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Contemporary folk artist Marianne Grittani kicks off the new millennium with her first and already critically acclaimed full-length CD of original music into the shimmering, nominated for a 2001 West Coast Music Award for Best Folk Release
 
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Marianne Grittani began performing in the late 60s when she was 14 in Toronto, Ontario. She and her best friend from high school had discovered the wonders of Joni Mitchell, Gordon Lightfoot, Bob Dylan, James Taylor, Peter Paul and Mary and Leonard Cohen. Her geography teacher was a folkie too and they occasionally shared stages at local coffee houses in church basements. (She failed geography miserably that year, but her teacher wrote kind words of encouragement on the back of her exam...)

Her love of folk music and a good song began back then and has been a constant in her life ever since. Writing her own songs came naturally to her when she was given a home made dulcimer to take care of while her friend Linda Manzer went travelling. In later years Linda went on to become an internationally known luthier and Marianne continued to write songs, not knowing at the time what a huge part of her life music would become.

She gave birth to a girl child in Toronto in 1971 whom she gave up for adoption, feeling ill prepared for motherhood at the tender age of 17. Her dear friend John Smale invited her to come to London Ontario and work as a waitress at his coffee house Smales Pace. In the following years, Marianne came in contact with and spent many memorable hours with some of the best known musicians on the folk circuit at that time. Her outgoing personality and keenness as a guitar player and songwriter resulted in developing close friendships with many of them. She learned a great deal in those days, not being shy about asking Bruce Cockburn, Taj Mahal or any of the other luminaries at hand just how to play that song or lick.

It was during these years that she became close friends with a songbird from Kingston named Colleen Peterson. who appreared at Smales Pace with then musical partner Mark Haines, now half of a dynamic duo with Tom Leighton. After Colleen's first trip to Nashville, she showed up unannounced at Marianne's home in London, determined to take her back to Music City with her. Circumstances didn't allow it, so she regrettably stayed behind while Colleen went south again to follow her own star.

But she was still surrounded by outstanding musicians and songwriters. Her circle of close friends included Willie P. Bennett, Stan Rogers, and Laura Smith, all of whom were fledglings in their own careers, and all of whom gave encouragement to Marianne, who at the time was not pursuing a career, just quietly writing her honest and eloquent songs for her own pleasure. (A few years ago Marianne reminded Laura of a seminal moment they'd shared sitting on the edge of her bed. At the time, Laura was working in a nearby office. Marianne played Laura one of her new songs and afterwards Laura sighed and said 'I want to be a musician and write songs'. Within a short time, Laura was playing her own hauntingly beautiful songs on piano as a guest artist opening for feature acts at Smales Pace.)

Somehwere around 1973 Marianne was offered a job at Toronto's legendary Riverboat and she moved back to her hometown. Again she hung out with, jammed with and learned first hand from the parade of touring musicians who came through - Ry Cooder, Sonny Terry & Brownie McGee, Jerry Jeff Walker, David Wiffen, Eric Anderson, Tom Rush among them. They were the golden years of folk music in the Village (Yorkville) and Toronto Island, home of the Mariposa Folk Festival, which Marianne had been attending since she was a young teen, still in high school. (Somewhere in here was a memorable night spent at the home of Gordon Lightfoot, where a song, long forgotten, was co-written...)

She left Toronto to return to London, only to find that Smales Pace had been sold and an era had ended. On 3 days' notice, in November of 1974, she jumped on a train bound for 'out west' and joined the migration of many of her London friends who had come to the west coast and never returned. After a brief stay in Victoria, she went to the Kootenays where she quickly learned to chop wood, keep a stove going to stay warm, and hack through an iced-over river for her daily water needs. A far cry from the hum and buzz of the city life she'd been raised in. But something in her responded deeply to the elemental lifestyle, the solitude of her life in the Slocan Valley. There were trips to nearby Nelson and a community amidst the mountain folk. She performed at local festivals and coffee houses and was a welcome addition to the jams that inevitably happened at potluck suppers that were a part of rural life.

