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St. Albert's Plaza Series welcomes expat Wendy McNeill

Pop singer VISSIA opens show on Thursday, July 11
Wendy McNeill headlines the Plaza Series on Thursday, July 11.

Edmonton singer-songwriter Wendy McNeill left Canada two decades ago for Europe, never imagining her semi-nomadic lifestyle would keep her away for so long.

Yet every year she faithfully returns to her roots for a few folk-noir gigs. This year, before hitting the Vancouver Music Festival and the Ottawa National Centre for the Arts, she’s detouring to St. Albert’s iconic Arden Theatre Plaza Series on Thursday, July 11.

In addition to her own skill on the accordion, piano, kalimba, dulcimer, mandolin, and flute, she’s bringing two of her favourite musicians — trumpeter Bob Tildesley and bassist Mike Lent.

The prolific Canadian Prairie artist now living in Spain is developing a new album titled The Others.

“It’s about the voices we can’t see, the insects and the microbes in the soil. I was inspired to write songs for this album after working in my garden. The soil is the precious earth we have and I didn’t expect to find all those creatures operating within the soil,” said McNeill.

Her past albums usually weep with dark emotions, but this new work may contain sunnier material that still warns us to be cautious and respect the world around us.

McNeill’s last album, First There Were Feathers, was promoted in 2023 after a difficult and long writing process. Living in Spain, she and her partner were surrounded by the devastating effects of extreme heat and forest fires that nearly destroyed their home.

She felt compelled to understand why clever humans were so disconnected from the natural world which maintains us. Perhaps what saddened her the most was the deathly silence of burnt forests around her home that signalled extinction. No longer did wind blow through rustling pine trees. Gone were the buzzing bees and the song of birds.

After observing nature, researching scientific studies, reading mythology and writing songs for four years, birds became more than a main topic of the album.

“I wanted to write from the birds’ eye view. Originally, they were just wild creatures that did not subscribe to our rules, borders and maps. I also wanted to use them as a poetic voice, the canary in the coalmine. They are on the front lines, and we see high extinction rates. And we see it first in them and then along the line,” McNeill said.

Currently, a dense undergrowth buzzing with insects and birds' songs has returned, convincing McNeill that nature's renewal is possible, and humans can assist. Hope is possible even in the darkest times. In developing Feathers, she sees glimmers of hope that balance the sorrow.

“I wanted to bring the voices we don’t see. People don’t notice the birds have gone, because they didn’t know they were there. But if we know they are there, we can help.”

VISSIA is tapped to open the evening concert and she’ll be singing songs from Live, With Pleasure, her onstage album released May 27, 2024. The Stony Plain singer challenges the listener with her blend of blues, alt-pop and electronic elements.

The outdoor concert will be held at St. Albert Place Plaza on Thursday, July 11 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $18.75 or $150 for a VIP table for six. In the case of inclement weather, the concert will be inside the Arden Theatre.

Anna Borowiecki

About the Author: Anna Borowiecki

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