough people on the waiting list for a third show (Kat’s actually up for the New Artist of the Year with Canada’s Maple Blues Awards – you can be a part of the online vote here).

Blue Chair Cafe

Kat Danser

The show was great – we had seen Kat at the Arden Theatre last year, but the intimacy of this venue better conveyed the spirit of and the imagery in her lyrics for me. Of course, it helped that we had front row seats!

Blue Chair Cafe

A juke joint stage

The Blue Chair is also a noteworthy venue in itself – it’s nice when one doesn’t have to compromise good food and table service for live music, or vice versa. I had ordered off the regular menu last time, so with Jill’s encouragement, Mack and I both decided to try the specials on this occasion. It wasn’t a difficult decision, given the chef had put together some Mississippi-inspired dishes just for Kat’s two night engagement.

Mack’s spicy BBQ pork back ribs ($26) were fall-off-the-bone, with the chipotle BBQ sauce providing a nice balance between sweetness and heat. Though the kitchen had been generous with the meat portion, Mack was left wishing for more of the roasted sweet potatoes underneath.

Blue Chair Cafe

Spicy BBQ pork back ribs (thanks to Jill’s flashlight app we actually have bright photos!)

Jill and I had both opted to have the Cajun blackened snapper ($26). We were surprised, however, when the snapper arrived without its promised blackened preparation. Although it tasted fine, we wanted to know what had happened, so asked our waitress if the kitchen had to deviate from the menu. The explanation? “The pan wasn’t hot enough.” Why did the kitchen still send it out? Thankfully, the jambalaya underneath, replete with shrimp, tasty sausage and perfectly cooked rice, somewhat made up for the poorly executed fish.

Blue Chair Cafe

Cajun blackened snapper with jambalaya

Dessert was also better. Mack enjoyed his carrot cake ($9), though he could have done without the seeds inside. Jill and I split the chocolate pate ($10) – this, unlike the snapper, lived up to its menu description: “If Barry White’s voice was a dessert…”. Incredibly smooth, this decadent dish is easily one of the best sweet endings I’ve had to a meal in a while. The touch of pomegranate was the perfect finishing touch, helping to cut through some of the richness by adding a fruity burst to each bite.

Blue Chair Cafe

Carrot cake

Blue Chair Cafe

Chocolate pate

Mack and I had a great time at the Blue Chair – there’s no better way to kick off a weekend than good food, music and friends! If you’re interested – check out the Blue Chair’s live music and event calendar here.

Blue Chair Cafe
9624 – 76 Avenue
(780) 989 – 2861
Wednesday – Saturday 10am – 10pm, Sunday 10am – 8pm

Edmonton Symphony Orchestra: Late Night Paris

Two weeks ago, Mack and other social media folks were invited to attend an Edmonton Symphony Orchestra concert as a thank-you for having blogged about their shows in the past year. It was a nice gesture, and we happily accepted the tickets.

The tickets say “ESOBLOGGERS” in the top left corner!

The show was Late Night Paris, their second in a series that debuted this year with a later start time (9:30 p.m.), no intermission, and is billed as “interactive and spontaneous” with an opportunity to chat with Conductor Bill Eddins. The concerts also feature live jazz in the lobby afterwards, making for a very full night.

Before the show, we met up with Philip Paschke, the ESO’s New Media Specialist, and organizer of the blogger appreciation event, at Moriarty’s. I was tempted to order a dessert (made by Duchess!), but stuck with a drink. While I enjoyed the very pink Bellini, the stem of the glass was sticky. Ick.


The group eventually made their way to the Winspear, and then parted ways, as we were all given the choice of where we wanted to sit. Mack, Jeff, Brit and I all took the plunge and opted for a seat in the Choir Loft, behind the stage.

Jeff and Brittney

The Choir Loft definitely provided me with a different perspective of the orchestra. Not only were we able to watch the audience from our seats, but spy on the musicians as well, and notice all the small details (page turning, mallet swapping) that go unseen when facing the stage.

The audience

The orchestra

That said, an unfortunate consequence of our placement was an inability to hear what was being said into the microphones, as the speakers in the Winspear Centre face the opposite direction. Brittney said that she didn’t have any trouble discerning the banter between Eddins and Conductor Luke Waldin, but for me, it felt a bit like watching the one-sided conversations with the teacher in Charlie Brown – after some muffled sounds, the audience would erupt in laughter.

Bill Eddins and Luke Waldin

As advertised, the tone of the evening was very light – at one point, Waldin even walked on stage, just before Eddins was about to begin another piece, with a glass of wine in his hand. The mood was noticeably more carefree than some concerts I have been to in the past – I can see how this series would appeal to a wider range of people who might appreciate music but may not have the knowledge that more serious patrons do.