But come spring time, Marianne caught wind of employment opportunities on the west coast of Vancouver Island in the fishing industry. She hitch-hiked out, bound to find herself a job as a deckhand on a fishboat out of Ucluelet. Eventually she did indeed find herself a skipper willing to tempt fate and take on a woman as a deckhand - thought for centuries to be bad luck by the superstitious seaman. Not only was it good luck, but she and her skipper fell in love and spent many wondrous days and nights at sea. In the evenings, after the weather report, Marianne played her guitar and sang for the salmon fishing fleet anchored or drifting on the fishing grounds of the Pacific. Likewise, while they were in port, she was a popular singer in the local pub.

After the season was over, she headed to Saltspring Island, home of her new found fisherman love. It was to become her happy home too for the rest of the 70s, even after that love faded. But before it did, she and her man and 4 other crew members brought an old wooden east coast schooner from Newfoundland through the Panama Canal and home to Salstpring. On the trip she found herself playing for receptive audiences in Bermuda, Puerto Rico, Panama, Mexico and Santa Barbara, sitting in with local musicians. A song that she wrote about this 4 month adventure was performed by Valdy, her friend back home on the island.

During her years based on Saltpring, she was an integral part of its musical community. It was here that she'd crossed paths with Valdy once again (having met years before when he played in London). They teamed up for concerts and dances throughout the islands for several years. It was Valdy who one day brought the then CAPAC - now SOCAN - forms to her at her cabin and encouraged her to join the performing rights organization so that she could be getting royalties for their performances of her material.

In the late 70s she was invited to front a band with Jerome Jarvis and David Woodhead, two fellow Ontario ex-patriots both from the renowned musical conglomerate known as Perth County Conspiracy. For the next several years they played together in various bands, touring Vancouver Island, the Gulf Islands and mainland BC, doing clubs and festivals.

Eventually, Marianne found her way to Vancouver, BC. Shortly after her arrival she auditioned and was hired as a back up singer and warm up act for country singer Rocky Swanson. Passing through the band were many of Vancouver's best session players, some of whom Marianne played and recorded with years later. A highlight of her time in that band was opening for the Mamas and the Papas at Vancouver's Commodore Ballroom. After her stint in the world of country music, Marianne struck out on her own and for the next many years worked solo in neighbourhood pubs, lounges and the odd concert and coffee house, earning her bread and butter and honing her skills as a performer and songwriter.

She was recommended to a children's story teller and joined forces with him in 1990, becoming the musical half of the Dancing Bear Story Theatre. Together she and Dancing Bear played to young audiences throughout BC and spent one summer touring the US eastern seaboard at festivals, museums, camps and schools. (By sheer coincidence, and the grace of the gods, she met and got to jam with Bonnie Raitt while in New York.) She was a natural at the theatrical as well as the musical aspects of her new gig and won the hearts of her young listeners, as they won hers. She wrote music for the show and her songs are featured on a full length tape of the songs and stories from the live show.

She made a few other forays into the world of recording, singing back up on several CDs by fellow Vancouver artists before she had the opportunity to record her own. In 1998 she received a FACTOR loan and late that year she began her work on Into the Shimmering. The CD was over a year in the making, but her efforts were rewarded with a glowing response from Canada's national radio broadcaster CBC and fans as far flung as Spain and Belgium. It was nominated in 2001 for a West Coast Music Award in the Best Folk Release category. One of the songs from the album, a moving song about her daughter that was recorded live with just her voice, her guitar, and Robbie Steininger on guitar, is featured on Grrrls with Guitars Volume 2.

In that same year, Marianne attended the North American Folk Alliance, an international conference that brings together hordes of people associated with folk music which was held in Vancouver. She appeared in a showcase entitled Wild Women of the West, along with fellow songwriters Nadine Davenport and Kat Wahamaa. Attending her showcase was renowned American blues artist Guy Davis. Later that spring, she opened for him at his Vancouver show to an overwhelmingly enthusiatic response from the full house. And the week following Folk Alliance, her songs were heard on folk radio shows throughout the US. She received several invitations to festivals south of the border as well.

Her honest and eloquent songs and her warmth as a performer continue to win fans. Her music, with so many varied influences defies categorization. She calls it 'folky, funky and anything in between'. She explores a lot of musical territory, on standard acoustic six string guitar, a resonator guitar and mandolin. Her compelling voice along with her strong sense of rhythm, melody and dynamics weave through and around her lyrics to create an engaging musical tapestry. If you have a chance to see Marianne perform live, either with her band or solo, don't miss it. You'll remember it long after the echo of her music fades.

 

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