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Notes from the Road
by Catherine MacLellan

Catherine MacLellan at the Fiddlehead Social (photo: ©pixbylorne)Spring officially arrived in April, but actual spring is now here: lawns need mowing, leaves are budding and black flies have taken their first bites. At the Dunk, the river has fallen back to normal levels and my partner Chris has brought me home the most beautiful trout from the North shore rivers. My garden is mostly planted and I’m just waiting for the final chances of frost to pass.

We had our second annual Fiddlehead Social at the Dunk, which was a beautiful success. Warm weather and sun drew people out of their holes and a stellar line-up of wonderful musicians played all day. It was actually the tenth year of this event, previously called Funk the Dunk, which was beginning to be too big for Hal’s back yard party.

After a few years of larger-than-manageable crowds, we have succeeded in bringing things back to a real community event, with the older generations guiding the way and a hoard of young children running around, dancing and laughing and playing. The day started out with a newer band, Larque, playing a beautiful set of music followed by bands who regularly grace the Dunk with their talents. Brian Dunn played a heart-warming solo set, I got to borrow my old band from Jon Rehder who played a rollicking set with Rhythm Rules, and Raccoon Bandit made an all too rare appearance as they came out of hiding from the studio. Spencer Soloduka & The Tearaways, newer friends to the Dunk, played to a huge, rowdy throng of dancers.

A few bands from off-Island made the effort to cross the bridge, our somewhat extended family members - Eric and Charlotte Fresia, Acres and Acres, and David Celia, all amazing additions. David ended the whole night with a spectacular set of great songs and improvised moments with his Island band (Jon Rehder and Shane Coady). It was one of the best things I’ve ever seen at the Dunk, a perfect end to a perfect day!

The next day was an altogether different occasion with a visit from Prince Charles and Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall. I was honoured to be asked to play as part of the celebration and so arrived early for sound checks and run throughs. My daughter Isabel was so excited that I was playing for royalty, she told her whole class and showed up early with her dad to take in the entire event with face painting, hot-dogs, ice cream and fireworks. Slight drizzle didn’t keep the crowds away, it only made the event more colourful with plenty of umbrellas painting the scene.

I must say, it was a somewhat strange experience. Security was very tight and our instruments were required the night before so they could be inspected. We were given dressing rooms at the Confederation Centre backstage, and then ushered through tunnels from the Centre to Province House. The tunnels were an unknown element to me, and felt like remnants of the cold war.

The crowd was lovely and it was great to see such a diverse audience and all the kids running around, dancing to the bands and laughing with the comedians. Performing in front of our government leaders and the royal couple felt quite odd, as you can probably imagine, but everyone did a great job, including all the amazing crew members who made it run so smoothly.

I woke up the next day feeling very much like it had all been an odd dream. Now, back in my grungy gardening clothes and my hands in the dirt, all is as it should be and the rain is softly falling.

Winter Folk

Notes From The Road
by Catherine MacLellan

A fiddle workshop with Tim Chaisson at the Haliburton Winter Folk Camp in Ontario (photo: Barb Fraser)As always, I’m gearing up to leave the Island again for a little voyage, this time to Ontario and am also thrilled for the East Coast Music Week to be hosted here in PEI. It’s been a long hard winter and with each day getting longer and brighter, I can feel the shadow of cold, winter darkness falling away.

This winter was full of surprises and bumps in the road but it was also sprinkled with moments of inspiration and community. I was lucky to attend the Haliburton Winter Folk Camp in Ontario as part of a PEI-themed weekend. I traveled alone down the long highway trail to Ontario to facilitate workshops alongside Teresa Doyle, Tim Chaisson, Chris Gauthier, Eve Goldberg, Tom Leighton and October Browne. It was a fabulous adventure.

The weekend was held at a lakeside camp, usually with hundreds of children running about, but for this camp it was inhabited by about 70 adult folk music players. Each night at the camp, after the daytime workshops, we would have concerts performed by the teachers and then more free-form song circles and jams for all the participants. The opening night was a highlight for me as I sat back and listened to Chris, Tim and October play traditional tunes for hours.