As for the music, I loved the Bizet Symphony in C Major – spirited and uplifting, it was a joy to listen to. Eddins is always fun to watch too – he conducts with his whole body, complete with kicks and full arm sweeps.

The ESO has introduced their concert line-up for the 2010-11 year, and Late Night with Bill Eddins will be back. Your next opportunity will be on January 21, 2011, for Late Night Percussion.

You can read Jeff’s thoughts about the night here and Brit’s post here.

Music and More: Blue Chair Cafe

I’m always happy when I can finally scratch a restaurant off my “to try” list, particularly when the restaurant has been on the register for a number of years.

I had initially added Blue Chair Cafe onto said list when I started to hear great things about their vibrant, packed-to-the-rafters, story slam events. The Journal recently reported that the relationship has since ended, but the restaurant has now started hosting their own version of the off-the-cuff narrative competition (on the second Wednesday of every month).

So while it would be logical to think my visit there two weeks ago would have been to attend a story slam, instead, a group of us from my workplace went to support a musically-inclined colleague of ours. He plays in a band called Le Fuzz, who bill themselves as “Alberta world beat fusion”. The quintet are super-talented, vivacious and upbeat, and every time I see them perform, I am amazed at how seamlessly the band is able to transition from one style of music to another. Moreover, they are known for songs sung in languages other than English – including Spanish, Swahili and Mandarin.

A long history as a performance venue (I couldn’t get a clear shot of Le Fuzz…they don’t stand still!)

A coworker commented that the layout of the Blue Chair reminded her of the now-departed Sidetrack Café, with the stage set back into a corner, and a mezzanine level ensuring that even those seated far back had a clear view of the band. With a packed schedule that includes a different performer almost every night, the Blue Chair has to be one of the busiest live music venues in the city.


I loved the bold wall colours, eclectic art, and the globe light fixtures that had been hung at different heights. Combined, the décor made for a very cool but comfortable feel.

A cozy two-top

I had also heard positive reviews about the food, though, as stated on the menu (on the flip side of a record sleeve!), the restaurant is hampered by a small kitchen. I ended up ordering my second choice (they had already run out of turkey chilli), the pad thai ($16).

Cool menu

As it was an absolutely full house, I was expecting a long wait, but was pleasantly surprised. While it was not the most authentic pad thai I’ve had (saucy, mild, and made with vermicelli instead of a flat rice noodle – similar to The King & I’s version), I enjoyed it, and liked the rich peanut and coconut flavours in the sauce. There were also a fair bit of vegetables (julienned carrots, blanched green beans, bean sprouts) included, which added great crunch and colour to the dish.

Pad Thai

To enjoy their last song and encore, a few of us found our way to some empty space and made a dance floor (okay, I joined them only for moral support). The wait staff who had to make their way around our cluster were definitely a patient bunch!

In all, Blue Chair Cafe provided a great space to unwind after a long work week. I hope to be back in the future to finally witness a story slam!

Blue Chair Cafe
9624 – 76 Avenue
(780) 989 – 2861
Monday – Sunday 10am-10pm

Symphony Under the Sky 2009

Mack and I attended our first Symphony Under the Sky concert in Hawrelak Park over the weekend, and it pushed me to realize one reason to love Edmonton.

It was a task itself to get to the venue – a lack of planning on my part meant we ended up driving, and encountered more vehicles parked around Hawrelak than I have ever seen before. After crawling through the one-way thoroughfare with no luck, we drove to the University and took a free shuttle bus from Stadium Car Park. While we usually take public transit to events of this nature, as it was our first time, I don’t think it was pressed upon attendees enough that parking would be limited (but yes, I accept our punishment for forsaking transit).

At any rate, we arrived having missed the first song, and had to listen to the second (a medley of well-known Hollywood tunes) standing. Our tardiness meant our purchase of reserved seats ($27 a ticket versus $18 for grass seating) was an unexpected boon, even though the available selection (in July, no less) was few and far between.

Our view of the stage

The concert, titled Hollywood Adventures and Romances, was an evening of familiar silver screen scores and songs. While I do enjoy the occasional purely classical number, I have to admit I tend to prefer popular music. The program included songs from Titanic, The Sound of Music, Beauty and the Beast, Pocahontas, and The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (my favourite was indeed the latter, and I spent Labour Day re-watching the movie on DVD). Mack enjoyed the encore of the theme from E.T., his favourite childhood film.

