I tend to celebrate things without much fanfare, but I thought I'd post here in my blog that it was ten years ago today that I played a show at Trinity Lounge in Sarnia as part of Empty Fest to release my HopeFull EP. I knew the room would be filled with friends and family, some of whom even came from out of town to take in the show, but I had no idea what to expect from my performance, and where it might take me in the days, weeks, months, and years ahead.
I was very fortunate to be sharing the stage that night with Andrew Austin and Art of Fresh (D.O. Gibson and Beatchild). I'd made music with D.O. in the past, but it was Andrew who brought me back into the music industry. Those who were there might surely have their take on the show, but I remember being an awkward novice performer fumbling my way through a set of all seven songs on the record, dedicating each one to someone who was important to me. I felt nervous, I felt in over my head, and I felt loved. It was some night. In some ways, it was the culmination of a couple of months of work in studio with my dear friend Andrew Noakowski, who produced the album and to this day remains the person whose ears I trust the most when it comes to sound quality. He's also one of my biggest supporters and one of my dearest friends. While we celebrated the end of that recording process, that night was just the beginning of what has now been a ten year career as a performing singer-songwriter.
I'm still awkward, and still fumble my way through my sets, and still dedicate songs to people who are important to me (hope you're still listening, Skip), but I'm a little less of a novice, feel a little less in over my head, and have found a home on stage telling stories and singing songs for these past ten years. I still get nervous before every show, and will likely stop performing if that ever stops happening because I know it comes from wanting to give the audience my best. Not every show hits the same way, and no two will ever be the same, and I kind of love that about this life.
I thought a nice way to celebrate ten years would be to briefly acknowledge and spotlight ten people who have helped shape my performing career. There are countless people who fall into that category, and I hope I have been able to show you all my appreciation for your love and support over the years, but this list of ten is made up musicians that have played a role in getting me here, focusing on those early years. There's a link to a video of one of their songs beside each of the ten, and I've also created a Spotify playlist with those songs.
Ambre McLean - I Can Tell
My Crash Bamboo bandmate and I began our relationship in 2009 with a 2-hour belly laugh-filled conversation in front of an elevator in Ottawa at the then Ontario Council of Folk Festivals conference. Easily the person with whom I have the best chemistry on stage, singing with Ambre is a constant pinch-me moment for me. I'm still awestruck by the fact that she chose to be in a band with me.
Andrew Austin - If It Ain't This Town
We went to high school together and as I mentioned, Andrew brought me back into the music industry. None of this would have happened without him. I love that he was there sharing the stage with me for my first show and a number of shows since. It is so often that I have one of Andrew's songs in my head, and I will always shout it out to anyone who'll listen that he is one of this country's best singers, songwriters, and musicians, and also one of my favourite people. Beyond that, we are both part of my favourite text message group of all time.
Anna Atkinson - Lucybelle
Anna is the only person who has played on both of my albums. When I say she played on my albums, I mean when she absolutely nailed her first take in our first recording session, I said "I wasn't even sure I liked that song before, and now I love it." When I was planning my release show for HopeFull in Toronto, I asked Anna if she'd like to play the opening set. She apologized for her delay in responding to my email on account of a busy few days (which I believe involved rehearsing for/playing on stage with both Josh Groban and Peter Gabriel, if I remember correctly), but she said she'd be thrilled to open for me. Having astonishing musicians and generous souls like Anna in my life at that time contributed heavily to the performer and person I've become since.
Art of Fresh - Get Free
Okay, this is cheating. I said ten people, and this is my way of sneaking in an eleventh, because D.O. and Beatchild are separately so important in this journey. Duane (D.O.) and I have been friends since high school, and we've done so much together over the years. We've travelled the country and the world, co-founded our Northern Power Summit conference, made countless friends, and eaten so many nachos along the way. I hope I might be as good someday as he always makes me out to be when talking to other people. Haha.
