GRAND FALLS-WINDSOR, NL – Part of the magic of live music is the anticipation of something unexpected.
Usually that comes from the performers on stage, but in the case of Matthew Byrne and Sherman Downey’s Winter Island Tour performance in Grand Falls-Windsor Feb. 28, that spark of something special came from the audience.
“It was amazing to be get to sing with (Byrne) in person instead of singing along to his CD in the car,” said aspiring folk-singer Maddy Mouland, who came all the way from Musgrave Harbor to see the duo perform in their fourth annual Winter Island Tour. “I’m so happy I got the opportunity to sing with Matthew.”
After more than two hours of songs, stories and banter, the singers had returned to the stage at the Classic Theatre for an encore to thunderous applause.
Mouland’s hand shot up from her spot in the second row, and when Byrne spotted her, she requested he play a song called “Fair Ellen.”
Byrne responded that it being the saddest song in the world, he would play it for her after the show.
“That’s the second one we’ve had on this tour. Sherman had a similar situation after our show in Petty Harbour, where a girl there, she had really wanted to hear one of his songs and it wasn’t in our set. So, he played it for her afterwards and she was in tears,” Byrne said after. “People get so amazed by it, but we would never say no. It’s just one more song, and we’re happy to play it. It’s not a big deal to us, but it means so much to them.”
But Mouland was not about to be a passive participant. Perched to the side of the stage, after all but 20 or so spectators had left, her voice joined Byrne’s after the first line.
“That was really special,” he said. “She knew it so well and she knew the harmony and she sang it so beautifully.”
That night was not the first time Mouland had shared a stage with Byrne; she has opened shows for him before, once in Musgrave Harbour and then again in Gander.
“I fell in love with (the song) and added it to my repertoire,” she said. “My aunt told me to ask last night because I kept saying I was hoping he sang it. But I had no idea I would get the opportunity to sing it with him!”
Mouland is auditioning for a sport at Memorial University this weekend and hopes to pursue a career in music education. She said her music teacher always says Byrne is the best folk singer in the country and singing with him was “just amazing.”
“For someone like him to compliment your voice, it’s a really big deal to a young folk singer,” she said.
Value of small venues
For Byrne and Downey, this sort of event is part and parcel of why they like to play smaller venues, which is the whole point of the Winter Island Tour.
“Every year we build on the previous year,” Downey said before the Grand Falls-Windsor show. “A lot of acts come to the island and skip over these towns.”
Byrne explained that Newfoundland didn’t have much in the way of a house concert circuit, and the tour is meant to fill that role, at least once a year.
It affords the musicians a chance to really connect with audiences, play music, and tell the stories those audiences have come to expect.
Downey said doing the tour in winter, they sometimes worry the weather will interfere and people won’t be able to make it to the show, but in the end, that sense of having ventured out in the snow to be there together ends up adding something extra to the atmosphere.
“The small venues lend themselves to a casual, informal nature,” Byrne said. “Apparently when (Mouland) came in, she was working up the courage to come say hello, and by the end of it, she had the courage to come sing a song with me. That’s what small venues can do.”
Can't get to a show (or just want to hear it again?)
The woman at the Petty Harbour show Byrne mentioned? Here's her story about the the musicians' taking her request