Review: Heaven to Me

Songs & Stories of Prince Edward Island

Review | by Doug Gallant

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If you’re looking for one more reason to love summer in Prince Edward Island, I have one for you. The P.E.I. Brewing Company is playing host to three of P.E.I.’s most accomplished songwriters in an evening of songs and stories about the place all are proud to call home.

Catherine MacLellan, Meaghan Blanchard and Gordie MacKeeman have come together to create Heaven To Me – Songs & Stories of Prince Edward Island. And what they have created between them is, for lack of a better description, a love song to a place and its people, one that will warm your heart, make you smile and at times break out into a big, wide grin. It did all of the above on opening night.

Taken individually any one of these artists is a force to be reckoned with. Put them all together and you’ve got something truly special.

The show, which takes its name from country artist Hal Lone Pine’s 50s classic “Prince Edward Island is Heaven to Me,” sees MacLellan, Blanchard and MacKeeman all take solo turns but for much of the evening they perform together like a trio, backing each other up and singing gorgeous harmonies. The on-stage chemistry between them is such that you’d think they had played together for years.

And as if that wasn’t enough, they’ve also got MacKeeman’s Rhythm Boys on deck, Jason Burbine, Peter Cann and Thomas Webb. Cann also takes centre stage to perform a lovely piece of his own, Cavan Road, about a place in Ireland that reminded him so much of his home in P.E.I.

Choosing what to use in a show when you’re working with an underlying theme can prove challenging but MacLellan, Blanchard and MacKeeman all have deep catalogues and the choices they made deserve to be there.

MacLellan’s choices range from songs inspired by her great love of this province like “Long Way Home” to “Tell Me Luella,” a piece she wrote about her grandmother whom she’s learned over time lived her life to the fullest. MacLellan, who’s previous show If it’s Alright with You — The Life and Music of My Father, Gene MacLellan, also found a home at the P.E.I. Brewing Company, has four original songs in the show, including what is perhaps my favourite, “Eastern Girl.”

Blanchard too drew on the history of her family with Angelina Bridgette, a moving song she wrote about her great-grandmother who grew and sold strawberries to raise enough money to study nursing in Boston where she spent many years before returning home to P.E.I. She also has four original songs in the show, including little gems like “Seed Song” and “Clothes On The Line.”

MacKeeman’s fiddle can be heard on several of their songs adding some lovely touches but he also takes centre stage for some tunes of his own, turning up the heat with a dandy version of “McNabb’s Hornpipe” and a trio of tunes called the “Church Picnic Set.” But perhaps his shining moment comes when he performs “Dreamland,” a beautiful lullaby he wrote for one of his own. He also had ample opportunity to show his audience why they call him “Crazy Legs” with some seriously flashy footwork.

While original material accounts for most of the songs in Heaven To Me, MacLellan and company also chose a hand-full of other songs that fit well with the show’s theme. Included in that cluster are Margie Carmichael’s “Red Dirt Road,” the classic Canadian folk song “Peter Emberly,” Mike Dixon’s “Bye Bye P.E.I.” and “The Island Anthem,” penned by David Weale, Rachel Beck and Bennett Buell.

Heaven To Me, which plays Tuesdays and Wednesdays until mid-September, is a first-class effort not to be missed.

Doug Gallantreview