Summer music at St. Albert Place Plaza

Arden Theatre organizers announce the Plaza Series two-month roster with Wendy McNeill, Gai Lan Ensemble, Dylan Menzie, Pahua and more

Back by popular demand, the Arden Theatre’s outdoor Plaza Series is the hottest ticket in town. It returns every Thursday throughout the summer from July 4 to August 29. 

Hosted on St. Albert Place Plaza, the series was launched during pandemic restrictions for indoor concerts. Fans not only enjoyed the alfresco shows and demanded more. They also realized this type of live experience was needed and could not be replaced. 

Ben Sures is the series’ new professional programming presenter, and he shared his vision with the Gazette. 

“My intention is to present a summer of music that is unique to St. Albert. There aren’t a lot of opportunities to see these artists anywhere else and I think I’ve successfully done that. I wanted to bring world-class artists for reasonable ticket prices,” said Sures, a musician with three decades of experience as a folk-roots singer-songwriter. 

“I also hope to create more relationships with St. Albert businesses and get them involved. I’d like to treat the Plaza Series as a balance of fun, family music — some new, some established, some world-class. And I’d like to champion emerging artists.” 

The series is a cleverly packaged cocktail of contemporary music and golden standards. The first concert starts with music from the 1930s, gradually making its way through the summer to contemporary 2024 rhythms and beats.  

The Way Back Whens, an old-school jazz street band of young musicians, launches the series on July 4 along with “rhymster” Peter Paul Van Camp.  

“The Way Back Whens is a jazz band with a core group of about six to eight musicians. Dan Davis and Keith Rempel founded it and they have saxophone, clarinet, horns and two drummers. They play a high-energy, jump swing style of music with feel-good, old-fashioned flair,” Sures said. 

“And Peter Paul is an icon of ’80s and ’90s folk festivals. He himself is an old-timer. He’s an earnest, funny spoken word artist. Actually, he calls himself a “rhymster.” He’s so musical in his delivery.” 

The following week on July 11, singer-accordionist Wendy McNeill headlines with emerging artist VISSIA providing support. McNeill, who was raised in Edmonton but currently lives in Europe, is also performing at Vancouver’s Folk Music Festival. 

“Her music is more folk noir. She’s very much a storyteller-singer who uses minor chord waltzes and uses the pump accordion to build tension. It’s very masterful, contemporary music, and she’s developed the traditional European way of layering a story.” 

VISSIA, instead, has built a reputation singing pop, R&B, and soul with tinges of folk hidden in the details. The Alberta-bred singer-songwriter just released a film about herself, Live, With Pleasure, showcasing her varied musical styles.  

Direct from Calgary, the Gai Lan Ensemble drops by the plaza on July 18. Led by flautist Jiajia Li, the Gai Lan Ensemble is a six-piece chamber ensemble composed of Alberta’s finest Chinese instrumentalists. 

“This is a world-class ensemble. It’s not an ensemble you get to hear often.” 

The evening’s supporting artist is Erica Dee Mah, a singer-songwriter, storyteller and contemporary guzheng player based in Whitehorse, Yukon. In 2022, she released The Sargasso Season, a collection of songs written on the traditional 21-stringed Chinese zither. 

“I wanted to find something different, but also that had a relationship with the Gai Lan Ensemble. One of my roles is to be a cultural ambassador demonstrating St. Albert is a place to experience new cultures and ideas and this showcase is part of that,” Sures said. 

Dylan Menzie, an award-winning Prince Edward Island singer-songwriter performs on July 25 with The Western Thistles. Menzie fuses folk, rock and pop elements in what has been described as “Indie Pop Americana.” 

“He’s a young and energetic storyteller with catchy melodies.” 

Instead, The Western Thistles is an Edmonton-based emerging duo, Mark Boer and Brui Huot, who play guitar and banjo. 

“They are purveyors of Americana, folk and outlaw country. They have good old-fashioned country roots.” 

The temperature heats up on Aug. 1 with Jessie & the Gents performing with The Carolines. Jessie & the Gents are flying in from Switzerland for an acoustic-country performance. The fivesome are: Jessie Hardegger (vocals/mandolin), Rick Noorlander (guitar/vocals), Markus Fritzsche (bass/vocals), Rainer Hagmann (fiddle) and Putzie Mayr (dobro/vocals). 

The Carolines — Chloe Albert, Lesley Pelletier and Katie Perman — add a healthy dose of infectious humour to the evening. This trio sings old, familiar country tunes by Patsy Cline, Buck Owens, the Dixie Chicks and many more. But their clever arrangements deliver a contemporary spin. 

“They’re a three-part harmony group singing traditional country and western swing. It’s kind of like The Andrews Sisters meets Hank Williams.” 

Violinist Ewald Cheung and violist Ethan Filner, who have previously performed at St. Albert Chamber Music Society concerts, return Aug. 8 along with classical-Celtic harpist Keri Lynn Zwicker. 

“Both Ewald and Ethan are first character players with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra. I’m a fan of small classical string ensembles. The combination with Keri Lynn will be great. I also wanted a contrasting performance since the Edmonton Folk Festival opens that weekend.” 

Paulina Sotomayor, the trailblazing Mexican composer, percussionist and DJ is the creator of Pahua. Pahua arrives at the series on Aug. 15. Adapting Caribbean and folkloric beats with electronics and percussion, she creates soundtracks rooted in ancient melodies and rhythms. 

“She’s a world-class rising star and we are so lucky to have her here in Alberta. She was just featured in Rolling Stone and she’s going places.” 

Also performing the same evening is Calgary’s Notas De 4 Trio, a Latin dance and music group with an acoustic vibe inspired by flamenco. 

And on Aug. 22, Sures has paired Paul Pigat (aka Cousin Harley) with elder statesman Tim Williams, two musicians holding a title to the upper echelons of blues and roots. 

“They will take turns on stage. Paul can deliver anything — blues, roots and rockabilly. And Tim is the elder statesman. He toured with Lightnin’ Hopkins 40 years ago. He’s been a rancher, a wrangler and he’s written numerous songs.” 

Closing the series on Aug. 29 is A Samplify of Amplify. 

“Amplify released a recording recently. It is a sample of the artists who came through Amplify and a lot have gone on to be professional artists. I wanted the opportunity to present their music, and this seemed the right time.” 

As a musician, Sures sincerely believes music is good for the soul. 

“Music transports us. You live in this special place. You can unwind and feel the vibrations coursing through you. It’s inspiring. I wanted to create a summer festival feeling where it’s a friendly, safe, lovely environment.” 

Individual tickets are $18.75 or a table for six with a front-row experience can be purchased for $150. Ticket prices include GST, handling charges and fees. Go online at or call 780-459-1542 .