Sing-Along Messiah FAQ

Messiah time is almost here! We love putting together and performing Handel’s Messiah each year. If it were possible we would fit everyone from Saskatoon’s large choral community on stage with us for one amazing choir. Since there isn’t nearly enough room up front (and scheduling rehearsals would be a nightmare) we have the Sing-Along Messiah the afternoon after the Messiah performance. Choral professionals and enthusiasts alike join in singing beloved Messiah choruses as one huge choir.

Always wondered about the Sing-Along but you’ve never taken the leap? Have no fear! Here are some answers to the frequently asked Messiah Sing-Along questions.

Where and when is the Sing-Along?

Sing-Along Messiah is Saturday, December 16th at 2:30 pm in Knox United Church. This is the same location for the Friday night performance. Doors open at 1:45 pm so come early to get your seat (and perhaps do a warmup or two)!

How do I get tickets?

Tickets are available online and at the door. Singers tickets are just $20 and our Scotiabank 25Below is in effect at the door! ($15 for anyone 25 and under with ID at the ticket table)

Do I have to sing?

No! We do not force everyone to sing. If you want to come enjoy our soloists, and an incredibly large choir, come watch and listen. We recommend you sit in one of the balconies at Knox to have the full experience.

Where do the singers sit?

We divide the main floor into sections (Soprano, Alto, Tenor, Bass) so you can sit with your voice type (your people!). This way it is easier for those sight reading or experiencing their first Sing-Along. Confidence in numbers!

How do I know when to sing?

Our Saskatoon Symphony Chorus Conductor Duff Warkentin and Maestra Cosette Justso Valdés will be there to lead the charge! Keep your eyes on the baton as there are changes in tempi. All sing-along portions are bolded in the program with title numbers.

Can I sing the soloists part?

We invite you to sing along with our Saskatoon Symphony Chorus. Our soloists will be there for the recits and arias. In this relaxed setting, they might try out a  few new ornaments! So sit back, relax, and enjoy the beautiful sounds of our special guests.

What if I don’t have a messiah score?

Not to worry. We will have several copies that we lend out for the performance. Please make sure to return them after as they belong to the University of Saskatchewan Music Department!

Or you may want to put it on your tablet!

 

 

Charles Jennens, librettist

Charles Jennens was an English landowner and arts supporter. A friend of George Frideric Handel’s, he helped author the libretti of several Handel oratorios, including the much-loved Messiah.

A libretto (Italian for “booklet”) is the text used in, or intended for, an extended musical work such as an opera, operetta, masque, oratorio, cantata or musical. The term libretto is also sometimes used to refer to the text of major liturgical works, such as the Mass, requiem and sacred cantata, or the story line of a ballet. 

Born in 1700, Jennens was brought up in Leicestershire at Gospall Hall. He was a devout Christian, and supported the legitimacy of the Stuart line.  He was considered melancholic and extravagant,  and his neighbours called him Suleyman the Magnificent.

Due to his support of the Stuarts he was unable to hold any public appointments, so Jennens turned his attention to the arts instead. He was a collector of art with one of the finest collections in England (at the time), and a devoted patron of music.

Through his love of Handel’s compositions, Jennens and Handel became friends. Jennens even commissioned Tomas Hudson to paint a portrait of Handel.

Jennens used his knowledge of the Bible, and other literary interests to prepare or contribute to libretti for Handel. This work was done for free, and it was always published anonymously. He annotated his copies of Handel’s operas, adding corrections, bass figures, rejected pieces, and dates. It is also clear that on occasions Handel was prepared to accept Jennens’ suggestions and improvements to his compositions.

Some attribute Messiah’s emphasis on the Old Testament – and choice of the Old Testament title “Messiah” – to Jennens’ theological beliefs. Jennens was less than wholly approving of the musical setting, writing to Edward Holdsworth:

“I shall show you a collection I gave Handel, called Messiah, which I value highly. He has made a fine entertainment of it, though not near so good as he might and ought to have done. I have with great difficulty made him correct some of the grossest faults in the composition; but he retained his overture obstinately, in which there are some passages far unworthy of Handel, but much more unworthy of the Messiah.”

