Talk about music with Craig Morrison and it’s impossible to ignore the passion and joy that overcomes him, especially when he talks about the annual Roots of Rock and Roll concert series, which he performs in and organizes annually.
“Every year, we manage to get a kind of ecstasy or thrill,” said Morrison, a music professor at Concordia. “We lift that place and that’s what people come for. They see all the work we’ve put into it, they see the way we interact, and the music itself. It’s community building.”
This year, the theme is California Dreamin’ (referring to the song by The Mamas & the Papas): Music From the Golden State. However, don’t expect to hear The Red Hot Chili Peppers or Snoop Dogg. The repertoire consists of classic artists like The Doors, The Byrds, The Beach Boys, and Creedence Clearwater Revival.
“When selecting the songs and their order I say, how can I present the story of that? How am I going to be able to show people what California music is and how it developed?” said Morrison. For him, the concert is about providing context to the culture and educating listeners on music evolution in a fun atmosphere.
“Most of the audience comes for nostalgia, but they know when they get here it isn’t strictly a nostalgic show. They’re going to hear a lot of songs they know and some they don’t. It’s part of the mandate,” he explained.
The annual Roots of Rock and Roll concert began with a request for Morrison to participate in a faculty concert series in 1997. He organized the show to reflect the musical styles of the course he was teaching and gave it the same name. His band, The Momentz, played the show at Oscar Peterson Concert Hall and had a great turnout, which helped the concert continue years later despite the end of the faculty concert series.
“We called [the first concert] ‘Old, New, Borrowed, Blue’ because of the borrowed tunes and bluegrass music. It seemed like a good way to advertise it,” said Morrison.
His band was the main act, but opening acts were added in the third year because Morrison thought it was a great opportunity to showcase other roots-oriented musicians.
To keep things fresh, Morrison selects a unique theme for each year, narrowing down the repertoire of the show to a specific era, genre or person. He then picks the song that best represents the theme as part of the concert’s title, giving the audience an idea of what to expect when they attend the show.
The concert’s energy builds with each song and the musicians on stage increase with it. With 11 people performing at its climax, finding time to arrange practice meetings should be a challenge, but Morrison’s band only rehearses three times beforehand.
“I wouldn’t say it is easy,” said Danielle Lebeau-Petersen, who has been participating in Morrison’s concert for three years. Despite her experience—Lebeau-Petersen has played guitar for 12 years and has directed a blues choir—she sometimes wonders how everything will be ready for the performance. “I feel a sense of accomplishment when it’s over,” she said.
The concert is a learning experience for the audience, but the band members learn a lot too. “[I love] getting opened up to music I didn’t know about or know that I liked,” said Lebeau-Petersen. “I will be the least familiar with the repertoire for this show, so there’s a lot to learn.”
California Dreamin’: Music From the Golden State takes place on Feb. 10 and 11 at 8 p.m. at Concordia’s Oscar Peterson Concert Hall. Tickets can be purchased at the Oscar Peterson administration office or at the door. Tickets are $13 for Concordia students with ID.