Solid acts in Fort Macleod

Leaf Rapids and Blue Moon Marquee.

A stellar line-up of Spring 2020 concerts will usher in a new decade of unforgettable live music at the Empress Theatre in Fort Macleod. Not only is the Empress a nostalgic piece of local history, it is home to a Centre Stage Series, theatrical releases and live theatre.

These days, southern Alberta singer and songwriter John Wort Hannam shares his expertise behind the scenes to help bring in some of the hottest acts to the “small town with a big heart.” Come experience live music in the oldest opera house in southern Alberta.

“I guess I'm going into my third season,” Hannam said, adding he first started working with the Empress on a volunteer basis. “I've booked myself for a long, long time. It's not like I didn't know what an agent did and all those things, but it's been really interesting to see both sides of being on stage and also now doing what it takes to get other people on stage.”

Hannam said he's pretty excited about the upcoming 2020 season. “I would like to see the theatre be busy. I just don't mean more people coming to shows, but I just mean in general.”

Last year in November, the theatre hosted the “Get Lit!” literary festival. “That's something I'd like to see continue,” Hannam noted. “I'm trying to bring in more varied events, rather than just concerts.”

A unique event coming up in March 2021, Hannam explained, is a screening of the documentary “No Roads In” and concert featuring the Blake Reid Band. “The first half is a documentary of them making a record, which was shown at film festivals last year. The second half is the band actually playing the record they were recording.”

“I'm trying to think of other unique things to do with the theatre,” he added.

According to Hannam, the Centre Stage Series is typically six shows, with three running in the fall and three in the spring. “With the series, people can buy a subscription to those six shows and save a few bucks if they buy the six tickets.”

This season offers a nice blend of pop, folk, blues, classical and gypsy music. “The other thing we're trying this year, which I don't think the Empress has ever attempted before, is for the Centre Stage Series we've got two double-bills,” Hannam said.

“We've never put two artists on the same night,” he added. “I'm interested to hear what the patrons have to say about having a double-bill instead of one.”

On top of that, there's also stand-alone shows, which are not part of the Centre Stage Series, Hannam said. And, the Empress is still a full-time movie theatre and a musical is produced each year. “People forget sometimes. They forget it's actually a working movie theatre, as well.””

Over the holidays, movie-goers in southern Alberta were also lucky to experience a sneak peek of the latest “Ghostbusters” film in the works – which was filmed in Alberta including Fort Macleod and there's even a great exterior shot of the Empress (with a “big explosion”).

Hannam is a former Fort Macleod resident and now lives elsewhere, but he said the town has a lot of heart. “We had a tough time leaving Fort Macleod when we did. I think it's changed a lot since I lived there.”

Nowadays, Fort Macleod is home to the Stronghold Brewing Co., the South Country Fair and the movie industry continues to utilize Fort Macleod and area for Hollywood and other feature films.

“The South Country Fair has been an anchor in that community for a long time,” said Hannam.

As far as the Empress Theatre goes, Hannam said, the “skeleton crew” working at the Empress is trying to bring a vibrancy back to the theatre. The crew also wants southern Albertans to know the theatre is open, there's a lot of things happening in coming months and a lot of things planned. Don't forget, the Empress is also known to be haunted, which is another great reason to pay a visit to the town's vintage gem.

Kicking off the Centre Stage Series is Toronto's Colleen Brown “Singing the Joni Mitchell Songbook” Jan. 25. Don't miss CBC Radio 2 pop rock darlings Whitehorse Jan. 27. On Feb. 6, Stewart MacDougall and others from Ian Tyson's past and current touring and studio bands pay homage to one of Alberta's best songwriters by performing an evening of the legendary Ian Tyson's songs. The first double-bill of the season features Leaf Rapids and Blue Moon Marquee on Feb. 20. Soundboard Music Tour hits the stage Mar. 14. On Mar. 27, the Tim Hus Trio will be featured and the second double-bill will be Braden Gates and Russell DeCarle Apr. 18.

For more information or to purchase tickets visit online at macleodempress.com.

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