Robert Bernhardt was our conductor for the evening. His sense of humour helped make the light evening of music more enjoyable. Also worth mentioning was one of the cellists, who not only brought out a lifejacket before the Titanic number, but also a hat and whip before the theme from Raiders of the Lost Ark, and a set of alien ears before E.T. Tyler Hamilton, a top-10 finalist from Canadian Idol’s first season, made a guest appearance, and sang an amusing duet of “People Will Think We’re in Love” with soprano Kathleen Brett.

We spent some time at intermission wandering the area, and avoided the temptation of mini doughnuts and Fat Franks (they are everywhere!). We spotted some concert freeloaders just outside of the amphitheatre fence – I’m sure there will be a similar article written about the best place to treat yourself to Symphony Under the Sky as there was about the Folk Fest.

Packed Amphitheatre

At the break, we ran into one of our former high school vice principals also taking in the show. She indicated that she was a Symphony Under the Sky regular. This comment triggered the thought that all Edmontonians likely have a favourite festival, and a time of year in Edmonton that they look forward to most (for me – the Fringe, of course). And though Labour Day may trigger a change in season, the festivals don’t end here (the Edmonton International Film Festival is in a few weeks, with dEdmonton just around the corner, followed by LitFest, among others).

On the people power front, festivals rely on locals to donate their time. Nearly every event, whether a day in duration or fourteen, would not happen if not for Edmonton’s amazing culture of volunteering. But more than that, I’ve come to realize the variety of festivals – from anime to multicultural, social justice to theatre – provides citizens with the opportunity to lay claim to one in particular that speaks to them and it becomes their yearly in-city escape; a perennial convergence of those with a shared passion for that theme, medium or philosophy.

I think it is about time Edmonton dropped our “City of Champions” nickname to formally adopt “Festival City” instead. While it’s not a new concept (Edmonton Economic Development Corporation has marketed the city as a festival destination for years), it occurred to me this weekend how our year round events, each one distinct and unto their own, help to bring out the best and showcase the tip of the iceberg of what we have to offer.

Lovely scene after nightfall

Thanks to the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra for a great evening, and for the realization of one of the many reasons why Edmonton is a great place to live.

Edmonton Folk Music Festival 2009

It took Sarah McLachlan’s first Edmonton concert appearance since 2004 to drag me to the grassy knoll of Gallagher Park to finally experience the Edmonton Folk Music Festival.

Endowment concert ticket

I’ve seen the massive line-ups, winding their way down Connors Road. I’ve heard the stories about the great grub that volunteers feast on. I’ve viewed the photos of patrons doing their best to stay dry under impossible circumstances. But I didn’t understand, until Wednesday, what the draw was of a festival that is a summer tradition to many since its first incarnation in 1980.

Tickets were a pricey $70 for non-pass holders, but May and I decided it was worth the splurge. We had attended Sarah’s last concert at Rexall a few years back, and had enjoyed ourselves thoroughly.

I met up with May downtown after work, and we took the bus down the hill. We had checked the website FAQs for some guidance as to what to bring. Besides ruling out our camp chairs that were probably too high, friends advised us to bring a tarp, comfortable shoes, and layers. I know those who have been to festivals past are likely well-versed in the lottery/line-up procedure and what to bring, but I would have appreciated a more blunt guide for newbies (perhaps similar to what the Fringe has developed) – complete with photos of acceptable chair examples (yes, I am very much a visual learner).

Off the bus, we encountered patrons that seemed to be wandering aimlessly, and without any signs to guide us, we approached a volunteer to direct us to the appropriate line. She told us that there were two possibilities with a sort of half-laugh, so we joined the line that we could see – the one that wound its way down Connors Road. We hoped it was the right choice.

Entering the grounds in an orderly fashion

After this pre-entry confusion, I am happy to say that the rest of the night went much more smoothly. Yellow ropes marked thoroughfares down the hill and towards the concession area at the bottom, and though there was the chaos of thousands of people jostling for the best spot, it was controlled by civility and a respect for personal space.

