Johnny Cole returns to the stage on Thursday at the Northern Arts and Cultural Centre (NACC), his first indoor show in 18 months.
The stage name of lifelong Yellowknifer Norm Glowach, Johnny Cole will be performing his Meet Me at the Rex multimedia show that tells the story of how Glowach’s ancestors came to Canada from France, settled in Yellowknife in 1940 and bought the Rex Cafe on Latham Island.
The performance includes photos of his family history projected on a screen and Glowach’s narration of stories that stretch back many decades.
“When we were asked to do the show by the NACC, the concern was to get it like the last show I did on May 25, 2019,” Glowach said. “We had an eight-piece band on stage, three people running projectors, another person running a mock radio set up.”
But Glowach said that set up had to be scaled back due to physical distancing concerns on stage.
“It won’t be the same. The last show had three projectors. This one will have one projector. It’s not as fancy but it’ll still convey the message. An eight-piece band is just too much. Three people in the back plus the stage manager is just not appropriate at this time.”
Glowach admits that all of the changes feel “weird” even though he supports following the Covid health precautions. The number of audience numbers and supporting stage crew will be limited. Everyone on stage will wear masks until they start performing.
“It makes it a little tougher because it forces me into some areas where I’m playing more guitar out front. Most people who know me as a performer here know me as a drummer. It means it’s a bit of a stretch to stand out there with a guitar and perform, especially in a show with narration to tell the story.”
The downtime that the pandemic forced on Glowach and other musicians has put some of his projects on hold, like his 14-year-old blues band Priscilla’s Revenge. They haven’t been performing and band members are comfortable to wait until the Covid restrictions ease off before they make any plans for new gigs.
The break has given him more time to fine tune Johnny Cole, with the narration of the show edited to make it clearer and some of the lyrics changed to reflect new information Glowach has gleaned in his ongoing historical research.
In his more than 20 years of working at NWT Archives, he has scanned hundreds of photos and researched history that stretches back into the 1800s.
The name Johnny Cole reflects Glowach’s artistic vision of Yellowknife and his family background.
“I thought Johnny was a nice 1950s kind of name to use,” he said. “Originally, I called the character who is the narrator ‘Johnny Rex.’ (But) Rex and Meet Me at the Rex gets confusing. I was looking for another secondary name.”
Cole comes partly from Glowach mishearing the suggested name Coe as ‘Cole’; and partly from him working in the 1950s at the Capitol Theatre under a manager named Cole.
“We called him Old Man Cole. I worked for him for about four hours on my knees with a putty knife getting gum off the floor,” he recalled with a laugh.
Johnny Cole and the Late Show play at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday. Masks must be worn for the duration of the show. Food or drinks aren’t allowed in the theatre and patrons will be asked Covid screening questions upon entry.
The show will be broadcast through Facebook and Northwestel Community TV on Friday at 7:30 p.m.
Only 50 seats are available and remaining tickets can only be purchased over the phone by calling 867-766-6101.