By Dan Rankin
Last year, when River Rock Music, Food and Arts Festival organizer Sean Camp asked local singer/song writer Emm Gryner if her group Trent Severn would be able to perform on the lineup, she had to say no; they were already booked that weekend.
This year, Camp said, Gryner approached him about Trent Severn getting on the bill for the festival coming up on Aug. 13. They’ve since been confirmed as headliners, and will close out the day.
“After last year, so many people had great things to say about the festival,” Gryner told the Independent. “I didn’t want to miss it this year. I love what Sean does. He really cares about music, and I love the community spirit he fosters with everything he does.”
Born in Sarnia, Gryner has lived in St. Marys since 2005, becoming a regular performer around town, and getting involved with a number of local issues including Save VIA and the St. Marys Memorial Hospital Foundation’s Someone I Know campaign. Her hospital foundation fundraiser show back in February reportedly raised $4,000 for the organization.
So, playing at River Rock, with its focus on showcasing all the best this area has to offer, is a natural fit for Gryner and Trent Severn. Getting them on the lineup was also a no-brainer for Camp.
“There isn’t a more Canadian band going right now,” he said. “Through and through, it’s ‘Canadiana’.”
Trent Severn, named after the canal that joins the water systems of Lake Ontario and Lake Huron, may not be the most Canadian band around, but they have a few patriotic bonafides, including having sung the National Anthem at Parliament Hill on Canada Day and conducted an onstage phone interview with Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield while he was aboard the International Space Station. His call made them the first band to ever receive a phone call from space during a concert.
That unique experience took place in Goderich, Gryner said, noting that she first got to know him because they’re both from Sarnia. “Ed Robertson [of the Barenaked Ladies] and I duke it out for who’s got access to Chris Hadfield,” joked Gryner. “[Hadfield] just loves music and is connected with a lot of musicians now.”
Since Hadfield’s return to Earth, Gryner also had the chance to take the stage with him during a performance of a bluegrass version of David Bowie’s hit “Space Oddity,” which Hadfield famously recorded as part of a music video while in space.
Those who come out to see Trent Severn at River Rock may notice a new face on stage next to founding members Gryner and Dayna Manning, of Stratford. Last year, former member Laura C. Bates, who sang and played fiddle on the group’s debut album and their 2015 album Trillium, made the decision to “explore her own musical endeavours,” Gryner said. Lindsay Schindler, also a member of the Celtic group Rant Maggie Rant, has joined Trent Severn in her place. Schindler, who lives near Sauble Beach but grew up in London, “stepped in and it was sort of seamless,” Gryner said. “Trent Severn and Rant Maggie Rant did a show together last year and she just stood out. I think she’s one of Canada’s best fiddlers.”
The group was recently in Alberta for a short three-date tour, and are looking ahead to more dates in Quebec and in Ontario in September, she said. When they’re not performing, they’re working on writing a new album, so they have new material to coincide with the 150th anniversary of Canadian Confederation, Gryner said. “We’re writing right now for the next one,” she said. “We have a concept for the album and we just have to find the time to write some.”
Then, Gryner will be one of three musicians starring in a unique production at London’s Grand Theatre beginning on Oct. 21 entitled “Joni Mitchell: River.” Along with performers Louise Pitre and Brendan Wall, Gryner will perform a number of Mitchell’s hits in what she called a “song cycle,” and what the Grand Theatre website calls a “theatrical concert.”
“It’s basically telling a story through her songs,” she said. “No one is playing as Joni Mitchell. It should be interesting. I’ve never done anything like that, they just approached me to do it.”
Looking ahead to Trent Severn’s set at River Rock, Gryner said they will be playing a combination of the hits from their two albums, as well as a few covers, “but not too many.”
“We’re also thinking of a song that all the other musicians can come up and sing on at the end,” she hinted. “We won’t reveal that, at the moment, but it will probably a song everyone really likes and knows.”