I was honoured to host the songwriting workshop and had a lovely group of about 10 people. We worked on different exercises to encourage inspiration and creativity. Often in these sort of situations, I would get my group to work on their own individual songs, but as we were holed up in a little cabin with frigid temperatures outdoors, we instead worked in smaller groups and wrote one song as a collective. It was wonderful and we ended up with a fantastically funny song about folk camp. I always find that facilitating songwriting workshops brings as much growth for me as for the rest of the participants.

Back at home, I had the great fortune of being a part of the International Women’s Day concert at The Guild. The audience was packed full of lovely people who brought as much to the show with their energy and excitement as the performers did. The show itself was a grand spectacle of amazing women who all brought their unique perspectives and creative songs. I have to say that my favourite moments were Meaghan Blanchard singing The Dress Song by Jack Marks and Irish Mythen’s ability to get a standing ovation in only 15 minutes. To end the night, we sang one of my new favourite sing alongs, Pete Seeger’s If I Had a Hammer. The crowd erupted into song with all of us performers on stage. It was a great night and a lovely reminder of just how much talent we have here in PEI.

As part of the board for the Friends of the Dunk, we’ve been gearing up once again for the beginnings of the outdoor shows held there, although it is hard to imagine with all of this ice and snow still piled outside of my door. April’s Young Performers Show will luckily be held indoors and will feature 3 young bands that I can’t wait to see. After that we head into the season for the Fiddlehead Social during the May long weekend. I’m crossing my fingers that this year we are blessed with warm, dry weather. Regardless, as with every other year, we will be there rain or shine. In fact, some of those rainy and cold outdoor events have been some of my favourites because it shows the hardcore, resilient nature of the performers and community that support these events. Still, with winter being shuffled slowly along, I am imagining swimming in salt water and days too hot to work.

Working at Home

Notes from the Road
by Catherine MacLellan

As the snow continues to fall on my little hill in the woods, I find myself wanting more and more to live the good life. Or a good life. Thoughts of cultivating new life are starting to spring up, seeds have been ordered for the garden and plans are being drawn for new raised beds. I’ve also started baking and quilting again and dreaming of a homesteaders life. After a very busy and challenging 2013, this new year of the horse seems to be one about positive change and hard but worthwhile work.

The new record has been delayed for a few months so we can work on it at a less frantic pace, and plans for summer shows and fall touring are well under way. I find it hard sometimes to just be here in the moment, enjoying winter and all that it brings us. The quiet snow days, family time in the kitchen with Isabel as we try out new recipes for bread, pizza and cookies. Isabel, it seems, is turning into an inspired baker and lover of experimental cooking.

I have been re-reading The Good Life by Helen and Scott Nearing, remembering that if I can put in a good four hours of solid work a day, that is usually enough. So I send Isabel off on the school bus, make a pot of coffee and set to work on emails, taxes, grant applications and the ever-important job of restocking the indoor woodpile. Occasionally I actually get to play music and work on new songs. That is when I feel like all the effort I put into other realms pays off with time for creativity.

At my last appearance at the Dunk, I was able to play a few new songs that I hadn’t performed in public until then. There is great satisfaction in that for me, like showing off your brand new baby to the world. That show was particularly fun, my favourite time at the Dunk in a while… I’m not sure exactly why. It could have been the massive amounts of chocolate (it was a Valentine’s Day show after all), the lovely group of new and old friends who came out, and the cozy atmosphere of Hal’s house full of great conversation. I think the best part for me was the chance to listen to and play with my neighbours and friends.

Bryson Guptill opened the night with some originals from his upcoming record and classic covers, my favourite for his set was Lightfoot’s Song For a Winter’s Night. Almost seamlessly, the Stanley Brothers got up next. Of course, Mike and Malcolm Stanley are not brothers, but father and son. They were a mighty duo with the 12-string and 6-string guitars solid like a train, and such great songs from both of them. I played the last set of the night with Jon Rehder, doing a bunch of fun covers (Everly Brothers, Tom Waits, Patsy Cline) and some of our own material.

