By Judy Roche

John Mann, former frontman for the iconic and highly acclaimed west coast band, Spirit of the West isn’t just a singer/songwriter—he is a performer in every sense of the word. On October 17, Mann played to a full house as part of the Sleeping Giant Folk Music Society’s 2014/15 season. Mann is touring in support of his latest album, The Waiting Room (2014)—a powerful testament to his journey while sick with cancer. With that experience behind him and while on tour, earlier this fall Mann announced that he has been diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s disease.

Fans were completely absorbed by his stage presence and intimate storytelling. Accompanied by Allan Rodger on keyboard and bass, Mann drew the audience in with his raw and honest guitar work and harmonica playing. From gut-wrenching lyrics that took you down the dark hole of cancer treatment to light ditties proclaiming his passion for his wife, Jill, who nursed him through recovery, to anthems warning his daughter of the wiles of teenage boys, his songs let you feel his own emotions without bringing you down. Most of the show consisted of his own original material, but was peppered with Canadian classics like “Save this House,” “Political,” and “Venice is Sinking,” complete with his trademark enthusiasm reminiscent of his former band’s 1990s energy.

The tributes within the songs were the most touching. He shared stories of the men he shared a hospital room with during his recovery from surgery, the medications that eased his pain and produced some of his most insightful lyrics, and the childhood he and his brother shared while playing with knives in their yard. He invited everyone into his world and took us all on a journey fans won’t soon forget.