Covering great songs – classic country, blues, bluegrass, folk, and standards – in my own way. The intimacy and ease of a front porch setting, for audiences who might hear familiar songs done a bit differently – like my debut for ranchers in rural Saskatchewan – or who might never have listened to down-home music before – like literally underground at the White Rabbit in Freiburg, Germany.
Whether it's from the virtual Porch of the House of ShAkE inside my apartment, or from a porch in the neighbourhood or somewhere further afield, whether I'm singing solo or fronting a band, there’s always some torchin’ and some shakin’...
In 1990, at age 27, I started singing country music just for fun, after not having picked up a guitar since childhood. A few years later, as part of an improvised solo dance, Walking in Virginia (directed by Pam Johnson), I performed my first song in public. And in 2004, I “rocked my first house” – playing all night long and closing the bar at the Val Marie Hotel in Saskatchewan, just north of the Montana border. The place was filled with cowboys, ranchers and modern dancers (we’d been working on Bill Coleman’s community performance event, Grasslands) – and given my love of mixing things up, this was the greatest audience possible for a big debut.
I went on to sing weekly for nearly two years at the Grasshopper Bar in my neighbourhood of Cabbagetown, Toronto (whether they wanted me to or not, I always say). And in 2006 I recorded a CD, Steelpan Country, in collaboration with Gabriel Chartrand, a virtuoso steel drum player I’d met there. Having caught the ear of Canadian composer and sound artist, Gordon Monahan, we were invited to perform at Electric Eclectics, his experimental sound festival in rural Ontario, where we were unlike anything else on the bill – stuck out like the only two non-sore thumbs!
I worked with choreographer Pam Johnson again in 2009, singing an old union song a cappella in “Which Side?” – a duet with dancer Tanya Crowder as part of Johnson’s evening of work, Brother, can you spare a dime? at the Winchester Street Theatre, Toronto.
Not one to be fenced in, I’ve also sung in all kinds of venues from local Toronto nightspots to an event honouring the psychologist James Hillman in Pittsburgh, from New Dance Horizons’ Aria fashion show in Regina to Toronto’s LGBT Pride Day for three years running.
I’ve accompanied Bill Coleman’s innovative, expressionistic tap dancing a number of times, including at Peterborough’s Public Energy and Toronto’s Imperial Pub Backroom. And I organized shows with guest performers including Bill, local blues harmonica legend “Cabbagetown Steve” Grant, and rising stars The Slocan Ramblers and Whitney Rose in their earlier Toronto careers.
“… you give me goose bumps!”
“Some of the songs – for example, The Grand Tour – are almost chilling.”
“... a very powerful voice!”