Hal announced that night that there are changes afoot at the Dunk, some great changes in my mind. There will be fewer shows, but, with any luck, better crowds and more meaningful experiences. Each month there will be one event, as opposed to four concerts, with the emphasis on community, which is how the whole experience began at Hal’s. Annual events, like the Winter and Summer Solstice, the Fiddlehead Social in May and the Pie-Off will continue and new events that will take advantage of seasonal festivities will be happening now too.

I look forward to seeing these changes at the Dunk and the continuation of Hal’s ideals of supporting local and emerging artists while creating cultural sustenance for us in the community. I look forward, also, to all the changes in my own life, however they may unfold. We all keep marching along and with luck and hard work we sometimes have the sense that we’re headed in the right direction.

All’s Well in The West

Notes from the Road
by Catherine MacLellan

Catherine and crew recordingIt’s hard to believe that 2013 is long gone and 2014 is already full-steam ahead. I’m writing this from my hotel room in Calgary, on a rare day off with a ton of work to catch up on. So far it’s been a beautiful tour of the West. Starting in Regina, we’ve been driving around Saskatchewan and Alberta with kind weather to accompany us.

The shows so far have been amazing, with sold out crowds and old friends showing up. Two of our Calgary friends have been stalking us on our last three shows, although I think they have had enough... or at least are not up for the long drive to Slave Lake tomorrow. A few members of my family came out in Edmonton and we managed to line up PEI fiddler Bill MacInnis to join us on a few shows as well.

Our concert in Calgary was with Edmonton folkie Chloe Albert, a sweet soul with great songs. I first met Chloe in Stratford, Ontario where we were sharing a bill and have since met her a few times in PEI at the Dunk. That is where I saw her last and I convinced her to make the drive down to Calgary for this show. She was wonderful as always and sounded great with her husband Matt on vocals and percussion, and the much sought after Tim Leacock on electric guitar.

As I mentioned already, we’ll be heading to Slave Lake next and then on through Grand Prairie, Jasper and eventually Prince George for their ColdSnap Festival. It seems very appropriate to be heading to a winter celebration in Northern B.C., but secretly I hope the weather stays warmer, since I have lost my favourite hat earlier on this trip.

This tour I have been playing all of the new songs that we recorded in December for our upcoming record. Chris, Remi and I headed down to Woodstock, NY to make a record at our friend Danny Blume’s studio. It’s a lovely spot, hidden in the woods and nestled in by a river. It feels like an extension of my Dixon Road home.

Danny’s studio is in his house where he lives with his wife and two kids. Every night, we would take a break from recording to have a family meal all together. We would all take turns cooking beautiful meals and there was always a nice bottle of wine to accompany it.

A special treat during the recording process was having Jay Ungar come into the studio to play on a couple of tunes. He is the composer of Ashokan Farewell, which was on the soundtrack for Ken Burn’s Civil War series and made popular in PEI by Kim Vincent. Jay is a really sweet man and it was great to meet him. One track, called It’s All Changed, we all played together, live in one room. He lent us his real old time sound and his sweet heart. We also were able to get Andy Leftwich, an amazing Nashville fiddler who plays with the Ricky Skaggs band [Kentucky Thunder], to play on a few tracks. It was fun to be able to call up any musician in Nashville we wanted just by calling the local musicians union there.

We only had two weeks to record and mix the 12 song record and every time we thought we were ahead of the game, we would realize that a song needed to be redone or that our approach wasn’t working on something. It amazed us all that we were able to complete the recording and mixing in time. We were even able to take it down the road to another studio for some final magical touches that included transferring it to tape and replacing all the digital reverb with actual old-school plate and spring reverb. I learned a ton and had a great time making the new album and I can’t wait to finish the artwork and share it with you all.

Warmth and Comfort

Notes from the Road
by Catherine MacLellan

Singer-songwriters at an Island Affair: Nudie, Emilee Sorrey, Josh Carter, Katie McGarry (photo: ©pixbylorne)Fall has always been my favourite time of year. I like the process of getting ready for winter; stacking wood, cleaning house, getting out the hats and mitts and all that. It is a time of preparation, harvest is over and the long nights have returned. We all go inside for warmth and comfort, and suddenly the busy summer crowd is gone and the community potlucks and gatherings of small groups of friends are back.

