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CHELMSFORD -- For Michelle Canning, music is a lifelong love, a career that has taken her to the country music capital of Nashville and beyond.

It is also a way for Canning, a North Andover native, to cherish a beloved grandfather, whom she lost to Alzheimer's disease.

Since 2012, Canning and The Michelle Canning Band have presented "A Night on The Edge!" to benefit the Alzheimer's Foundation of America, at the Chelmsford Lodge of Elks.

This year's concert is set for March 21 at the Elks lodge.

Recently, Canning spoke about the concert, and her hopes for Alzheimer's patients, their families and the future.

What can concert goers expect at A Night on The Edge?

The main attraction of the evening is a concert by The Michelle Canning Band. We play a mix of traditional and contemporary bluegrass and country music, which includes classic bluegrass and country songs, original material, and a few surprises thrown in.

In addition, we have a baked goods table ... another highlight of the event is a raffle.

Amongst all the fun, we also remember those who suffer or have suffered from Alzheimer's disease with a memory board. Guests can write memories on heart-shaped sticky notes, and post them on a large whiteboard.

We also invite guests to send us photos of their loved ones. We honor these folks during the concert with a special song that I co-wrote for my grandpa, called, "It'll Take Him Away." As we perform the song, the photos that were submitted are presented on a screen. People can submit a photo by emailing it to info@michellecanning.net by March 16.

 

How and when did you get started presenting this event?

I presented this event for the first time in 2012 as a tribute to my grandfather, who passed away with Alzheimer's disease when I was only 12 years old. It was really hard for me to watch my grandpa go through this terrible disease. We were so close, and yet he forgot who I was.

A few years later, when I was in high school, I decided that I wanted to find a way to help other families who were going through this. I went about this the best way I knew how: with music. First, I co-wrote a song in honor of my grandpa called, "It'll Take Him Away."

I had a new band at the time, and we decided we were going to put on a show to raise funds for the Alzheimer's Foundation of America...we are going into our ninth year of "A Night on the Edge!" and over the past eight years, we have raised over $34,000 for the Alzheimer's Foundation of America.

What drew you to playing the banjo?

I started playing the banjo when I was 8 years old. My other grandfather, who I call Pepere, was babysitting me. I was drawing guitars on construction paper, when I said, "Pepere, let's make a band!" He said, "OK, I'll play the guitar, and you play the banjo."

Being an 8-year-old girl from Massachusetts, I had no idea what a banjo was. I asked him, and he pulled one out of his closet. He placed it in my arms, and I immediately fell in love.

He introduced me to bluegrass music, and started taking me to bluegrass concerts and festivals...that year, on New Year's Eve, Pepere came over the house with his banjo. I was excited that he brought it.

He said, "It's yours." He gave me his banjo, and I started taking lessons. A number of bluegrass bands were kind enough to bring me on stage when I was a kid to play a song or two during their sets. I fell deeper and deeper in love with the instrument and the music it could make. Now, 17 years later, I am living in Nashville, touring with my band, and teaching music. I still have Pepere's banjo hanging on my bedroom wall.

Why is this event important to you?

"A Night on the Edge!" is important to me because there are so many people who suffer from Alzheimer's disease every day.

I play my song, "It'll Take Him Away," at every show throughout the year. Without fail, at least one person comes up to me after every show to tell me how the song touched them...I've even had someone tell me that she, herself, was recently diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease. This disease affects so many people on a daily basis. My goal is to help as many people as I can so that those going through it now are not alone, and [for] no one will have to go through it in the future.

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