It sounds like a punch-line: what do you get when you cross a stage with an internationally renowned Celtic guitarist of Scottish birth; the sultry, lyrically haunting vocals of a Prairie-girl who grew up to become a singer-songwriter; and a tall, lean lad from Northern Ontario whose guitar-riffs and mind-blowing solos have generated a fan following of some of the most recognized musicians of our time?

You get the Local Legends show, one of the hottest tickets in town for this summer’s Elora Festival 2011 line-up, featuring Tony McManus, Gwen Swick and Kevin Breit. And what do these three internationally acclaimed musicians all have in common? Each of them calls the Village of Elora “home.”

Local audiences and visitors alike will have the rare opportunity to see these three talented artists share a stage like never before, on Friday, July 22nd at 8 pm, in the Gambrel Barn. For these three musicians, neighbours, in fact, who spend much of their time travelling to shows, this performance is a special opportunity to make music with their friends for their friends, in a venue practically in their own backyards.
The impetus for this event came from the Elora Festival organizers themselves. Marketing manager Julie Denneny started a Face Book discussion, asking patrons of the Festival which local talents they would most like to see take to the stage. The casual chat became an overwhelming momentum that inspired Elora Festival’s General Manager, Jurgen Petrenko and Artistic Director, Noel Edison to approach McManus, Swick and Breit and set the wheels in motion.

“I’m so thrilled that they’re all able to make it,” says Denneny. “I knew this would be a great opportunity for audiences to see the outstanding internationally recognized talent we have that live right here, in our village.”

It wasn’t a hard sell, it was an honour, all three musicians say. “It takes a village to raise a child, and it certainly also takes one to put on a festival that is as great as the Elora Festival is in the scope and talent it presents,” says Swick. “The Elora Festival has tentacles that reach all across the country and outside it as well. It’s amazing that our lovely town is home to a festival that is so well known so far away. That’s the result of great vision by the festival itself, like Noel, Jurgen, Julie and other organizers who have gone before them, and the great support in the community too.”

It’s good to be home. Summer is the season of festivals and travelling shows, and these musical minstrels spend a good part of their year on the road. This past year has been exciting for all three. McManus made two trips to Japan, the first was five days prior to the horrible earthquake that struck Japan’s northeast coast, and the second trip came just four weeks afterwards. “The change of mood in Tokyo was apparent as was the almost complete absence of tourists. The final concert in the city was very emotional- people were very grateful that I’d not cancelled,” tells McManus. “In between the Japan trips I was in Australia for four weeks, for my first trip back there in five years.”

Most recently, McManus was in Prince Edward Island for the Festival of Small Halls, and has a summer that includes several first-time events, including visits to Croatia and Slovenia, and playing the Healdsburg Guitar Festival, in California, an opportunity to promote the McManus signature model guitar by PRS Guitars out of Maryland. Then it’s returning to work with Loreena McKennitt, whose album McManus played on last year. Somewhere in there he plans to record new music for his sixth solo album.

Gwen Swick’s career involves lending her unique voice to the likes of 2011 Juno nominated Canadian folk trio The Marigolds, alongside the incredible Caitlin Hanford and Suzie Vinnick, and to the legendary harmonies of Quartette, featuring Cindy Church and Sylvia Tyson, Hanford and Swick. When she isn’t part of their collaborations, she is a solo performer and songwriter. “Over the past year, I’ve had a nice mix of solo shows, playing with the Marigolds, and Quartette. A particularly great moment for Quartette was performing at a beautiful rural church as part of the Indian River Music Festival in PEI. It’s the only time we have ever listened to cows mooing during our sound check, and being served fresh oysters and champagne between shows,” laughs Swick. “Quartette played a Christmas show out East too, that was truly beautiful and moving.”

This fall, Swick returned to her childhood home of Manitoba, with a line-up of solo performances, enjoying her audiences as much as the scenery. “I love the prairies, being a prairie girl originally. My mum and dad both grew up in Winnipeg and lived in many parts of Manitoba, so the drives, as well as the shows, were great.”

For Breit, a short stop at home is the rest he needs to rejuvenate his self after a hectic year and a summer season that seems to be equally as intense. “Last year, I recorded with The Wallin’ Jennies, Oh Susanna, N’didi O, Ruth Moody, Lindi Ortega, Tomi Swick and Hugh Laurie,” he explains. “As an artist, I recorded a new disc with Harry Manx, called “Strictly Whatever,” and recorded the tenth Sisters Euclid disc, self-titled, and another disc with Stretch Orchestra, featuring Matt Brubeck and Jesse Stewart.” Local audiences will also know Breit’s work with fellow Elorians Randall Coryell and Howie Southwood, plus Jeff Bird, of the Cowboy Junkies, who have formed a band known as The Potion Kings, set to release their debut live album this fall.

This spring, Breit joined singer and famed actor Hugh Laurie, of the television-hit show House, for a four-week tour of Europe, and will pick-up the tour come fall. “This was a serious highlight of my thirty year career,” says Breit. “Hugh Laurie is an unbelievable character; so much grace, talent and incredible humour.”
Sisters Euclid, Breit’s Toronto-based band with a cult-like following is set to tour Jazz festivals from coast to coast this summer.

Needless to say, a collaborative effort between Swick, McManus and Breit is guaranteed to be a show unlike any other in the Elora Festival’s series, simply because it’s unlike anything these friends have done before. Given their mutual admiration and distinct talents, it will be a fresh show in the spirit of true musicianship.
“Kevin is such a different player from me,” says McManus, “a much stronger improviser for example. There’s not much danger of redundancy. His playing is very angular and often the ideas are coming thick and fast.”
“I’m so happy to be up there with Tony and Gwen,” says Breit. “Tony and I shared a stage at the Vancouver Folk Festival. I had a great time with my neighbour. We play completely different from one another, but I think this is a charming aspect to collaboration. Celtic meets…whatever the hell I do.”

For Swick, the challenge to merge the sounds is exciting. “It’s a bit like walking in a different door to your own material. The approach is different, nothing I’ve done before. We want to have a balance of solo and collaborative performances,” she says. “It does push me to try to have ready a bit of new material that might suit these two magnificent fellows,” she says. “They get inside the music and play it out, performing musical feats that ought to be impossible.”

These guitarists feel the same about their songstress. “I first performed with Gwen when I was eighteen years old. She is beautiful and totally original, in a book of her own,” says Breit. McManus agrees, “It’s taken way too long for this collaboration to happen. I hear people all over the country ask if I know Gwen Swick. We live on the same street so it’s about time we did some playing together.”

There is no place like home, and these three are proud of their community. “When I speak to other musicians abroad about Elora being my home, I am always met with two things: the gorge and the Elora Festival. It is a place renowned for it’s diversity and beauty,” says Breit. “So many incredible artists have graced the stage of the Festival and it is regarded as a great stop when touring.”

“I think all three of us are very proud of the level of artistic energy in Elora and the Festival is a big part of that,” says McManus. “It’s a prestigious event with an international reputation so it’s great to be involved.”

On a summer night, the stars do shine brighter here, especially when those stars belong here. See them when they share the spotlight in the Local Legends; McManus, Swick and Breit show, on Friday, July 22nd. For tickets contact the Elora Festival at 519.846.0331, or toll free 1.888.747.7550, or online at www.elorafestival.com.
*published in the Wellington Advertiser