December for me is also a time when playing shows slows down for the holiday season, a nice break from the constant travel that my life has become. Our one goal this month is to record my next album, get it going and have it ready for next spring, which seems a long way off, but time spins faster these days. We’ll head to Woodstock, NY to work with our friend Danny at his house in the woods. It’s a beautiful spot and seems like and extension of the Dixon Road, in the woods by the river.

It has been a busy fall, with touring in Europe and England, finishing up songs for the record, and so many local events. It was a real treat and honour to be a part of the Q taping for CBC at the Confederation Centre and also lovely to see the national spotlight shining on PEI for a brief moment (other than the Duffy scandal.) There was a real sense of Island pride around that, and Jian Gomeshi, as always did a terrific job interviewing his guests.

As I write this I am just getting home from MusicPEI’s show at the Factory, An Island Affair. It was a songwriter’s circle with a twist: each performer played one of their own songs as well as two by different Island songwriters. It was a fantastic show, and I was honoured and humbled to have one of my songs covered… The show was a fundraiser for Music PEI, which, in these times of government cut backs, is sadly a necessity in order to keep all of the great programs in place and keep the momentum that they have been building in support of our local music scene.

There are cutbacks happening on every level of government and in every part of our society, most drastically in the arts, environment, health care and social welfare programs. I can only hope that in the next few years we find a way to reverse this trend and make sure that our priorities are in the right places.

I’ve been turning my mind from music to mental health and wellness these days and have some exciting new projects in that realm that I’ll be able to share in the coming months. I believe the focus should be on prevention and compassionate care in order to truly and adequately help people suffering from mental illness. This is a concern very close to my heart due to my own experiences and those of my friends and family. We have all been touched by this growing epidemic and I can only hope that changes from government and, more importantly, from grassroots organizations can buck the trend and begin to heal our society as a whole. With time, inspiration and hard work, anything can happen.

For now, I will try to remember that December is a time for celebrating family and getting in the rhythm of winter, as things slow down and the fires are lit. We all have so much to give to each other and our communities, whether it is through donations to charities or just being there for one another in various ways. I wish you all a joyous holiday season, and a safe and cozy winter!

European Folk

Notes from the Road
by Catherine MacLellan

It’s a beautiful, rainy day as I sit and write this from our friend’s house in Yorkshire, England. We are nearing the end of our little voyage across the pond and starting to look forward to getting back home.

Most of our time here has been spent playing shows in Belgium, trying to understand a bit of Flemish and drinking many different local beers. And fries. Fries with every meal. Mussels and fries, steak and fries, soup and fries, sometimes just fries.

Every morning is bread—bread and cheese, bread and meat, bread and jam. I will need to buy new, larger clothes when I return.

It has been wonderful, traveling such short distances between shows and stops. We were lucky enough to have a few days off to travel around on our own. Our first tourist destination was the Canadian war memorial at Vimy Ridge in France. The monument itself is enormous and something to see. It stands on the top of the ridge, overlooking the beautiful French countryside. Once there, we took a guided tour of the trenches and the tunnels that still stand as a reminder of the sad, endless and muddy warfare of World War I.

Just a few kilometres away from the monument we found the town that served as the headquarters for the French, British and Canadian forces that manned the trenches. We, of course, stopped for a beer and then were on our way back to Belgium.

Our last Belgium show ended up being perhaps our best. It was in the beautiful town of Lier which surprised us with it’s beauty. Everyone mentioned all the big beautiful cities as being necessary stops on our way through Belgium, but Lier was a perfect tiny jewel of a town. Perhaps being from a small place, I end up being more attracted to that away from home.

Today we find ourselves in Wombwell, Barnsley in Yorkshire, home of our good friend and trusted driver, Hedley Jones. We’ve crossed under the English Channel by train and played a few shows in England. This trip we are traveling again with Sam Carter who we toured with in Canada as part of the English/Canadian exchange with Music PEI and the English Folk Dance and Song Society. Sam and I have written a few songs together as well as worked out some traditional songs and it is a real treat to travel with him.

Our show in London was at the Cecil Sharpe House, named after the founding father of the folklore revival in early 20th century England, it is a multi-media library and archive containing the largest collection of manuscripts of the origins of folk music and dance in the country. It is also the home to the heart of current folk musicians with several rooms for rehearsal and performance.

