Monday, June 19, 2017

MUSIC NEWS: P.E.I. house concert venue The Dunk hosting special Canada 150 concerts this summer

The Dunk, on P.E.I.'s Dixon Road

I don't know how I was convinced to drive over three hours on my weekend just to wash windows, but I guess that's how much I love house concerts. The occasion was an all-points bulletin put out by Friends of The Dunk, the board of directors of the rural P.E.I. house concert venue known as the Dunk. They needed lots of helping hands to get the place sparkling for a special series of shows this summer, part of the national Canada 150 celebrations. And when your place is a cabin in the woods, cobwebs and dirty windows are par for the course.

The Dunk (named after the Dunk River, going through the backyard) started hosting house concerts in 2005, built by music fan Hal Mills on the Dixon Road near Breadalbane, P.E.I. It started out as something for fun, but soon became almost a weekly event, and pretty famous too. Upwards of 2,000 people have attending some of the longer, weekend soirees.
Hal Mills hosting a Dunk event

When Mills died unexpectedly two years ago, his daughter Melanie made the decision to move in and keep the Dunk going, holding house concerts about once a month. The Dunk was already well-known and well-loved by national touring musicians, its reputation has only grown of late. In the last couple of months, it has hosted concerts by Great Lake Swimmers, Roxanne Potvin and Megan Bonnell. The hospitality and the rural serenity is legendary. The Swimmers stayed around for a couple of days, to hang out and do their laundry.

The reason for the big clean-up is something called Ebb and Flow, an artist residency series happening at the Dunk this summer and into the fall. It will see musicians from across the country stay for up to a week at a time, using the tranquil setting to write new music, and then perform a concert at the end of their time. The concerts are free to the public, thanks to a grant from Canada 150.

"One of our board members suggested we apply for a Canada 150 project," said Melanie Mills. When they got approved for the project they put the word out across the country via a press release and social media, not really knowing how much interest there would be. It turned out to be an avalanche, with "dozens and dozens" of applications, thanks to the Dunk's national reputation with musicians.

"A lot of people, a surprising amount of people who had stayed and played here before, in the cabin and in the house," said Mills. That included everyone from young up-and-comers to Juno winners.

Bob cleans up well

"Because we got so many amazing applications, it was incredibly difficult to choose," said Mills. "So that's how we wound up having two artists at a time, we weren't going to do that. Ideally they will collaborate with each other, and hopefully be inspired by the beauty of the Dunk, the surrounding area, to create new music, or to perhaps further develop that they've had already."

The musicians chosen for the week long residencies are Lindy Vopnfjörð, Ahi, Aaron Goldstein, Ambre McLean, Paul Reddick and Tanya Davis. July will see a full-blown carnival, Le Carnavale de Promenade, presented in collaboration with la Fédération culturelle de l’ÎPÉ. It's called a fusion of dance, music and circus arts from the various cultural communities that make up Canada.

There's also going to be a special, one-off concert held on Wednesday, June 21 to kick things off, to celebrate both the summer solstice, and National Aboriginal Day. It will feature Hey Cuzzins Drum Group, Dana Sipos, Owen Steel and Tian Wigmore with Warhorses.

"I'm Mohawk, my mom's side of the family, and it's important to me to honour that aspect of it, and it felt like a perfect time to get things started, and the focus will be Indigenous performers," said Mills. "The Dunk has always been about inclusiveness and community and acceptance and encouragement."

A big part of the residency is having the musicians pick up some of the local colour of the Dixon Road, a well-known artist's enclave. One week will see the musicians visit local organic farms, another residency will look back at what we can learn from history and our elders, another will be about looking forward, all with the idea of having those aspects of the Island inform the songwriting.

"This community is an anomaly," said Mills. "It has one of the largest collections of people who identify as artists in the country. We have visual artists, potters, weavers, Juno Award-winning musicians, all in the area."

It's certainly a sweet deal for the visiting artists, who have their travel paid, and get cabin accommodations, an honorarium and all the glories of a P.E.I. summer to work on their art. It's a great deal for anyone visiting P.E.I. this summer too, with those free concerts. Sign up to the Ebb & Flow Facebook page for updates and concert information:

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