Saskatchewan’s Belle Plaine Feels At Home In Atlantic Canada

Photo by Carey Shaw
Photo by Carey Shaw

In spite of the almost 4000 kilometres that separate Moncton from Regina, Saskatchewan, Belle Plaine leader Melanie Hankewich feels at home in the Maritimes.

“There is a sense of hospitality that exists on the East Coast that is also prevalent in the Prairies,” Hankewich says. “You end up receiving invites to someone’s house for supper, or you are fortunate enough to be put up in people’s homes when the chances arises. There is a trust that people on the East Coast have that you are going to care about people and their things the same way you would care for your own.”

It was on an Atlantic Canadian tour last year that Hankewich and her band mates – bassist Elizabeth Curry and keyboardist Jeremy Sauer – were given a first-hand glimpse of Maritime hospitality.

“We flew into the Charlottetown Airport, but because our plane was going to be arriving after the car rental agency closed, I had asked them to simply park the vehicle in the paid parking lot as close to their closing time as possible, and that we would take care of the bill. We got to the van, I looked at the parking ticket and the vehicle was put into the lot one minute before they closed,” she laughs.

“Then we ventured off to where we were staying for the night, and while we were waiting for the host to arrive, one of us checked the door, just to see if it was locked; it wasn’t locked, of course. There is just such a neighbourly feel to communities in Atlantic Canada that we can really identify with.”

Further proof of Belle Plaine’s affinity for Atlantic Canada can be found in the fact the group is performing a total of 23 shows in the region. Their tour began at the end of May in Liverpool, N.S and is slated to wrap up in Halifax on June 27. In between those dates, the trio will have performed in Margaretsville, Wolfville, St. Andrews, Antigonish, and Moncton, among many other Atlantic Canada destinations.

Having Belle Plaine welcomed into so many small communities is not necessarily unique to Atlantic Canada, but is something that Hankewich says the trio never wants to take for granted.

“When you’re playing a venue like the Evergreen Theatre in Margaretsville, you want to be sure you’re making a good impression at all levels. It would be naïve to assume that venues aren’t talking to each other about who they are hosting. In the end, it all works to the group’s advantage as they are the types of venues that will seemingly go the extra mile for the band,” she says.

Growing up in small-town Saskatchewan, Hankewich knows first-hand the impact that music can have in small communities. She says that her parents were always incredibly supportive of her musical endeavours, putting her in voice lessons at age six.

Later in life, Hankewich found herself studying jazz at Edmonton’s Grant MacEwan University. It was there that she met Belle Plaine keyboardist Jeremy Sauer, even though it would take a number of years before the group would actually coalesce.

“Attending Grant MacEwan actually stunted my growth as a musician to a certain extent. I started feeling as though I wasn’t talented enough or just didn’t measure up to the talent around me. I ended up leaving music behind for a period of time,” Hankewich says.

She moved to Australia for a year before returning to Regina in 2006. She notes her boyfriend at the time was encouraging her to sing more a somewhat prophetic move considering that a short while later, Hankewich found herself single, living through what she calls “one of the lowest points in my life.”

But as the lyric in the Semisonic hit “Closing Time” proclaims, “Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end…”

“The break-up left me in this incredibly sad place where I was writing a lot. A close friend of mine began taking my lyrics and setting them to melodies that eventually built into songs our full-length debut record Notes From A Waitress.”

Released in 2012, the band will unveil their long-awaited follow-up at the end of July: A live album recorded in Regina last year that excitedly documents the group’s versatility in performing swing, classic country and folk music, likely to appeal to fans of Emmylou Harris, Patsy Cline or the smoky jazz of Canada’s own Jill Barber.

Breaking down barriers between musical genres is something which Hankewich says the group takes great pride in doing:

“I feel our live show is such a richer experience because we are switching between country, folk and swing music all the time. We see ourselves more as interpreters of songs, and try to have a varied and vibrant feel to our live show.”

What: Belle Plaine
When: Monday June 15, 9 p.m.
Where: Plan b Lounge, 212 St. George St., Moncton