Our show tonight is in support of a local music festival in Wath, heading into it’s 42nd year. The show will be in the lovely little Billingley Village Hall. Tomorrow night will be our last show before heading home and it is part of the English Folk Expo, a big music festival and conference with a ton of shows happening all weekend.

After that, we will head back towards London, have a little Sunday lunch and get back on the plane to Canada. Back to my girl, my garden (I must plant the garlic before the snow flies!) and my cozy little wood stove which seems to spark my imagination with many a song.

Grassroots Festivals

Notes from the Road
by Catherine MacLellan

Trout Forest Music FestivalThis past summer was filled with music festivals which brought me to some places I had never been before. I’ve spent the last ten or so years as a touring musician but I somehow avoided the classic paying-your-dues cross-Canada tour in a van. I have always flown across the great northwestern parts of Ontario. This summer brought me finally to that beautiful and rugged Canadian shield. We went to the Trout Forest Music Festival in Ear Falls, Ontario, about an hour north of Kenora. The drive from Winnipeg was so lovely, all lakes and rocks, and upon arrival at the festival grounds I saw my first flock of pelicans.

The thing I love most about the smaller, grassroots festivals is the close knit communities of people working together to make the event a success. Armies of volunteers run around making things happen, musicians from all over the place come together, jamming onstage and off, and the swarms of audience members are the reason we all show up.

After Ear Falls, we headed to Owen Sound, the home of Summerfolk. The site there is spectacular, sitting on the river bank in a city park with a beautiful natural amphitheatre. The festival was spread throughout the park with about 5 stages running during the day and only the mainstage happening at night. It just so happened that the tall ship festival was on the same weekend and we could sit backstage and watch the ships sailing up and down the river. It was quite a sight. Kathleen Edwards and Laura Smith were two of my highlights as far as performers go. Laura with her endless grace and strong, perfect voice always fills me with wonder. Kathleen played a stripped down set with a pedal steel player and a guitar player. It was such a great set I just sat glued to the show.

The weekend following Summerfolk, we headed back east to play the amazingly sweet Summer’s End Folk Festival on Grand Manan Island in the Bay of Fundy. Going to Grand Manan always reminds me of the old days here in PEI when our lives were so influenced by the ferry schedule. The first time I played Summer’s End, a whole crew of PEI musicians were invited and even though there were more musicians than audience members, we had an amazing time. The festival is growing every year and just gets better and better. Carly Maicher, the festival founder and organizer, has a really eclectic and indie sensibility when it comes to booking acts, it was a really special lineup this year again. New to my ears were the Saskatchewan duo of Kacy and Clayton. They are both in their late teens and so fresh and honest with a real knack for writing old-timey songs.

Our final festival of the summer was in Grafton, Ontario called Shelter Valley. I had played this festival a number of years ago and it had always been my favourite for so many reasons. Started by folk musician Aengus Finnan, he used his experience in the folk festival world and took the best parts from other events and put them all in his own. He also made a rule that there would be no repeat artists, which meant that I could never go back as a performer. This summer they were celebrating their tenth year and decided to invite back some of their favourites from over the years. I was honoured to be a part of that group. Also there from the Maritimes were Ashley Condon and Dave Gunning and it was great seeing and hearing them in that space.

Now that summer has officially ended, it is time to look toward the colder days and what lies ahead. I’m in the process of making a new album and with a busy touring schedule I have a lot on my plate. Although I will miss the heat of summer, I look forward to the quieter days of fall and winter as we return inside and get some real work done.

Where the Road Leads

by Catherine MacLellan

Notes from the Road

I was having a bad day. You might say a bad week. Ordinarily, being stuck in Austin, Texas, wouldn’t be a bad thing for me. It was February 2010 and I was there with my guitarist Chris to play at the annual SXSW conference. There was some mix up with our airline tickets but we had been able to get to Austin with some luck and unusual kindness from the airline agents.

