Notes from the Road
by Catherine MacLellan
Back in 1998, I was home from a year in Australia and trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my life. I had studied one semester at Dalhousie but I wasn’t even sure why I was there, so I came back to PEI. I made a few friends who persuaded me to sneak into Baba’s every week (I was only 18) for open mic or to see Rhythm Rules every Thursday night with Jon Rehder and Reg Ballagh. Eventually Jon and Reg started asking me up to sing, and I was so shy I could only look at the ground and I could barely open my mouth. They had to keep turning up the mic just to hear me whisper out my songs.
It was the first time anybody other than my close family and friends showed signs of believing in me. Jon and Reg were so supportive and encouraging, I even remember Christina Forgeron showing up at an open mic and cheering me on. I sometimes imagine that without that encouragement I would still be living at my mother’s house, playing songs in my bedroom to myself.
Recently I spent a Wednesday night at Charlottetown’s Haviland Club where Jon has started up a new weekly gig. Every Wednesday he invites a local musician to get up and do a set with him and each week the audience flows in. It’s a lovely event, entrance by donation, with living room/cabaret style seating. It feels more like a family than an audience. Sitting in on Jon’s show brought me way back to those nights at Baba’s as an 18-year-old kid. It really shone a light on how much I have changed over these last years and just how lucky we are on the Island to have such a wealth of musicianship and a vibrant, supportive, music-loving community.
I’ve spent the last 15 years completely absorbed in trying to do what I do the best that I can and learning how to be confident in that. Self-confidence seems to be my lifelong challenge, but I’m learning. Now, suddenly, I’ve taken my eyes off of my own life and looked around. I have noticed that I am not the young one anymore. I’m not exactly the old one either, but I’m noticing all these amazing songwriters and bands springing up from the red earth of PEI and it is really exciting. As a mother and a touring musician I don’t always get to go to shows, so when I do it is surprising and exciting just how strong the scene is.
Watching some of the newest generation starting out along the path towards a career in music is inspiring. I see myself in some of them, and wish I had been as gutsy and confident as others. In the end, all anyone needs is a bit of faith—faith in what you do and faith that somehow the world will provide you with enough. After that, everything is a bonus. The hours I spend tending the garden, playing games with my daughter or observing the world, mining for songs—these are all extras that make my life rich.
So in this spring, full of peaceful productivity, I salute the next generation of artists who are rising to the challenge and giving back to the Island community with their art and energy. I feel inspired and motivated to keep rolling down the track of my life, and I’m happy to have made so many friends along the way so far.