With Slakah (Beatchild), it's a different relationship. He produced my second album, but meant so much in my growth as an artist after the first. I've called him a wizard. His musical brain works on a different level than anyone else's I've ever known to exist. His compassion and selflessness in the creative process brings out the best in whoever he works with. I love that he shines through others as brightly as he does on his own. Also, laughing with Slakah often results in his somewhat falling into you, and it's something I hope more people get to experience in the world, because it's the best.
So yeah, I'm being sneaky to add another person, but at least my playlist is still ten songs!
David Francey - The Ballad of Bowser MacRae
When I'm asked about musical influences, David's name is the first one out of my mouth. As a fan of both his music and the way he's always appreciated his audiences, David embodied the type of performer I aspire to be. David originally met me as one of his fans, and we later connected at a conference where he was happy to hear that I had found my way into the industry. When I eventually recorded HopeFull, I sent it to him via email. Both he and his lovely wife Beth sent me a response as to how much they enjoyed it. They often say "never meet your idols", but in my case, one of mine became a friend, and his initial belief in me has always been an inspiration to keep finding my way as a performer.
D'Eve Archer - Sleeping With A Stranger
Diane was one of the very first people to book me for show, and has always been one of my biggest musical supporters. Music can be a gruelling and deflating business at times, and we all need a friend to share in a bit of silliness and tomfoolery; I like to believe that Diane and I have been that for each other over the years.
Donovan Woods - Next Year
Another Sarnia friend, meeting Donovan takes me way back to Kindergarten when I attended his sister's birthday party. I have loved watching Donovan's growth and success as an artist these past few years, including his JUNO win in 2019. I don't know when we'll share another stage, but I have Donovan to thank for helping me get on a stage to begin with in my adopted city of Guelph. When I was releasing HopeFull, I had booked a small Ontario tour to support it, but couldn't get a venue in Guelph to respond to my request for a release concert. Donovan, who had agreed to play the show with me and had already garnered a fair amount of credibility in Guelph from having spent his university days here, was able to get in touch with the venue and book the show within an afternoon. My musical career journey has encountered its share of gatekeepers, but I have been fortunate to have had help from people like Donovan to get through a couple of doors along the way.
Emm Gryner - So Easy
In 2013, Donovan also introduced me to Emm, of whom I have grown so fond and grateful for over the years. We met when the three of us, along with the wonderful Pat Robitaille, played a song circle at Sarnia's 2013 ArtWalk. A year and a half later, when we organized a show that Andrew, Donovan and I had talked about for a few years - a hometown holiday show at the Sarnia Library Theatre - Emm agreed to join the bill. Since then, she and I have played that library show almost annually, and it's become the event each year that I love most. When I think about Emm's career and all that she's accomplished, what I love the most is how much she gives back to young people, emerging artists, and the community/world at large.
Mike Celia - Used to Be
That magical 2009 Ontario Council of Folk Festivals conference included that conversation with Ambre, a reconnection with David Francey, meeting Anna, and also meeting Mike. He's a brilliant guitar player and singer, a trained chef and martial artist, blessed with a gift for gab, possessing of a million dollar smile, and about as loving of a soul as I've ever known. I absolutely can't make a list of people I appreciate having in my corner the most without including brother Mike.
Sunil Achia - Flowers (The North Woods (video of part of the song))
There's not a person whose been more influential in my musical career than Sunil. He taught me to play guitar (he's absolutely not responsible for how poorly I play it though!), introduced me to countless artists (including David Francey) that I've grown to love, helped me with so many graphics and design projects, and has been a sounding board for everything along the way. Our visits (usually a couple of times a year) never cease to energize and inspire me, and I can't wait for our next one to squeeze one of my favourite little girls and meet another who's almost a year old. Musically, one of the biggest thrills I've had over these ten years came the last time I drove east on the 401. Ambre and I (as Crash Bamboo) got to open for Sunil's new-ish band The North Woods in Smiths Falls last March. I'm so happy that he's playing music for the world to hear.