Our view of the stage

We lay down our tarp, while others more keenly prepared pegged their tarps into the ground (seriously, why didn’t we think of that?). And though the sky threatened to rain a few times, we were blessed with a dry first experience. Still, throughout the night, we added to our growing Folk Fest Survival List:

  • Low-to-the-ground folding chairs (examples here, as sold on-site at the Campers Village tent for upwards of $45)
  • Tarp and pegs
  • Colourful space marker, and/or flare gun (we nearly couldn’t find our way back to the tarp after our visit to the concession)
  • Umbrella, hat and poncho
  • Shoes with good grip
  • Snacks and lots of water
  • Sweater, scarf, gloves and blanket or sleeping bag
  • Flashlight (though we never used the porta potties, we wondered if they were lit inside)

After setting down most of our stuff, we joined the crowd flow down the hill for some sustenance. There were quite a few food vendor tents, but only a handful open on this special concert evening. We opted for butter chicken from India Palace, a booth that had travelled all the way from Winnipeg. It was a pricey $11.99, but offered quite a full serving, and the samosa in particular was very good. On a side note, I had no idea that the Folk Fest instigated a $2 plate deposit on the main days, mandating a sound environmental policy – I have to wonder why other local festivals (Taste of Edmonton and Heritage Days in particular) haven’t followed suit.


Butter Chicken with Naan and a Vegetarian Samosa

The view from the bottom of the hill was a sight to see – in daylight, thousands upon thousands of colourful specks, and after nightfall, waves of candlelight, all the way up the slope.


So many people!


May and I

It was definitely a family-friendly event, with more children than I could count. The festival, at least from where I was sitting, also seemed to be less overtly corporate than, say, the Fringe. Some advertising was present on the columns next to the stage, but every tent and seating area hadn’t been renamed to include a sponsor name.

Besides being my first time to the Folk Fest, this was also my first time at Gallagher Park. It is a great venue for an open-air concert, with the natural stadium seating provided by the hill, and a spectacular view of downtown Edmonton. I’m sure more than a few come for the picturesque setting alone.


Downtown Edmonton from Gallagher Park

And the concert? Wonderful. Tracy Chapman surprised me with her sense of humour, imagination, and oh, her voice. I am glad she chose to sing one song acapella – it absolutely hushed the crowd. Compared with Sarah McLachlan, she was actually the better entertainer in terms of providing richer anecdotes and song introductions. At one point, she mentioned how cold she was, and someone from the top of the hill actually tried to pass down handwarmers – unfortunately, they never reached her, but it was a thoughtful gesture.


Tracy Chapman


Candlelit ovation for Tracy

Having seen Sarah in concert before, she delivered what I expected her to – haunting and soothing melodies that almost always sound better live. She was particularly self-deprecating that night, without need to be.


Sarah McLachlan

I am happy to have finally experienced the Edmonton Folk Music Festival – I will consider joining the throngs of happy music lovers again in the future.

2009 Mayor’s Celebration of the Arts

Last night, Mack and I attended the Mayor’s Celebration of the Arts for the second year in a row. This time we were lucky enough to snag two tickets (thanks to Bryan Cox of Molson, one of the evening’s sponsors) to the swanky pre-reception held on the second floor of the Citadel’s Tucker Amphitheatre.

Lovely waterfall

I loved the setting – still early enough to catch the late afternoon sun filtering through the greenhouse windows, surrounded by greenery, and accented by a lovely water feature, both of us had never known that this oasis existed (it’s the closest thing we have to Calgary’s Devonian Gardens). We were probably slightly underdressed (the number of suits and 3-inch heels were blinding), but we had a good time spotting local “celebrities” (City Councilors, MLAs, members of the arts community) and noshing on the Northlands-catered food.

Kabob, naan and fish (the kabobs were surprisingly tender)

Lettuce and fruit wrap (lovely idea, tied with a chive shard, but the fruit was non-existent)

Popcorn gnocchi with smoked salt (deep-fried, but you wouldn’t know it – a bit disappointing)

Watermelon sorbet and Espresso Cups (the latter was my favorite dish of the event – the crisp lemon mousse was a sweet finish)

We were also treated to a lively African drumming performance, and I had to wonder why the concrete stage (albeit small) isn’t utilized for more performances on a regular basis. I’m sure a Fringe-like show could easily make the most of the light and fantastic backdrop for a memorable production.


African drumming (I didn’t catch the name of the group, unfortunately)

Just before 7pm, we crossed the street over to the Winspear Centre for the show. Hosted again by CBC’s Peter Brown and CTV’s Carrie Doll, they were just as charming as last year, and I can share that Mack reacted with glee to Doll’s onstage Twitter reference.

I really appreciated the range of performances we were treated to, including the witty and entertaining blend of spoken words and music by The Raving Poets, the hilariously talented “ukulele cover band” known as The Be Arthurs, and a clever and spirited scene from Nathan Cuckow and Chris Craddock’s gay rap opera, Bash’d. I felt fortunate to be privy to some of the best Edmonton’s arts community has to offer, all in one evening. Of course, there were a few less interesting performances – the penguin-inspired number by the KO Dance Project went about five minutes too long – and no single entertainer captured my imagination quite like Samantha Schultz did last year. Also, though the closing Latin band Bomba! eventually did get people dancing up on stage (a Celebration of the Arts tradition), it was touch and go for a bit until the lead singer took it upon himself to teach some basic steps. Still, it was a great show overall.