We were there for a week of endless music and business schmoozing, but, even before we left the Charlottetown airport, Chris got sick with a bad cold. I spent most of the conference wandering around by myself, checking out some of the thousands of bands and songwriters who show up for this crazy festival. We played some excellent shows and were reviewed very favourably in the Austin Chronicle for our show at the Driskill Ballroom. The day before we were to leave I had the task of rearranging our tickets to get back home so, with Chris lying in his sick bed, I got on the phone. I wasted hours talking to every airline involved, no one willing to help just passing us along to the next person and there seemed to be no way home. There was not a flight out of Austin—except a milk-run to Florida overnight and then eventually home. I was so broke and frustrated that I felt my world was falling apart. Chris kept sniffling words of encouragement as I dealt with the crisis.

At some point, I put down the phone and tried to distract myself from my problems. Chris and I talked for ages about anything but flights home and I told him about my pet project I had been thinking about for some time. I wanted to write about all of our strange adventures, about the places we go and the people we meet. I had been thinking about talking to the folks at The Buzz to see if they might be interested. Chris suggested I just email Peter, that it could be that simple. So I did. Within an hour I had a reply back that, yes, they would love to have me write an article for them. This idea that had been hatching for several years had all of a sudden become a reality. My bad day was swiftly transforming into a good one.

I started writing for The Buzz in May of 2010 and I find it hard to believe that I have continued for over 3 years now. Each time I sit down to write I ponder over the previous weeks and hunt for inspiration. It is such a treat for me to be able to follow a different path in my creative life, a tangent away from songwriting. Sometimes, though, I find it challenging to find anything to say. I spend my time going between life on the road and life as a hermit in the country. I dig in my garden in the warm weather and dig into books and sewing projects in the cold months. Sometimes the places I go and the people I meet are not things I should write home about, more like strange memories and headaches. Occasionally, I can take those hard times and turn them into a story which helps me feel that I have achieved something.

The first time I thought about writing this article was at a show I played in Ottawa back in 2008. I was sharing the stage with Raymond McLean and Mike Stevens who always thrill the audience with their old-timey-turned-new high caliber music. They were playing the Orange Blossom Special like only Mike can play it, on the harmonica at full tilt, as he had played it hundreds of times at the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville. I had seen them a number of times and was always blown away by their incredible shows—Raymond on the fiddle and Mike with his harmonica. I thought how much I wanted to share this with people back home, to shine a light on things that don’t always reach the shores of PEI. I thought the article would be mostly about that, other artists and my experiences with them on the road. More often than not, though, it turns out quite differently.

Sometimes I feel I have truly made something out of nothing when I haven’t been anywhere or met anyone. How many times can I write that the weather is changing and describe the view from my house. But every once in a while, especially in those times of inactivity, I try to dig up rough gems to polish and shine, little musings and moments of personal insight. My job as a traveling musician is the one I have chosen and though it is certainly not the easiest path to tread, it allows me the freedom to ponder and create. Sometimes the moment when I think nothing is happening is precisely when ideas are germinating, much like the leaves just before they burst forth from the bud, like the seed before it cracks through the earth and sprouts. There is always something brewing, hiding beneath the surface.

Looking back on my three years of writing for The Buzz, it pleases me to see that I have a record of all these experiences, even (or especially) the quiet times. The Buzz, for me, acts like a main artery, pumping news and cultural information out to the whole island and beyond. It is where I check when I want to see what’s going on and who is doing what. PEI has such a rich culture of art and music, storytelling and dance, and I do believe that The Buzz has really helped cultivate that, providing a place for events and new ideas to be announced and celebrated. I am grateful to be a part of it and to have this opportunity to challenge myself and share my view from the road, even if it is sometimes just the Dixon Road.

Catherine MacLellan is…

Catherine MacLellanCatherine MacLellan has been a professional songwriter and touring musician for over a decade. Having released four records with legendary Canadian record label, True North Records, she has toured extensively across North America, Europe and the UK. Catherine’s performances have been described as “transporting.” Her songwriting and vocal interpretations have earned her love and respect among her audiences and peers worldwide. Catherine has spent most of her life in PEI where she now makes her home. She is the daughter of Canadian songwriter, Gene MacLellan (responsible for such songs as “Snowbird” and “Put Your Hand in the Hand”) and is proudly carrying on her father’s tradition.

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