A musical feast is in store next week for local fans of Justine Vandergrift.
The Lacombe-raised singer/songwriter had performed all over Alberta and as far as Kansas City, Mo. since relocating to Edmonton a few years ago. But now Vandergrift has temporarily moved back home to Lacombe, and is set to entertain twice in one week in Red Deer.
Songs of love and loss from her new album, Sailor, will be sung by Vandergrift at a special International Women’s Day concert on Tuesday, March 8, at The Hub on Ross Street. The show will also include performances by “my favourite Alberta singers,” said Vandergrift, referring to Red Deer’s Randi Boulton, ex-pat Central Albertan Donna Durand (who’s now based in Edmonton), Kimberly MacGregor and Jenie Thai, also of Edmonton, and Calgary’s Jessica Marsh.
Vandergrift describes the event as “an upbeat concert that celebrates women.”
There will more of a variety show vibe on Saturday, March 12 when Vandergrift takes the stage at the Elk’s Lodge as one of the openers for three-time Maple Blues Award-winning singer/pianist David Vest and his band — including multi-instrumentalist Tim Williams. Other special guest performers are Red Deer folk singer/songwriter Levi Cuss and hip-hop group Alberta Murderaz.
“I’m very excited about both shows,” said Vandergrift, who once worked in Red Deer as a recreational aide for clients at Michener Centre.
These days she’s making a full-time career in music — including as studio back-up singer to acts such as Ridley Bent, Khari McLelland of The Sojourners and Kimberley MacGregor.
“I’m working the hardest I’ve every worked — and making the least money,” she said, with a wry chuckle. “But you don’t make music for the money, you do it because you love it. I just want to pursue this thing and play and get better, and try letting myself be an artist…”
Vandergrift took a step in that direction recently when she joined hundreds of other music hopefuls at an International Folk Music Alliance conference in Kansas City. Rooms in two hotels were turned into mini-stages, where thousands of singers from around the globe tried to wow record company and booking agents and festival organizers.
“I was freaked” to be among so many talented people competing to be heard, admitted Vandergrift. But she focused on being herself and not a stage persona. “I really think the human ear can tell when someone is lying when they’re singing… I want to perform in a real, honest way, telling the truth about who I am and my hope for the world and humanity.”
This approach garnered her CD Sailor some radio play in Holland, as well as Kansas City and Alberta. “I’ve made some good connections with festival organizers, agents and producers,” said Vandergrift. “They seem interested in what I’m doing, so you never know…”
Her third album was recorded live, off the floor in an Edmonton recording studio to try to capture the raw energy of a live show. The singer, who plans to move to Calgary later this year, said she wrote most of the songs after a romantic breakup, so themes of love and loss ended up on the album.
Listeners seem to be relating to Sailor’s sentiments: “I’ve received quite a few emails from young girls, women or other people who bought my CD and are going through their own loss and heartbreak… They feel understood.,” said Vandergrift.
Although a few upbeat tunes made the record, Vandergrift said she makes no apologies for the down-beat ones. “Sometimes when we listen to sad music, it helps us understand who we are — and it also helps us understand humanity.”
Tickets to 7 p.m. March 8 show at The Hub are $20 ($40 per family) cash at the door.
Advance tickets to her 7:30 p.m. concert with David Vest at The Elk’s Lodge on March 12 are $29 or ($199 for a table of eight) from centralmusicfest.com. (Supper, served from 6-7 p.m., is an additional $10, and can be ordered online). Tickets at the door are $35 with no supper option.