Members of the Longview, Alberta-based duo Over The Moon have said they like to treat their audience like “a living room full of full of close friends coming over for a night of music and fun stories.” Presented by the Canora Arts Council and part of the Stars for Saskatchewan Concert Series, on November 16 Canora Composite School was turned into just such a living room atmosphere. Approximately 50 concertgoers in attendance had the opportunity to hear the music and smooth harmonies of Craig Bignell and Suzanne Levesque, as well a wide range of stories of their music and the ranch where they live.
For their concert trip through Saskatchewan Bignell and Levesque, who have been married for seven years, were backed up by Cedric Blary on guitar as well as wind instruments such as: clarinet, flute, recorder and whistles. In addition to singing, Bignell plays guitar and banjo while Levesque plays upright bass and guitar.
There was a feeling of anticipation and excitement before the concert began, probably because that due to the pandemic, the last Canora Arts Council concert took place almost two years ago.
“So I guess we’re the best band you’ve seen in a long time, but we haven’t even played yet,” said Bignell to open the evening. The duo then began the concert with an a cappella musical greeting, “Hello everybody, how do you do, we’re here to sing and play for you.”
Bignell describes their music as “Cowbilly,” a combination of cowboy and hillbilly. The couple writes a great deal of their own music, but also covers songs initially made popular by other artists.
“We love doing tours in rural Saskatchewan and Alberta where we get to meet farming people, our kind of people.”
Their first song of the evening was their own unique interpretation of Love Hurts, a song initially made popular in 1960 by the close harmonies of the Everly Brothers, and then brought back in a completely different power ballad version by the hard rock group Nazareth in the mid 70s.
The couple collaborates on most of their original songs, and after having lived on an Alberta ranch for a number of years, admit “it’s pretty much impossible for the ranch atmosphere not to become a part of the music.”
The next song of the evening, also the first song they ever wrote together, was Over The Moon.
“If you really listen to the song, there’s a good chance you’ll think you’re at the ranch riding a horse,” described Bignell.
The song title eventually was chosen as the name of their group, since it aptly described the way the couple feels about each other.
The music continued with Moondance, a song made popular by Ian Tyson, who happens to be one of their ranching neighbours near Longview. Bignell has played with Tyson’s band in the past and managed to get Tyson’s approval to add the song to the Over the Moon playlist.
Bignell originally met Levesque when she was still with The Travelling Mabels, a group which included her mother Eva. They hired Craig to do percussion for a recording without meeting in person. But when Craig came out west with Huron Carol (led by Tom Jackson), they ended up meeting at an album release party, where everyone did some singing.
“I was too scared to say anything to her at first,” recalled Bignell. “But a few days later she sent me an email and attached the old Everly Brothers song Sleepless Nights.”
The Canora audience had the privilege of hearing it during the performance. That was the first song they ever sang together and their relationship, both musical and romantic, mushroomed from there.
The playlist included an original composition called You Don’t Even Know, written about the period when Craig had just met Suzanne and was completely smitten, and too scared to say anything to her.
The couple’s songwriting process tends to change, mainly depending on the subject matter. For songs that tell a story, such as John Ware, a song off their new album Chinook Waltz¸ they like to write the story first, then the music.
“John Ware is about a black slave who was in South Carolina,” explained Bignell. “When slavery was abolished, he learned to be a cowboy. He drove cattle all the way from Texas to Alberta, and made a home there. He became a great cowboy, eventually owned his own ranch and had a family.”
As mentioned earlier, the members of Over The Moon each play multiple instruments.
“We change instruments a lot during the evening because we like the different musical textures for the different songs,” shared Bignell.
During the concert, he started a conversation with the younger members of the audience regarding learning about rhyming. This led seamlessly into an original composition called Texas Love Song, where they had the seemingly difficult task of finding words that rhyme with Texas. But the project was completed with little difficulty, resulting in a catchy number that included Lexus, perplexes, multiplexes, solar plexus, and even where nobody can text us.
In recent years, the popularity of Over The Moon has grown well beyond Canada. Shortly before the pandemic, they toured across China, playing some of the biggest Chinese venues. It was a somewhat unusual experience, as most Chinese music fans didn’t even know what a banjo was. But some educational videos before the shows helped overcome that obstacle.
Bignell and Levesque made it a point to include songs that were at least somewhat familiar to the Chinese audience, and one of those was their own unique version of Country Roads by John Denver. One of the most memorable aspects of the tour was “almost everyone knew the words and sang along, even though they probably didn’t know what the words meant.”
The talents of the three musicians really shone through during the evening, including during Cowgirl Yodel when Bignell and Levesque not only yodelled, but yodelled in harmony. This was one of the multiple times during the concert when the audience broke out in spontaneous applause.
Concertgoers wouldn’t let them leave the stage without an encore, and the performers obliged with Chinook Waltz, the title track off their latest album, and another original composition. “It’s all about what it’s like to be on the ranch in the quiet when fall arrives, when that first fire in the woodstove feels so good,” shared Bignell.
Over The Moon has plans to keep busy well beyond the stop in Canora. They have a performing tour to the United Kingdom and Ireland planned for March 2022, and are working on including performances in Europe.
For more information on all things relating to Over The Moon visit overthemoonband.com.