Show-ending dancing on stage

Though the celebration had award presentations sprinkled throughout, they seemed secondary to the performances and almost like a necessary evil. I was happy to see that Tim Ryan (the man behind the musicals at Grant MacEwan) was recognized with an Outstanding Lifetime Achievement prize.

For just $25 each (with all proceeds going to the Edmonton Mennonite Centre for Newcomers and the African Centre this year), the Celebration was a great opportunity to watch up-and-coming performers and help recognize some of the stellar contributions made by members of the local arts community.

You can read Mack’s post about the event here, and see the photoset here.

An Ode to Hanson

Hanson, those three blonde brothers from Tulsa, Oklahoma, immortalized with their almost annoyingly-upbeat 90s hit, “MMMBop”, were my junior high crush. I can still remember the days – dreaming about Taylor’s blue, blue eyes, listening to Middle of Nowhere so much that the CD was literally scratched from overuse, and buying up all of the Hanson merchandise I could find.

At some point however, I stopped paying attention to the band. Sure, news filtered through (they broke away from their record label and formed their own, each of the brothers got married, and in turn, started having children), but I didn’t hear much of their last two albums, Underneath and The Walk.

When I found out that they were coming to the Edmonton Event Centre in September, I didn’t immediately jump at the opportunity to see them because of the gap of familiarity with their music. Mack finally convinced me to seize this chance, and generously agreeing to accompany me, sealed the deal.

We arrived at the venue at 7:30pm, expecting the doors to open at 8pm, as indicated on the tickets. As Murphy Law goes (exacerbated by incompetent event staff), the doors finally opened at 8:45 to a trickle of impatient patrons. It was nearly half an hour later when we finally made it inside the venue.

I’ve never been to the EEC before, but after this experience, I may not be back. Besides seating in the enclosed bar, two rows of stools and tables along one side provided the extent of possible seats. While standing room only provided space to dance and sway, Mack and I ended up on our feet for nearly five hours – my ankles just ached by night’s end.

At any rate, onto the concert. The opening act, Everybody Else, was decent, besides the fact that they patronized the audience by labelling us “Canada” (I still think they had no idea, geographically, where they were).

Forty-five minutes after Everybody Else departed the stage, Hanson finally made their appearance. As I had seen in recent photos, the boys have matured, but still retain the charm that I remember: Taylor, still as boyishly cute as ever (with a reduced number of chokers around his neck); Ike, with his gangly frame was the calming force on stage; and Zac, his drummer-necessitated hair toss perfected, couldn’t stop smiling, in that “I can’t believe girls still scream for us ten years later” way.

The Middle of Nowhere reprieves were my favourite moments of the night (“MMMBop”, “A Minute Without You”, and a disappointing acoustic version of “Where’s the Love”), if not only because they were the only songs I could sing along to. Unfortunately for me, the majority of the playlist had been chosen from Underneath and The Walk, so I heard many of the night’s songs for the first time. “Ain’t No Sunshine”, their only cover, was great – Taylor’s solo wonderfully showcased his talent on the keyboard. Their two new songs (yet to be released), were unimpressive though, as the chorus only consisted of a three or four word repetition.

The concert experience as a whole was interesting – I have never been in a room where such unabashed Hanson-love was in the air. Screaming, dancing, glo-stick waving – it was an all out party to the Hanson beat.

While it was nice to see them live (and to see that they can sing just as well as their recordings), I think my past need to be with them in the same room has been fulfilled. Thanks for a great show, boys!

Here are the least-blurry of the photos I attempted to take.

Queen Elizabeth High School’s Night of Music

Dickson and I headed to Annie’s school of Queen Elizabeth High for their annual Night of Music event. It seems I’ve been so far removed from the school environment that I had to be reminded of the positive, infectious energy young people exude when they are focused on achieving a goal. In this case, it was musical performance.

The students did better than I expected, and I enjoyed in particular the rendition of the always charming Barenaked Ladies’ song “If I Had A Million Dollars,” and the vocally-challenging Elvis Presley number “A Little Less Conversation.” Before the acapella group HOJA closed out the concert, the audience was treated to a version of the “Evolution of Dance” (check out the original on YouTube; the guy is now paid to perform his act all over the U.S. at various conferences and events).

Thanks for the invite, Annie!