Sherman Downey with Sadie and Alister MacDonnell, two of the many performers joining him onstage for the “Paul Simon Spectacular.”
©Tom Cochrane photo
Corner Brook’s Sherman Downey has never been one to pass up a challenge.
As part of the “Paul Simon Spectacular” headlining Gros Morne Summer Music, Downey is expanding his artistic endeavours — tackling things he’s never done before, such as choreographed dancing.
“Trying to get the dance moves down while I’m playing guitar is quite difficult. I admire the Gros Morne Summer Music crowd a great deal,” Downey said during a recent phone interview.
This is Downey’s first year performing in the festival.
He describes the weeks leading up to the show as “intense.” The show is “high energy” for all involved, he said.
“The rehearsals are helping me get to know a lot of kids around, so it’s more fun than work,” Downey said of the children involved in the production.
Downey’s own music covers many genres, from folk roots and country to indie pop.
He released his first album, “Honey for Bees,” in 2009.
His second album, “The Sun in Your Eyes,” won Music Newfoundland and Labrador’s Pop/Rock Recording award and earned him the province’s SOCAN Songwriter of the Year distinction.
Downey’s performances have taken him to the Vancouver Olympics and to Australia’s Woodford Folk Festival.
Sherman Downey and the Ambiguous Case band took top prize in the CBC Music Searchlight competition in 2013, beating almost 3,000 other entrants.
When asked about performing Paul Simon’s music rather than his own songs, Downey said he’s always been a Paul Simon fan.
He’s delighted to be involved with the show, he said, as he is spending time in and around the West Coast writing songs for his next album — thanks to a Music NL recording grant.
“This is good work close to home which still allows me to write close to home. And it’s good to distract myself from trying to write. Sometimes, it’s better to not try so hard. So this distraction is a welcome one.”
There will be about 40 people onstage during the “Paul Simon Spectacular,” including the band headed by percussionist Paul Fadoul of Washington, who has arranged all of the music for the show.
“We’ve been working with recording tracks that Paul sent us,” Downey said of the rehearsals.
Festival manager Dianna Alteen said one of the exciting parts of the show will be the four percussionists who will be on risers at the back of the stage. Audience members will see the percussionists and other musicians help bring Simon’s music to life.
Audience members will also be surprised and delighted to see just how far Downey will go to ensure the production is indeed “high energy.” (You will have to take in the show to see what is meant here).
Downey said he’s enjoying working with all those involved with the show and particularly the young people.
“I’m reluctant to call them kids because their capacity for remembering all the dance moves just blows me out of the water. They’re so enthusiastic — way beyond what I would have been at that age. They’re so confident, it’s inspiring, really,” he said.
Ten-year-old Sadie MacDonnell and her eight-year-old brother, Alister MacDonnell, are excited to be part of the show.
Sadie has performed in the festival several times in the past, but it’s Alister’s first time as part of the production.
Sadie said she loves singing the songs and dancing.
“Before this year, I had never heard of Paul Simon, but now I’m obsessed with all his songs. I’ve been listening to it non-stop. It’s just so much fun,” she said.
Alister said he’s excited to be in such a big show. He came to rehearsals recently wearing his Sherman Downey shirt.
“He’s awesome,” Alister said of Downey.
“Paul Simon Spectacular” runs at the Corner Brook Arts and Culture Centre every Monday and Tuesday evening from Aug. 7-22.