PORT HARDY — For a guy singing the blues, Tim Williams seems to have a lot of fun on stage.
Maybe he was just picking up on the vibe as the newly solvent North Island Concert Society closed out its 2010-11 season with a rollicking show by the Calgary-based Williams Saturday at Port Hardy Civic Centre.
A year ago, the society announced at its season-ending show that its future was in doubt due to a lack of funding and drop in season-ticket holders. Last weekend, however, announcer Shawn Gough said the society is already at work on next season and will kick it off with three-time Juno winner David Francey.
That drew a hearty round of applause, but it paled in comparison to the crowd’s response to Williams, a veteran stage performer who took listeners on a musical and storytelling tour that ranged from a front porch in the Mississippi Delta to the rail of a B.C. rodeo arena.
Displaying a deft touch on guitar, mandolin and dobro, Williams resurrects the early 20th Century sounds of such diverse artists as Blind Willie Johnson, Muddy Waters, Felipe Valdez Leal and Hank Williams.
A master of the bottleneck slide technique, Williams wrings a wall of sound from his resonator guitar, or dobro, by combining an open bass string with chording, finger-picking and bottleneck. Some of the best examples came on his traditional instrumental arrangement of Poor Boy, which was used for several years as the theme for CBC’s Almanac program, and on Waters’ Can’t Be Satisfied.
He switched to the mandolin for a rollicking take of Statesboro Blues and the upbeat version of the Mississippi Shieks’ 1930 recording Sittin’ on Top of the World.
Williams immersed himself in traditional blues and country songcraft at an early age, and he remains true to that tradition in his own songwriting. The Fool You Always Knew is a classic piece of down-and-dirty Chicago blues, while Dixie Reverie is a Beale Street romp through the Deep South featuring the line, “I woke up this mornin’ with a headful of down-home blues.”
As much a teacher as a student, Williams entertained the crowd between songs with histories of subjects ranging from the blues to the guitar’s introduction in Hawaii to the evolution of African ancestor worship into Louisiana Hoodoo, to rodeo in Western Canada.
His introduction to My Heart Can’t Take Another Rodeo was longer than the song, which has been covered by Valdy, and showcased Williams as cowboy poet.
The show was opened by the promising young local duo of Richelle Andre and Matthew Benedict, who played a short set of self-written folk-roots songs accompanied by acoustic guitars.
Claimer and the bluesy Fountain of Love were written by Andre and featured her unique vocal style, which is simultaneously urgent and vulnerable. Benedict provided the poignant Rocks along with Brother, on which Andre provided percussion with an egg shaker and foot tambourine.
The two were at their best when trading both vocal harmonies and guitar licks, particularly their guitar counter-solos on Fountain of Love.
The night was a fitting way for the concert society to wrap up one season — and to kick off its next.