In the early 1770s Jennens commenced the preparation of scrupulous critical editions of Shakespeare plays, and the first time that these had been published individually and with editorial footnotes. He completed King Lear, Hamlet, Othello, Macbeth, and Julius Caesar before his death.

He died on 20 November 1773. His memorial lies in Nether Whitacre Parish Church and was sculpted by Richard Hayward who also provided sculptures both in his London home at Great Ormond Street and at his country seat of Gopsall Park.

After his death, Jennens’ second cousin Heneage Finch, 3rd Earl of Aylesford, inherited his music library. Much of it is now preserved in the Henry Watson Music Library at Manchester Central Library. It contains a large collection of manuscripts and published music by Handel and other contemporary composers, both English and Italian; there are 368 volumes of Handel manuscripts, and others include the autograph of Antonio Vivaldi’s “Manchester” violin sonatas and an early manuscript of The Four Seasons. Jennens’ extensive collection of books by William Shakespeare, on literature, philology and theology was largely dispersed in a sale in 1918.

George Frideric Handel, composer

George Frideric Handel by Balthasar Denner

George Frideric  Handel, baptised Georg Friedrich Händel; 23 February 1685 – 14 April 1759, was not just a one-hit-wonder. While this  German-British Baroque composer is most well known for the Hallelujah chorus from his Messiah he also composed operas, oratorios, anthems, concerti grossi, and organ concertos.

Handel’s Zadok the Priest, one of his four coronation anthems, has been performed at every British coronation since 1727. His orchestral works Water Music and Music for the Royal Fireworks are also incredibly popular and are often performed at the BBC Proms.

Handel’s parents had split views on music. His father banned all musical instruments from the house and decided his son would study law. His mother on the other hand snuck a small harpsichord into their attic and did what she could to foster her son’s talent. Handel’s father had to give in and allow some music studies to continue after the Duke of Saxe-Weisenfels heard a young Handel playing the organ and declared that it would be a shame to stifle what was a God-given gift.

Handel’s father still wanted him to become a lawyer so at age 17 George Frideric Handel enrolled a the University in Halle to study law. When his father died a year later Handel dropped out and moved to Hamburg to play harpsichord in the opera house. This was a successful move as he presented his first two operas in his early 20s and then moved to Italy to continue his career.

In 1710, Handel garnered the attention of another George – the elector of Hanover. Handel was hired as the Kappellmeister (choir master) but quickly found a loophole in his contract that allowed him to move to London, England. Though this thoroughly annoyed his employer, it eventually worked out in his favour as George the elector later became King George I of England. The new king commissioned Handel to create several works including the much-loved Water Music.

Handel started three commercial opera companies to supply the English nobility with Italian opera.  The lavish productions included live birds, fireworks, and incredibly complex parts that led to some off-stage drama with his leading ladies. One soprano apparently refused to sing a difficult piece and argued with Handel until he lifted her in the air and threatened to throw her out the window. In another argument with artists, again sopranos, Handel ended up writing each singer an aria of equal length down to the number of notes to try to appease their jealousy and ease tensions. The public took sides, and at one famed performance in 1927 the evening ended with the two singers in a hair-pulling brawl on stage.

Handel saw himself first and foremost as a composer of operas and only turned to Oratorio once Italian operas went out of style in the late 1730s. In 1737, after a disastrous opera season, Handel became so ill his friends worried he would never recover. Thankfully he did, but he realized it was time to switch gears and leave his Italian operas behind.

Handel returned to fame when he focused his attention on oratorios. In 1941 he wrote his most famous oratorio, really his most famous work, when the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland requested an oratorio be performed in Dublin as a benefit concert for various charities. It’s said that the demand for tickets for the first performance of Handel’s Messiah was so great they asked female concertgoers to forego their hoops in an effort to fit more people into the concert hall. (Much like how we ask people to hang their coats at Knox!)

Handel’s health declined and he lost his sight by 1752 despite many treatment attempts. He passed away in 1759 and is buried in Westminster Abbey.

Handel’s Messiah has been a hit ever since its first performance and we are delighted to continue that tradition each December (minus the 3-year Covid-19 hiatus).

Want to see a piece of Messiah history? The British Library has a digital scan of an original handwritten Messiah score.

Handel’s Messiah Premiere

The music for Messiah was completed in 24 days of swift composition. Having received Jennens’s text some time after 10 July 1741, Handel began work on it on 22 August. His records show that he had completed Part I in outline by 28 August, Part II by 6 September and Part III by 12 September, followed by two days of “filling up” to produce the finished work on 14 September. This rapid pace was seen by Jennens not as a sign of ecstatic energy but rather as “careless negligence”, and the relations between the two men would remain strained, since Jennens “urged Handel to make improvements” while the composer stubbornly refused. The autograph score’s 259 pages show some signs of haste such as blots, scratchings-out, unfilled bars and other uncorrected errors, but according to the music scholar Richard Luckett the number of errors is remarkably small in a document of this length. The original manuscript for Messiah is now held in the British Library’s music collection. It is scored for two trumpets, timpani, two oboes, two violins, viola, and basso continuo.

At the end of his manuscript Handel wrote the letters “SDG”—Soli Deo Gloria, “To God alone the glory”. This inscription, taken with the speed of composition, has encouraged belief in the apocryphal story that Handel wrote the music in a fervour of divine inspiration in which, as he wrote the Hallelujah chorus, “He saw all heaven before him”. Burrows points out that many of Handel’s operas of comparable length and structure to Messiah were composed within similar timescales between theatrical seasons. The effort of writing so much music in so short a time was not unusual for Handel and his contemporaries; Handel commenced his next oratorio, Samson, within a week of finishing Messiah, and completed his draft of this new work in a month. In accordance with his practice when writing new works, Handel adapted existing compositions for use in Messiah, in this case drawing on two recently completed Italian duets and one written twenty years previously. Thus, Se tu non lasci amore HWV 193 from 1722 became the basis of “O Death, where is thy sting?”; “His yoke is easy” and “And he shall purify” were drawn from Quel fior che all’alba ride HWV 192 (July 1741), “Unto us a child is born” and “All we like sheep” from Nò, di voi non vo’ fidarmi HWV 189 (July 1741). Handel’s instrumentation in the score is often imprecise, again in line with contemporary convention, where the use of certain instruments and combinations was assumed and did not need to be written down by the composer; later copyists would fill in the details.

Before the first performance Handel made numerous revisions to his manuscript score, in part to match the forces available for the 1742 Dublin premiere; it is probable that his work was not performed as originally conceived in his lifetime. Between 1742 and 1754 he continued to revise and recompose individual movements, sometimes to suit the requirements of particular singers. The first published score of Messiah was issued in 1767, eight years after Handel’s death, though this was based on relatively early manuscripts and included none of Handel’s later revisions.

Dublin, 1742

The Great Music Hall in Fishamble Street, Dublin, where Messiah was first performed
Handel’s decision to give a season of concerts in Dublin in the winter of 1741–42 arose from an invitation from the Duke of Devonshire, then serving as Lord Lieutenant of Ireland. A violinist friend of Handel’s, Matthew Dubourg, was in Dublin as the Lord Lieutenant’s bandmaster; he would look after the tour’s orchestral requirements. Whether Handel originally intended to perform Messiah in Dublin is uncertain; he did not inform Jennens of any such plan, for the latter wrote to Holdsworth on 2 December 1741: “… it was some mortification to me to hear that instead of performing Messiah here he has gone into Ireland with it.” After arriving in Dublin on 18 November 1741, Handel arranged a subscription series of six concerts, to be held between December 1741 and February 1742 at the Great Music Hall, Fishamble Street. These concerts were so popular that a second series was quickly arranged; Messiah figured in neither series.

In early March Handel began discussions with the appropriate committees for a charity concert, to be given in April, at which he intended to present Messiah. He sought and was given permission from St Patrick’s and Christ Church cathedrals to use their choirs for this occasion. These forces amounted to sixteen men and sixteen boy choristers; several of the men were allocated solo parts. The women soloists were Christina Maria Avoglio, who had sung the main soprano roles in the two subscription series, and Susannah Cibber, an established stage actress and contralto who had sung in the second series. To accommodate Cibber’s vocal range, the recitative “Then shall the eyes of the blind” and the aria “He shall feed his flock” were transposed down to F major. The performance, also in the Fishamble Street hall, was originally announced for 12 April, but was deferred for a day “at the request of persons of Distinction”. The orchestra in Dublin comprised strings, two trumpets, and timpani; the number of players is unknown. Handel had his own organ shipped to Ireland for the performances; a harpsichord was probably also used.

The three charities that were to benefit were prisoners’ debt relief, the Mercer’s Hospital, and the Charitable Infirmary. In its report on a public rehearsal, the Dublin News-Letter described the oratorio as “… far surpass[ing] anything of that Nature which has been performed in this or any other Kingdom”. Seven hundred people attended the premiere on 13 April. So that the largest possible audience could be admitted to the concert, gentlemen were requested to remove their swords, and ladies were asked not to wear hoops in their dresses. The performance earned unanimous praise from the assembled press: “Words are wanting to express the exquisite delight it afforded to the admiring and crouded Audience”. A Dublin clergyman, Rev. Delaney, was so overcome by Susanna Cibber’s rendering of “He was despised” that reportedly he leapt to his feet and cried: “Woman, for this be all thy sins forgiven thee!” The takings amounted to around £400, providing about £127 to each of the three nominated charities and securing the release of 142 indebted prisoners.

Handel remained in Dublin for four months after the premiere. He organised a second performance of Messiah on 3 June, which was announced as “the last Performance of Mr Handel’s during his Stay in this Kingdom”. In this second Messiah, which was for Handel’s private financial benefit, Cibber reprised her role from the first performance, though Avoglio may have been replaced by a Mrs Maclaine; details of other performers are not recorded.

London, 1743–59
The warm reception accorded to Messiah in Dublin was not repeated in London. Indeed, even the announcement of the performance as a “new Sacred Oratorio” drew an anonymous commentator to ask if “the Playhouse is a fit Temple to perform it”. Handel introduced the work at the Covent Garden theatre on 23 March 1743. Avoglio and Cibber were again the chief soloists; they were joined by the tenor John Beard, a veteran of Handel’s operas, the bass Thomas Rheinhold and two other sopranos, Kitty Clive and Miss Edwards. The first performance was overshadowed by views expressed in the press that the work’s subject matter was too exalted to be performed in a theatre, particularly by secular singer-actresses such as Cibber and Clive. In an attempt to deflect such sensibilities, in London Handel had avoided the name Messiah and presented the work as the “New Sacred Oratorio”. As was his custom, Handel rearranged the music to suit his singers. He wrote a new setting of “And lo, the angel of the Lord” for Clive, never used subsequently. He added a tenor song for Beard: “Their sound is gone out”, which had appeared in Jennens’s original libretto but had not been in the Dublin performances.

The chapel of London’s Foundling Hospital, the venue for regular charity performances of Messiah from 1750
The custom of standing for the Hallelujah chorus originates from a popular belief that, at the London premiere, King George II did so, which would have obliged all to stand. There is no convincing evidence that the king was present, or that he attended any subsequent performance of Messiah; the first reference to the practice of standing appears in a letter dated 1756, three years prior to Handel’s death.

London’s initially cool reception of Messiah led Handel to reduce the season’s planned six performances to three, and not to present the work at all in 1744—to the considerable annoyance of Jennens, whose relations with the composer temporarily soured. At Jennens’s request, Handel made several changes in the music for the 1745 revival: “Their sound is gone out” became a choral piece, the soprano song “Rejoice greatly” was recomposed in shortened form, and the transpositions for Cibber’s voice were restored to their original soprano range. Jennens wrote to Holdsworth on 30 August 1745: “[Handel] has made a fine Entertainment of it, though not near so good as he might & ought to have done. I have with great difficulty made him correct some of the grosser faults in the composition …” Handel directed two performances at Covent Garden in 1745, on 9 and 11 April, and then set the work aside for four years.

Uncompleted admission ticket for the May 1750 performance, including the arms of the venue, the Foundling Hospital
The 1749 revival at Covent Garden, under the proper title of Messiah, saw the appearance of two female soloists who were henceforth closely associated with Handel’s music: Giulia Frasi and Caterina Galli. In the following year these were joined by the male alto Gaetano Guadagni, for whom Handel composed new versions of “But who may abide” and “Thou art gone up on high”. The year 1750 also saw the institution of the annual charity performances of Messiah at London’s Foundling Hospital, which continued until Handel’s death and beyond. The 1754 performance at the hospital is the first for which full details of the orchestral and vocal forces survive. The orchestra included fifteen violins, five violas, three cellos, two double basses, four bassoons, four oboes, two trumpets, two horns and drums. In the chorus of nineteen were six trebles from the Chapel Royal; the remainder, all men, were altos, tenors and basses. Frasi, Galli and Beard led the five soloists, who were required to assist the chorus. For this performance the transposed Guadagni arias were restored to the soprano voice. By 1754 Handel was severely afflicted by the onset of blindness, and in 1755 he turned over the direction of the Messiah hospital performance to his pupil, J. C. Smith. He apparently resumed his duties in 1757 and may have continued thereafter. The final performance of the work at which Handel was present was at Covent Garden on 6 April 1759, eight days before his death.

Interesting Facts about Handel’s Messiah

We’re thrilled to be performing Handel’s hit this year!

It’s a 110-year-old tradition in Saskatoon – and we’re so excited to have our Chorus colleagues back on stage with us! Here are a few intriguing facts about Messiah while we wait.

Messiah wasn’t originally intended for Christmas

The work premiered in Dublin in 1742 — at Easter time. In fact, Messiah was always intended for Lent. It was the Victorians who moved it to Christmas, to revive interest in that then-neglected holiday.

Incidentally, the first London performance was a disaster. The fact that a religious work was being performed in a theatre, not a church, scandalized London audiences. Eventually, when Handel gave all the proceedings from Messiah to charity, London came around, but only then.

Handel wrote Messiah for a fairly small ensemble

Handel’s orchestra and choir was pretty small, maybe 18 musicians and 16 singers. It was the Imperial-mad Victorians in the late nineteenth century who filled the Crystal Palace with thousands of singers and hundreds of musicians, completely distorting everything Handel had written — and making for a long evening.

At the lugubrious pace you had to take to get 5,000 singers to navigate Handel’s choruses, a single performance could take five hours (complete with a dinner break).

Handel wrote the entire three-hour work in 24 days

Handel supposedly composed the piece in a white-hot frenzy of creativity in July and August of 1741 (and then wrote his oratorio Samson in the following three weeks). Though…he was taken to exageration…

He did help himself to parts of earlier compositions he had written years before. The choruses “And He Shall Purify,” “For Unto Us a Child Is Born” and “His Yoke Is Easy” were all lifted from little Italian love arias Handel had composed 20 years earlier.

Handel wept while he composed the Hallelujah Chorus and claimed he saw visions of angels while he worked on the piece.

Was Handel a religious man? We haven’t the faintest idea. We know almost nothing about Handel’s personal and private life — which is surprising given he was one of the most famous men in England during his lifetime. But we do know that the compositional process moved him deeply.

Almost all the words for Messiah were taken from the Old Testament.

Even though Messiah tells the story of Jesus — from birth to death to Resurrection and beyond, almost all the texts were taken from the Old Testament — not the New. A neat trick, to tell Jesus’s life using texts written long before he lived.

The reason Old Testament texts were chosen for Messiah is that the guy who compiled them, Charles Jennens, was using Messiah to fight a battle with a religious sect of the time called the Deists, who denied the reality of prophecy in the Bible. Jennens wanted to prove that the story of Jesus was completely prefigured in the Old Testament.

Thus, the text for Messiah. So, for example, the aria “He was despised, and rejected of men,” one of Messiah’s most famous, was not written about Jesus. It comes from Isaiah, chapter 53, verse three – written 700 years before Jesus was born.

Messiah is most popular with English speakers.

Yes, there are performances of Messiah everywhere, but the preponderance of performances are in the English-speaking world, and those places on the globe where British imperialism spread its tentacles.

Messiah is popular in England, of course, as well as in Canada, Australia and the United States, but also in places such as Nigeria, Kenya, Trinidad and South Africa (as a YouTube search will confirm).

 

 

What’s happening at the Bassment

The Bassment is one of Canada’s premier jazz clubs and provides musicians of all skill levels a venue to showcase their talents in front of a live audience while accessing a variety of professional, concert-grade instruments. The club offers an intimate, personal concert space with a world-class stage for local, national, and international artists.

