At Last | Serena Ryder

My day had started just south of the Montana-Alberta border where I woke up way too early and severely sleep deprived. After hightailing to Edmonton, checking into a hotel, and heading for the festival, my temples were throbbing and my eyelids were heavy.

The details of certain events feel as if they’ll stick with us forever. Some are world changing. Maybe, depending on your age, when you heard that JFK, John Lennon, or Kurt Cobain had died. Others, such as losing your virginity or the birth of a child, are more personal. Not all of these events are obvious milestones in life, music, or world history. For example, I’ll never forget the first time I heard Serena Ryder sing.

It was opening day of the 2004 Edmonton Folk Music Festival. My day had started just south of the Montana-Alberta border where I woke up way too early and severely sleep deprived. After hightailing to Edmonton, checking into a hotel, and heading for the festival, my temples were throbbing and my eyelids were heavy. I hiked to the top of the amphitheater, closed my eyes, and hoped for a short nap. I was vaguely aware of talking from the stage. Then seemingly out of nowhere came a voice. “You gotta sing sing sing sing sing out loud/Don’t matter if you stay on track/You gotta sing sing sing sing sing out loud/Don’t you dare hold nothing back.” Don’t hold nothing back, indeed. Simple lyrics. No instrumental accompaniment. Yet this musical manifesto and the extraordinary voice singing it instantly resurrected my half-dead body and soul.

Later that weekend, Ryder arrived late for a songwriter-in-the-round session, walking onstage just as they reached her slot in the rotation. With no time for guitar tuning she did it again, belting out “Sing, Sing” a cappella and immediately capturing the audience. Through multiple performances that weekend, I saw her sing songs in several styles, everything from Hank Williams covers to the Etta James standard, “At Last,” to her original material. Ryder’s incredible voice and charismatic stage presence had me enthralled.

Since that first time I’ve found that my reaction isn’t an exception. Jacquilynne Schlesier, a diehard music fan from Toronto, likens hearing Ryder live to a “religious experience.” After watching Ryder wow the crowd at Folks Fest in Lyons, Colo., this past summer, I stood in line with the new fans waiting to get their just-purchased discs autographed. The conversation reminded me of new converts (religious or otherwise) who are thrilled at their transformation from nonbeliever to fanatic. Still in her early 20s, Ryder has several Canadian releases. Her latest, Unlikely Emergency, is the first available in the U.S.

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply