The Gift: A Tribute to Ian Tyson

Eighteen years ago a number of Ian Tyson’s onetime sidemen, collaborators and musical admirers came together under the banner of The Gift. It was to be a solitary weekend paying tribute to the singer-songwriter and his massive songbook.

Since that weekend, which found the troupe selling out two shows at Sherwood Park’s Festival Place and another at the Arden Theatre in St. Albert, The Gift continues to surface at festivals, concert halls and cowboy poetry gatherings around Alberta and B.C.

Led by pianist and vocalist Stewart MacDougall, who has written, toured and recorded with Tyson, this critically acclaimed show has wowed audiences at the Jack Singer Concert Hall in Calgary, The Edmonton Folk Music Festival, The Dauphin Country Fest, The Centrepointe Theatre in Ottawa, The Big Valley Jamboree, and many other major venues, regional theatres and festivals.

MacDougall leads a band that includes fellow Tyson alumni:  Thom Moon on drums, Gordie Matthews on guitar, fiddle ace Myran Szott and Julian Kerr on bass. The line-up also includes former One Horse Blue lead singer and guitarist Ian Oscar and vocalist Tracy Millar who has enjoyed her fair share of radio play on country stations around the province for some 15 years. Award-winning folk-roots singer John Wort Hannam has also become part of the cast of The Gift for the last eight years.

Collectively these musicians have worked on most of Tyson’s recorded output since he first arrived back in Alberta from Toronto in the late seventies. As a unit they played in Tyson’s Chinook Arch Riders or in Gordie Matthews case, the acoustic trio that is heard on Tyson’s Live at Longview disc which was Tyson’s last great ensemble.

The Gift weaves through 50 years of Tyson’s catalogue, finding room for songs going back to the days of Ian and Sylvia and The Great Speckled Bird, through Ian’s honk-tonk years and of course a large slice of the cowboy culture music that is heard on albums from Old Corrals and Sagebrush to Cowboyography and on to classic Tyson releases like 18 Inches of Rain, I Outgrew The Saddle, Lost Herd, and Songs From The Gravel Road. Of course, all of Tyson’s hits, from Four Strong Winds, Summer Wages, Someday Soon and Some Kind of Fool, to Navajo Rug, Springtime In Alberta, and 18 Inches of Rain and others find their way into the set lists.

The guest list since the inception of The Gift is long and includes guitar god Amos Garrett who was the bandleader for The Great Speckled Bird, Corb Lund, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, The McDades, Tim Hus, Prairie Oyster lead singer Russell deCarle, Cindy Church, Doug Andrew from Vancouver’s Circus In Flames, and Tom Russell.

The Gift has been called “a brilliant troupe of musicians who get to the heart and soul of Ian’s work” by Big Valley Jamboree producer Larry Werner, while CKUA’s Wide Cut Country host Allison Brock calls The Gift, “a special evening that is a must for all Tyson fans”.
Tyson himself has praised the show and did the same for the 2008 companion album that featured members of this cast as well as guests like Gordon Lightfoot, Jennifer Warnes, Chris Hillman, Corb Lund and Blue Rodeo.

If you are a fan of the music and career of Ian Tyson, The Gift is just that, a gift to those who understand what a force Tyson has been in country, folk and roots music for well over half a century.

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