Song Swap

Linda McRae's friendly guitar pull

Rating: NNNNN

Vancouver’s Linda Mcrae has played enough folk festivals with Spirit of the West to know that the best part of the event often happens after the audience leaves. That’s when the guitar gets passed around and artists play their latest compositions and favourite covers for each other. While numerous festivals now incorporate songwriters-in-the-round sessions, those workshops — typically bleary-eyed morning-after affairs — rarely have the same informal charm and spontaneous kicks of a late-night guitar pull.

So the crafty McRae came up with a clever way of capturing that comfortable front-porch vibe for her upcoming Songwriters’ Round-Up tonight at Rancho Relaxo. Not only did she choose to stage it at night in a venue with a well-stocked bar, but McRae also invited her pals to participate.

Along with Buffalo singer/songwriter Jim Whitford and local fave Jenny Whiteley, that includes Texas top hand guitarist (and long-time Lucinda Williams sidekick) Gurf Morlix, who produced McRae’s righteously rootsy new Cryin’ Out Loud (Black Hen) album.

“I’ve been doing these Songwriters’ Round-Up shows for the past two years in Vancouver, and they can be a whole lot of fun or a real pain in the ass, depending on how the different personalities interact.

“The Toronto show should be great because we’re all friends and we know each other’s music. People might know Jim Whitford from Buffalo’s Pinedogs. Well, Gurf produced his solo record and I sang on it then Jim returned the favour by singing on mine. And of course we all love Jenny.”

When you hit on a combination of people that clicks, and they get the urge to start improvising on one another’s songs, some exciting surprises can happen, as McRae discovered.

“We did a show as part of Music West here in Vancouver,” she recalls, “with Stephen Fearing, Willie P. Bennett, Wyckham Porteous and Carmaig DeForest. The Railway Club was just jammed to the rafters.

“Stephen began playing this beautiful piece, and when he went into a solo Carmaig picked up this paper he had beside him and started reading this poetry. Everyone was spellbound. It seemed to fit perfectly, both rhythmically and thematically with the song.

“At the end of it you could tell that Stephen was completely blown away. It was just one of those magic moments that sometimes happen.”

LINDA McCRAE performing as part of the Songwriters’ Round-up with GURF MORLIX, JIM WHITFORD and JENNY WHITELEY at Rancho Relaxo (300 College), tonight (Thursday, August 29), 9 pm. $10. 416-920-0366.

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