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Notes from the Road
by Catherine MacLellan

Last month Chris and I attended the Folk Alliance conference in Toronto, five days of music performed by hundreds of musicians and bands in one hotel. As expected, it was madness but the kind you adjust to after a while. By our second day we were in full swing, running the hallways, slinging guitars, going from showcase to showcase. Among the throngs of musicians we spotted many Islanders there including Ashley Condon, Dennis Ellsworth, Rose Cousins, Tanya Davis, Teresa Doyle and John Connolly. PEI was well represented and well loved at this mega-event. We played ten shows in three days and then fled the downtown hotel scene for the countryside of Ontario.

First stop was the Tamworth Legion, three hours from Toronto, for a show with Jonathan Byrd, an incredible songwriter and performer from North Carolina. The Legion was packed which would turn out to be a trend for this mini-tour. My sister, her husband and a gang of her friends from Kingston made the drive to this show. It is so rare that I get to see her, so it was a real treat to have her in the crowd.

We had a week off before our next show so I flew home to spend time with my daughter, Jonathan drove back to North Carolina to spend time with his son and Chris went ice-fishing on the Ottawa River to celebrate his birthday. Time well spent.

Our next stop was a show at Hugh’s Room in Toronto and it was so lovely to see the room full of friends and local musicians. Jonathan again put on a superb show and I realized I have so much to learn from him. He hails from North Carolina, but he really follows the tradition of the Texas songwriter. The son of a preacher man, he has inherited the gift of a gilded tongue. He is funny, sincere, well-spoken and a great songwriter to boot — almost enough to make me begrudge the man!

A few more shows with Mr Byrd left me truly inspired and wanting to sit down for a month and just write. Over the last couple of years I have been writing the best songs of my life (in my view), all yet to be recorded, but the songs have been written with long gaps in between writing sessions. Perhaps it is the amount of time I spend on the road, or the balance of life as a single mother / musician. Whatever it is, I crave to just hide away and write.

Over the next month I hope to do just that. I have a good slice of time back home with very few shows and the feeling of true spring arriving — it could be just the right combination. I could also spend that time doing taxes, cleaning house and planning the garden. Only time will tell.

I have been reading the Daniel Levitin book, This is Your Brain on Music. Since its release, people have been reminding me to read it and referencing it on just about every music platform there is. Finally my friend Jon handed the book to me and I can’t put it down. He writes about the connection between music and the human brain with one of the chapters about what makes a musician. Is there such a thing as talent? Or is it really achievement enhanced by genetic make-up, environmental factors and plain old determination. He talks of the idea of ten thousand hours of practice being required to achieve a level of mastery at anything. This is a great reminder to me to write as much as possible. It also gives me an argument to people who tell me that they just don’t have the talent for music. All you need to do is obsess over it like all musicians do and eventually you will get there.

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