If the teenage Lisa Olafson had written a country song about her pending move to Red Deer for Grade 10, it would have started as a tear-jerker.
Olafson’s father, Bill, had relocated the family from Edmonton when he opened Red Deer’s Earls Restaurant in 1984. And “it was a difficult transition for me, leaving my friends behind,” said Lisa Olafson, who is now one-third of the old-time country vocal harmony group Dirty Dishes.
“Red Deer was so small at the time. I was like, ‘Why are we moving to that pea-sized place between Edmonton and Calgary?’ ” she recalled with a laugh.
But the move to Central Alberta turned out to be a major turning point in her life.
First, there was the positive influence of her choir teacher, Keith Pedersen at Lindsay Thurber Comprehensive High School. Olafson remembers Pedersen strongly encouraging her love of singing. And she became so enraptured with the sweet harmonies created by choral ensembles that she joined a profusion of groups — from school jazz and chamber choirs to the Alberta youth choir.
After graduating from high school, Olafson was urged by former Red Deer College instructor Richard O’Brien to enrol in the then-fledgling Theatre Studies program. Olafson fondly remembers stretching her wings on stage in “fun” collaborations between the RDC theatre and music departments.
Both of those early Red Deer influences ultimately “led me to be in a band with three-part harmonies,” said Olafson, who formed the Dirty Dishes eight years ago along with Suzy Wilde of Toronto and Alison Porter of Peterborough, Ont.
The Toronto-based old-time country group performs three times in Red Deer next week.
They are made up of three crooners/musicians who play the ukulele, guitar and fiddle and share theatrical backgrounds — so they love to ham it up on stage.
Dirty Dishes recently released a third album, And Stay Out!, containing six original songs and several traditional covers. Olafson considers it the group’s strongest effort. “The quality of the CD is top-notch, and I am really happy with our song choices.” It was recorded in Toronto’s Canterbury Studios with producer Danny Greenspoon (Great Big Sea).
One of the moodier tunes on the album, Where Do We Go? was written by Olafson — although the married mom of two said she had to draw on some dating history to come up with a love-gone-wrong song.
Dirty Dishes serve up a tasty blend of country, folk, bluegrass, roots and gospel inspired by Johnny Cash, Dolly Parton and Hank Williams — and well as more contemporary musicians such as Joel Plaskett and Fred Eaglesmith.
“I like old-timey country music, I don’t listen to new country at all,” said Olafson, who dislikes the “schmaltzy,” canned sentiment that she feels pervades many new country songs. “It’s like they’re tugging at your heart-strings to try to make people cry.”
By comparison, 1960s-era country has greater authenticity, she added; you get the feeling the songwriters really experienced much of the heartache they were writing about.
Whenever Olafson starts singing on stage between Wilde and Porter, she is transported to a special place. “To hear two beautiful voices on either side of me is when I am happiest. I love singing in harmony, it pushes me through, and I feel I could sing like that forever.”
The singer, who loves performing in Red Deer, hopes the audience also finds it a magical listening experience.
Dirty Dishes perform on Tuesday from 7 to 9 p.m. on the Earls Restaurant patio, on Wednesday from 4:30 to 7 p.m. on the Ross Street Patio, and on Thursday from 8 to 11 p.m. at The Olive in Red Deer.