Here’s a sample of what’s happening next at The Bassment

Creedence Clearwater Revival Revisited featuring Ross Neilsen
Friday, February 2

ROCKIN’ ROOTS SERIES • DOORS @ 7:30PM • SHOW@ 8:30PM

www.rossneilsen.com

With over two decades of experience in the music business, Ross Neilsen has played on stages from Montreal to Mexico, all the while acquiring a handsome list of industry accolades. Most comfortable settled in behind a mic performing his own compositions, as well as tunes by some of his favourite songwriters, Ross’ million miles of travel and thousands of performances give him the confidence to feel right at home whenever and wherever he plugs in.

Ross revisits the music of Creedence Clearwater Revival during a night that celebrates the music of one of the greatest bands of the late ’60s and early ’70s. With 14 consecutive Top 10 ten singles, five Top 10 albums, and a performance at the original Woodstock, CCR’s music has stood the test of time and remains as relevant as ever. Ross is joined by Fabian Minnema (guitar), Chris Mason (bass), and Lucas Goetz (drums).

Sponsored by Wright Construction

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The B .C. Read Big Band
Friday, February 9

 

BLUES SERIES • DOORS @7:30 • SHOW@8:30PM

www.bcread.com

Possessing a soulful blues rasp and a bag full of great blues tunes, home-town legend B.C. Read has been preaching the gospel of Howlin’ Wolf, B.B King, and Muddy Waters to audiences all over Western Canada for 40 years. Returning to play his annual mid-winter gig at The Bassment, B.C. has lined up his favourite musicians to perform a night of blues classics and originals.

Sponsored by David’s Distinctive Men’s Apparel

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The Slocan Ramblers
Sunday, February 11

 

BLUEGRASS SERIES • DOORS @ 6:30PM • RUSH SEATING

www.slocanramblers.com

The reigning champions of Canadian bluegrass, the Slocan Ramblers are back showcasing their unique blend of bluegrass, old-time, and folk. The band’s set list is marked by thoughtful songwriting, lightning fast-instrumentals, and sawdust-thick vocals.

This show will feature the Ramblers at the top of their game playing selections from their three previous releases and their latest album, Up the Hill and Through the Fog. Say hello to your new favourite band!

Sponsored by Northern Lights Bluegrass & Old Tyme Music Society

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Oral Fuentes Reggae Band
Friday, February 16

 

WORLD MUSIC SERIES • DOORS @ 7:30PM • SHOW@ 8:30PM

Oral Fuentes’ musical journey began in his home country of Belize, where he played for many local and national events in the popular Belizean group, Caribbean Jam. Oral and his 9-piece Saskatoon band play an infectious set list of original tunes fusing Reggae and Afro/Latin. Joining Oral are Lucianus Best (keyboards), Dave Nelson (trumpet), Mike Kereiff (trumpet), Claire Anderson (trumpet), Joseph Ashong (percussion), Zender Millar (bass), and Rocky Delis (drums).

Sponsored by David’s Distinctive Men’s Apparel

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60 Years of Summer Players: A Musical Theatre Showcase
Saturday, February 17

 

JAZZ SINGER SERIES • DOORS @6:300 • SHOW@ 7:300

www.saskatoonsummerplayers.ca

Embark on a musical journey that looks back on the past 60 years of Saskatoon Summer Players, as well as into where we hope to go next. This extraordinary event promises a show filled with nostalgia, talent, and the magic of musical theatre. Directed by Matt Olson, our cast features a stellar lineup of performers, both seasoned veterans and rising stars, who bring along their talents and passion for performance as we relive iconic moments, beloved characters, and show-stopping numbers that have left an indelible mark on Saskatoon Summer Players’ illustrious history. Get ready to laugh, cry, and cheer for 60 years of spectacular performances!

Presented by Saskatoon Summer Players and The Saskatoon Jazz Society

Sponsored by David’s Distinctive Men’s Apparel

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Super Chikan and Steve Marriner
Friday, February 23

 

James “Super Chikan” Johnson is the real deal! Based in Clarksdale Mississippi, he builds many of his own guitars. Backed by The Mojo Stars,  Super Chikan brings us an evening of high-energy blues.

Steve needs no introduction. He’s been knocking out audiences for years, on his own and with Monkeyjunk. We are lucky to be featuring Steve for the first time with his own band “Local Electric”.

Presented by the Saskatoon Blues Society

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