Veteran Maritime singer-songwriter Lennie Gallant has picked up a lot of tools for his trade over the years.
Lately, he’s been using an unusual one at gigs.
“Now I own a projector.”
It’s an integral part of “Searching for Abegweit,” a show often described as a love letter to Prince Edward Island.
Much of the music in the multimedia show is taken from Gallant’s extensive career, and there are also several pieces written specifically for the production. The accompanying album contains all the music and won a 2017 East Coast Music Award for folk recording of the year.
The projector provides a visual component, illuminating hundreds of paintings by Karen Gallant, a P.E.I. artist and Lennie’s sister.
After four successful summer seasons in various venues on P.E.I., Gallant is taking the production on the road. The tour includes various stops in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick as well as one this Sunday at the Souris Show Hall in P.E.I. The tour wraps up with a last show on Nov. 3 in Halifax.
“We’ve done 135 shows and most of them have been sold out; I never dreamed it would take off like it did,” Gallant said in an interview.
“We did it in collaboration with the Confederation Centre the first year. I remember, before it started, lying in bed thinking, ‘I’m out of my mind.’ Usually, I would do maybe three shows on P.E.I. in the summer and then move on to other places. Here I was doing 65 that summer … After the first couple of shows, it was sold out all summer.”
A native of the Acadian village of Rustico, Gallant has recorded 11 albums (nine mostly English, two in French) that have won him widespread recognition. In addition to using his songs to tell a story of the Island, he said he saw Searching for Abegweit as a showcase for Karen’s work.
“I say in the show the Mi’kmaq legend of how Prince Edward Island was created, they say the great spirit Glooscap, after he created the whole world, he took all the most beautiful colours he could find and he painted Prince Edward Island into existence.
“We turn that around: My sister Karen has taken all the most beautiful colours of P.E.I. and put them into a canvas. We travel with a 20-by-12-foot screen and we project hundreds of her paintings that match up with the songs. They’re constantly in motion.”
Gallant also keeps the music partly in the family, as he performs the show with nephews Jonathan Gallant on vocals and percussion and Jeremy Gallant on piano, as well as fiddler Sean Kemp and Acadian singer and multi-instrumentalist Patricia Richard. The show is directed by Jac Gautreau.
“I’ve got to tell you, man, you’d think after 135 shows that they might be a little tired, but the last show was probably the best show we ever did,” Lennie said.
“Any trepidation I had about how it would fly off P.E.I. just went out the window when we did those shows.”
A double-CD set contains 22 songs from the show. The older ones go all the way back to Gallant’s first album, released in 1988, and the show includes well-known numbers like “Which Way Does the River Run,” “Peter’s Dream,” “Tales of the Phantom Ship” and “The Band’s Still Playing.”
“I’ve always kind of had this dream of putting them under one umbrella and telling some kind of story, but at the same time I was a little bit worried. Do these songs all connect? Because it’s a bit of a patchwork quilt. But somehow it does.”
Gallant said it’s nice to still be making music, recording and making a living in an industry that has been changing rapidly. He said he’s been writing and has enough songs to make a “regular” record when the time comes.
He also mused that it might be time to dock Searching for Abegweit for a bit, despite its ongoing popularity.
“I might give it a rest next summer. I don’t think I’m going to run it all summer. We’ll see; maybe we’ll do a few shows. Right now, I’m planning to take a break from it after this tour.”
Lennie and gang on the road
Lennie Gallant’s “Searching for Abegweit” Maritime tour stops:
Oct. 20 at Université Sainte-Anne in Clare, N.S.
Oct. 21 at the Capitol Theatre in Moncton, N.B.
Oct. 22 at the Souris Show Hall
Oct. 26 at the deCoste Performing Arts Centre in Pictou, N.S.
Oct. 27 at King’s Theatre in Annapolis Royal, N.S.
Oct. 28 at the Port Hawkesbury Civic Centre, N.S.
Nov. 3 at the Spatz Theatre in Halifax, N.S.