Performing Tradition Between Two Countries

Hello friends/fans! 

Life has been quite a hectic and awesome roller coaster since the making of 'Sorrow Bound' in March. This summer has been spent with a pen in hand and a lot of song ideas have come from my time back in Toronto. I returned to school in August, and have been working on an official tour for the release of Sorrow Bound, to take me through Ottawa, Montreal, Wakefield QC and beyond. Please stay tuned for dates, to be announced in November! It will be an exciting tour full of songs from the record, and some fresh from their incubation in the summer.

Many friends have asked me what life is like in Appalachia versus Canada. I see as many similarities as I see differences. Both have rich cultures with extremely friendly people. West Virginia has been a place of learning and growth for me. I moved here ten days before my nineteenth birthday. I remember sitting at a picnic table in front of my dorm staring blankly at the sun and wondering if I was crazy to do this. The Appalachian music program was just starting, and I felt both excitement and fear. I'd moved from a bustling city to a rural town, with no idea what was in store next. I didn't even have a major picked out. It was just my banjo and I in a tiny college town in the Appalachians.

Looking back a full two years later, I can say that West Virginia has changed me. I've studied with some of the best cloggers in the country, and had the chance to learn how to sing harmony and play as a member of a band. The hardest and, dialectically, the most rewarding part for me has been the vulnerability I've felt in my growth as an musician. In rehearsal we are challenged to reveal the weakest parts of ourselves (whether it be singing, improvising, or keeping rhythm) and submit them for improvement. Trying, and failing, has been difficult. But trying again and succeeding is an incredible feeling, especially onstage. During a gig in Marlinton WV, we sang a ballad that was from Pocahontas County, where Marlinton is located. In the second row of the audience, I spied a daughter, mother and grandmother all holding hands listening to the ballad. Three generations of women whose tradition I was singing back to them. At that point I felt the weight and meaning of what I was doing.

Dancer and singer Eileen Carson Schatz of the Footworks Percussive Dance Ensemble once told me that the stage is sacred. Hours and hours of practice, or toil and struggle, lead up to this point where magic can happen. Especially in traditional music, we dance and play the history of our ancestors. Often, it's a bloody history whose music marks a brief respite from that trouble. Sometimes songs are a heartbroken expression of this trouble. In old-time music, we're merging West African roots with Irish, Scottish and English branches. When we perform this history onstage, it is an honour that should be taken seriously—a challenge that we should raise ourselves up to. As I've thought about how to hone my stagecraft as a solo artist, I've come back to this quite frequently. When I am performing tradition—especially tradition that isn't historically my own—I have a responsibility to express it as fully and honestly as I can onstage. I think those moments between the crevices and the climaxes of songs is where the audience and the artist connect. If I can make my stagecraft have as many of those moments as possible, then I think I can live a happy and fulfilled life presenting the traditions I love. 

The conversation around the presentation tradition is ongoing, and I'd like to do my part to keep it alive. From here on, I'll be positing blogs from the road as well as discussions around tradition in the modern age. As always, I'll keep exploring traditions and forming my own 'rogue' path. Keep checking back!