Ian Tyson strode onto stage wearing a white cowboy hat, roped in the full-house crowd with his wit and song — then got the heck out of Dodge before anyone could ask for an encore.
Tyson joined Donna Durand of Red Deer, and Brett Nelson of Redcliff, as Three Generations of Prairie Singer Songwriters at The Matchbox in Red Deer on Wednesday. But the legendary performer proved as elusive and unpredictable a personality as the bucking broncs he once rode on the rodeo circuit.
Tyson’s voice is now as gravelly as the roads on his Longview ranch — the years have given it a Leonard Cohen-like rasp. But he showed he’s still got at 75 what he had at 25 — a uniquely Western sensibility inspired by wide vistas, loneliness and the bittersweet passage of time.
This is My Sky was Tyson’s opening number, a defiant rant at life and love. The song, he said, was sparked by red-tailed hawks that routinely sit on a fence-post on his ranch “and scream at me when I go by.” It might have started with hawks but somehow the line “does anyone mate for life?” crept into twice-divorced Tyson’s lyrics, hinting at a deep disappointment.
Maybe that’s what makes him great — Tyson isn’t afraid to cut close to the bone in his music, and this honesty resonated with the 110 audience members, who showed their hearty appreciation
Tyson, took turns performing with Nelson and Durand. Backed by old friend Mel Wilson on a second acoustic guitar, he sang Old Cheyenne, his classic Someday Soon, and other tunes about romantic disillusionment — Road to Las Cruces, and The Fiddler Must Be Paid, off his latest Yellowhead to Yellowstone and Other Love Stories album.
In between, Tyson genially jammed on the other performers’ songs and even gave pointers, such as “Got to be careful, you don’t want to let your guitar tell you what the melody will be.”
He praised Durand and Nelson, saying “I’ve heard some really nice songs here — and not mine.”
Then, he quickly said good-bye, as if he had a saddled-up horse waiting, and ducked out of the concert before it truly seemed over.
Nelson was left with the unenviable task of playing one more song after Tyson’s standing ovation — luckily, the young Medicine Hat-area musician rose above the momentary confusion and pulled it off nicely.
Brett, who was accompanied on an African drum and Australian didgeridoo by his brother Owen Nelson, showed insight far beyond his 21 years in his poetic and dream-like songs, Smoked Out Rabbit, Worn Time, and Blood and Water — dedicated to his grandma.
With the undulating lyrics, “If the Earth was a tranquil dragon, breathing softly, treading lightly,” Brett’s tunes took listeners on a mystical trip full of unexpected twists and beautiful views.
Durand is a local singer/songwriter of uncommon intelligence and sensitivity with a talent for penning fresh-sounding lyrics and haunting melodies.
Her catchy Nothing Grows, inspired by a quote from 13th-Century poet Rumi, was one of the evening’s highlights. Durand was joined by local film instructor Larry Reese on the sitar. (Reese actually learned to play the instrument as a teenager from Ravi Shankar, who also schooled The Beatles!)
Durand performed her poignant Father Time, while accompanying herself on the ukelele, She serenaded Tyson with his Four Strong Winds, while playing the guitar, and was featured on keyboards and harmonica while singing her Reverence For the Muse, which was dedicated to Tyson.
Is there anything this woman can’t do?
Anyone who missed hearing Durand and Brett perform on Wednesday can still catch them tonight at the Velvet Olive lounge. Even without Tyson, it will absolutely be worth it.