Ariel Posen and the Festival du Voyageur go hand in hand.

The Winnipeg singer-songwriter honed his guitar chops more than a decade ago on the festival’s stages and, as recently as last February, headlined an evening at Fort Gibraltar with his band.

"I used to show up on Saturday, play four gigs with four different bands and come back Sunday, play four gigs with four (other) different bands, and then on Tuesday do the same," recalls Posen, who is part of Saturday night’s free virtual concerts on the festival’s Facebook page and YouTube channel starting at 8 p.m.

"The thing about that festival, a little of everybody gets to be a part of it," he says. "All kinds of bands and artists will play in it and as a sideman, a hired gun, you’re fortunate to get a wide palette of music to play and gigs to play."

Posen and his band will perform a few songs from his upcoming album, Headway, which comes out March 5.

Unlike many performing artists who’ve seen tours derailed and albums delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic, timing has been — to a certain extent — on Posen’s side. He recorded the songs for Headway in December 2019, before touring in North America and Europe early in 2020.

He was able to play his late-February gigs in the U.K. and was in Sweden when the global entertainment shutdown hit in the middle of March.

During his touring in 2019, he spent his spare time writing new songs and wanted to improve on the experience he had in creating How Long, his debut record from 2018.

More than 20 new songs that he had tested live gave him lots of material to choose from, which helped the process.

"When we did How Long, I decided a month before... if I don’t do it now I’d never do it. It happened very fast," Posen says. "In the studio I’d second-guess everything I played, second-guess everything that I sang. I felt an incredible amount of pressure.

"The difference is I was just a lot more comfortable this time around. I went into the studio, first of all, with songs I felt more comfortable with, songs I had spent more time with. I knew what I was going into."

Janine Van Oostrom photo</p><p>Ariel Posen</p>

Janine Van Oostrom photo

Ariel Posen

Posen has hunkered down in Montreal over the winter, but was in Winnipeg last summer, working with co-producer Murray Pulver on the album’s final touches.

Posen is getting used to being the frontman after years of performing with other bands and artists. He gained some notoriety backing the Bros. Landreth but it took some time to be confident making his own decisions.

Earning praise from high places hasn’t hurt. In October 2019, Rolling Stone described him as a "modern-day guitar hero" and included a video of the song Familiar Ground on a list of 10 new country and American songs to check out.

The website Music Radar joined in, placing Posen in ninth spot on its list of the 10 best guitarists of 2019, joining six-string superstars such as Slash and John Mayer.

"I couldn’t have dreamt of positive reactions like that," Posen says. "Any time publications like that say any kind of praise — even if they said, ‘We saw his show and it was good’ — that makes me happy.

"I don’t necessarily believe that is true, but it is very flattering and I’m definitely humbled by that."

Headway isn’t 12 tracks of explosive guitar solos, mind you. The album’s first single, Now I See, begins with a short-and-sweet slide-guitar lick but the focus is on the lyrics and melody of the song, not on frenetic fretwork.

Posen calls them guitar moments, rather than solos. It’s in those instances where he shows his stuff and creates his own sound, transforming an ordinary chord into a unique sound.

"Of course, I like guitar-playing but I’m not looking to make a record full of just guitar-playing. There are a lot of guitar moments and there’s a lot of time spent in dialing in the guitars," he says.

"I’m not doing any of this to prove anything. It’s the just the music I like, what’s in my head and the way I like to make music."


Alan Small

Alan Small

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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