‘There’s nothing quite like being here’

Peguis First Nation singer-songwriter William Prince dazzles audience at the Burt

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We’re in an era of truth and reconciliation, and Winnipeg music fans reconciled with some truth Saturday night.

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We’re in an era of truth and reconciliation, and Winnipeg music fans reconciled with some truth Saturday night.

William Prince is a star.

The Peguis First Nation singer-songwriter packed the Burton Cummings Theatre and mixed folk, country, pop, gospel and some hard-charging rock with a liberal dash of showmanship when he wasn’t dazzling the crowd with his warm singing voice and moving lyrics.

Photo by Jenn Kostesky

William Prince packed the Burton Cummings Theatre and mixed folk, country, pop, gospel and some hard-charging rock with a liberal dash of showmanship.

“Hello Treaty One territory!” the singer shouted, a rock ‘n’ roll version of a land acknowledgment, after opening with That’s All I’ll Ever Become.

He said in 2020, when he released his album Reliever, that he would need to be more than just a sweet voice.

He still has that deep baritone which is as comfy as a warm blanket on a cold evening and has made him a CBC favourite on radio and television, but he had stories between the songs that were both meaningful and funny that connected him with the audience.

He also had a five-piece band supporting him — he usually performs solo when away from home — which accompanied his intimate material but rocked out like Crazy Horse on others.

Prince performed songs from all three of his albums during his 100-minute set, including many of his favourites from his 2020 album Reliever, such as the lovely Always Had What We Had, Leave it By the Sea and Wasted.

It’s become a cliche in pop culture to give shoutouts to big cities like New York, London, and even Winnipeg to get some easy applause and hoots from the audience.

Prince took it a step further Saturday, receiving folks’ shouts of approval from First Nations in Fisher River, Little Saskatchewan and Little Grand Rapids, as well as a place that’s dear to his heart, Fisher Bay.

In his 2020 song Gospel First Nation, he mentions the small lakeshore community, which is at the end of Highway 17 on the western shore of Lake Winnipeg, 220 kilometres north of the Burt, imagining it might one of the places Jesus would live.

It’s the title track from his second album of 2020, a record of gospel cover tunes that he listened to as a youngster riding to and from concerts across northern Manitoba with his father, who was a preacher and performer.

Prince noted before performing the ode to his father and the Indigenous people of northern Manitoba that Indigenous people in Canada have an awkward relationship with Christianity, owing to the lingering intergenerational trauma from residential schools.

He deftly put the difficult issue to the audience, asking them to imagine how they would react if their children were taken away, sent to boarding schools and their culture taken away, like a little medicine to go with his honey-sweet voice.

Family was a big part of Saturday’s show.

Prince missed being with his son Wyatt during a tour of the United Kingdom earlier this year, and prior to performing Lighthouse in his honour, he said thinking about his son was like a lighthouse that would help him find his way home.

Family also played a role for Montreal folk singer Le Ren, who opened for Prince Saturday night.

Photo by Jenn Kostesky

William Prince performed songs from all three of his albums during his 100-minute set, including many of his favourites from his 2020 album Reliever.

The singer-songwriter — Le Ren is Lauren Spear away from the stage — mentioned at one point between her songs that her 97- and 95-year-old grandparents were in the crowd as well as her parents.

She said her parents passed on lyric sheets to her grandparents to help them follow along with her songs of heartbreak, such as her 2020 tune Love Can’t Be the Only Reason to Stay.

“I don’t yet have a song for my dad, and boy have I heard it,” she joked during her set of folk-pop songs that were reminiscent of early Cowboy Junkies tunes.

East Selkirk fiddler Morgan Grace opened the show with about 20 minutes of jigs, reels and waltzes accompanied by Tom Dutiaume on guitar.

She said she was terrified, but she was also terrific, with her Red River Métis style of fiddling setting a brisk pace, especially on the standard Orange Blossom Special.

Performing at the historic Burton Cummings Theatre was a memorable evening for all three acts, even for Prince, who has played at the Burt several times before, opening shows for the likes of Dwight Yoakam, the Watchmen, and in 2019 with Neil Young.

The difference this time was that Prince was the star of the show, and he acknowledged how big a moment it was for him prior to finishing his concert with Breathless, his breakthrough hit from 2015.

“There’s nothing quite like being here with your band and your friends,” he said.

He has a new album coming out soon, and chances are his loyal fans from Manitoba would pack the Burt to see him again.

Alan.Small@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @AlanDSmall

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Alan Small

Alan Small
Reporter

Alan Small has been a journalist at the Free Press for more than 22 years in a variety of roles, the latest being a reporter in the Arts and Life section.

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