Juno Award-winning folk music veteran James Keelaghan kicks off the North Island Concert Society's 15th season with a concert Saturday at 7:30 p.m. at the Civic Centre.

NICS celebrates 25 years of Keelaghan

NICS will kick off its 15th season Saturday at the Civic Centre by hosting Juno Award-winning Canadian folk legend James Keelaghan.

PORT HARDY—The North Island Concert Society has settled into something of a pattern for its season-opening act the past few seasons.

NICS will kick off its 15th season Saturday at the Civic Centre by hosting Juno Award-winning Canadian folk legend James Keelaghan in the westernmost stop on his 25th Anniversary Tour.

If that sounds vaguely familiar, it is no accident.

Two years ago, Juno-winning Canadian folk icon Murray McLaughlin appeared in the NICS kickoff event as part of Lunch at Allen’s, a latter-day Canadian folk-pop “super group.” Last year, the 14th season began with Juno-winning folk singer-songwriter David Francey, who is well on his way to Canadian icon status despite not beginning his music career in earnest until his mid-40s.

“It just kind of happened that way,” said Brian Hicks, NICS president. “But I’m trying really hard to get as many Juno winners to Port Hardy as I can.”

Further closing the circle, Keelaghan collaborated with Francey, among others, on his most recent CD, 2009’s House of Cards.

Like the best folk singer-songwriters, Keelaghan mines the range of the human condition in intelligent yet accessible lyrics. In particular, he has carved out something of a niche with his powerful historical songs, drawing on his degree in history, a voracious appetite for non-fiction books and his own curiosity and life experiences for source material.

And Keelaghan doesn’t shy away from the darker or tragic sides of mankind’s struggle. Two of his best-known works, both based on historical records, are Cold Missouri Waters, about the doomed firefighting crew from Montana’s Mann Gulch fire in 1949, and Kiri’s Piano, a haunting tale of a woman faced with a heart-wrenching choice when her family is caught up in the Japanese internment-camp roundups during World War II.

The latter comes from his Juno-winning 1993 album My Skies, and is sure to be a part of both Saturday’s show and a prospective greatest hits recording to commemorating his 25 years as a Canadian troubadour.

That historical bent made Keelaghan a natural to perform Gordon Lightfoot’s Canadian Railroad Trilogy, a song commissioned by the CBC to celebrate the nation’s centennial in 1967, on Beautiful, the 2003 Lightfoot tribute album that also included a contribution from McLaughlin.

Other Keelaghan hits include Hillcrest Mine and Fires of Calais, songs delivered in a rich baritone that blends impeccably with melodies often lush and textured with the aid of backing bandmates. He is scheduled to play Saturday with a pair of sidemen on bass and mandolin.

The Port Hardy stop is Keelaghan’s second on his B.C. tour, most of them in smaller communities, and it comes on the heels of a swing through the eastern United States.

Saturday’s show begins at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $25 and are available in advance at Cafe Guido, For Scrap Sake and Port Hardy Museum in Port Hardy, at The Flower Shoppe in Port McNeill, and in Port Alice by calling Gail Neely at 250-284-3927.

More info is available on the concert society’s website at www.niconcert.net.