April 24th, 2024

B.C. artist ready for folk club debut

By Al Beeber - Lethbridge Herald on March 14, 2024.

Submitted photo Vancouver Island-based artist Ryan McMahon is performing a Lethbridge Folk Club show on Saturday at the Cave at Lethbridge College.

LETHBRIDGE HERALDabeeber@lethbridgeherald.com

Ryan McMahon is no stranger to Lethbridge. The Vancouver Island-based artist is well familiar with the city but when he stood alone on stage last June at the Enmax Centre with acoustic guitar in hand to warm up a crowd eager to see Canadian icon Burton Cummings, he may not have known what to expect.

In his brief set, McMahon wowed the crowd who crammed the Enmax bowl, making new fans as he set the stage for the appearance by Cummings.

Now McMahon is returning to Lethbridge but to a smaller venue – the Cave at Lethbridge College where he will perform for the Lethbridge Folk Club Saturday in a show starting at 6:30 p.m. with opener Steve Keenan.

McMahon will be bringing his No Town Left Un-Toured tour to the city, the title of his sojourn apt given how many communities across western Canada he’s performed in during his career.

In that 25-year career, McMahon has released five albums and has shown himself to be an artist with not only a fantastic voice and songwriting chops but who can also engage with an audience as he showed at the Cummings show.

While McMahon has played some big festivals over the years, he’s had limited opportunity to perform in big arenas and in a recent phone interview said “it was a little bit daunting with just an acoustic guitar. I was @&%$in’ bricks a little bit but we made it through it,” he said from Vancouver Island.

He had played a one-off with Cummmings in 2017 “and we kind of ended up hitting it off” and when Cummings returned to island in 2019, McMahon joined him for another four shows.

For Cummings last tour, Cummings’ management asked McMahon if he would do the entire western Canadian leg, the only one he toured down being Winnipeg because of the distance.

“It really worked out,” said McMahon who also has toured with Tom Cochrane. During the tours with both artists, he added house concerts or shows at smaller venues to make sure he was playing five to six nights a week.

This year is a big one for McMahon with the 25-year anniversary.

“This year’s a big one. That’s how long it took me to settle into who I am and what kind of sounds I want to make, and what kind of things I want to say in songs,” said McMahon, who started sneaking up on stages in Nanaimo before he was even allowed in bars to play with “the old dogs,” musicians who taught him how to embrace music as not just a craft but also a lifestyle.

They taught him how to always perfect his craft and find a chorus better than the last one he wrote.

McMahon spent eight years in Vancouver in his early 20s before moving to the island, playing clubs “eating a lot of noodles and just kind of scraping by.”

He eventually met his manager who became his wife and they moved to Vancouver Island which was affordable in the early 2000s and bought a home.

“I haven’t really looked back from the island. I don’t really miss living in the city too much. Vancouver’s changed a lot, a lot of the cities have changed a lot. I like the smaller towns that you go and tour and they’re always just so happy that you came out.

“Alberta’s always been really good because that’s the first area that I ever toured,” he said.

In his early days, he would play, Canmore, Banff, Calgary, Medicine Hat and Lethbridge where he played venues such as The Slice.

“I’m always happy to come to Alberta,” said, McMahon who will be playing at the folk club for the first time.

His city stop is part of a tour of B.C. and Alberta that his him playing 21 shows in 25 days. In summer, he has dates scheduled for Ontario and in Saskatchewan this fall.

“This is my bread and butter. I love always being at home and I call Alberta that as well because I come out there so much.”

Joining him will be his 68-year-old piano player Joel Spillette who ran a bar in Nanaimo when McMahon was in his teens.

“He’s such a good travel mate, sometimes I do these duet tours with him. He’s been at it a long time.”

For McMahon, music is a family business and after time amasses “you get used to it,” he said of the touring. His youngest daughter is 14 and has known her dad as a touring artist since she was one, he said.

“Its not easy, I think it’s harder for me than it is for them but I always come back to the fact ‘what else would I be doing?’ This is what I do.”

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