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Sarah Jane Scouten, a Montreal-based bluegrass folk musician who originally hails from Bowen Island, B.C., is making her way through the Yukon on an 11-show tour between September 21 and October 5.
Having seen Scouten play several times in Vancouver and Montreal, both solo and with a band, I can tell you that her onstage charisma along with her old-timey, lyrically-clever original tunes always make for a fun live show.
Despite the fact that Scouten is touring throughout the Yukon, making stops in Teslin, Atlin, B.C., Carcross, Marsh Lake, Whitehorse, Haines Junction, Mendenhall, Mayo, Pelly Crossing, Dawson City and Old Crow, you will not find her playing in your local bar or hall.
Rather, all of her shows are set to take place in people's living rooms.
Her tour is organized by Home Routes, a Winnipeg-based organization that is working to develop an infrastructure for folk and bluegrass musicians to play shows in mostly rural communities where they otherwise would likely not play.
Volunteer hosts are recruited from communities across North America and organize house concert "circuits", whereby an artist can play around 12 house shows in different communities over a period of about two-and-a-half weeks.
There is an instant intimacy that comes with playing a show in a stranger's house, both between the musicians and the hosts, and the hosts and their local community.
Hosts are expected not only to provide their living room as the venue for the concert, but also to provide food and a warm bed to the travelling musician.
Scouten sees playing in people's houses as a definite benefit to doing this type of tour.
"In my experience, house concerts almost always guarantee you a great listening audience," she says. "Plus, it's often for your friends or people who will soon become your friends because you have at least one person in common—the host.
"Also, you avoid hassles like smelly bar rooms, bad sound and heckling drunks, but sometimes those are kind of fun."
A tour organized by Home Routes is quite different from a normal tour. Rather than trying to promote shows, the musicians do quite the opposite.
Show information is kept secret and most of the show promotion is done by word of mouth. It is basically up to the hosts to promote the show to people they know.
In no way, however, are the shows private or exclusive—everyone in the community is welcome to attend the show series, but they must e-mail the organization to buy tickets and get information on shows' dates and locations.
"[Home Routes] do a lot of great work, an insane amount actually, and have great contacts in communities from coast to coast," says Scouten.
Scouten's debut album, Magpie Waltz (2011), was recorded in Concordia University's Loyola Chapel and features Sarah Frank on fiddle, Luke Fraser on mandolin and Mathieu Lacombe on upright bass.
The all-string, all-acoustic recording features eight original tunes which range from sad, vulnerable narrative storytelling on songs like "Ballad of a Southern Midwife", to flirtatious, bass-driven upbeat tunes like "Twenty Dollar Bill".
Scouten's songs feature solid bluegrass arrangements and strong vocals, though with a style that is raw and stripped down.
In regards to her style, Scouten lists a wide range of musical influences. "Musicians have influenced me in different ways, and I draw on their strengths for inspiration, be it their melodies, performance, lyrics, or just the feel," she says.
"I'd say Stan Rogers and Hank Williams were number one since time immemorial."
Sarah Jane also mentions a number of Yukon musicians among her influences including Annielou, Kim Beggs, Hungry Hill, Declan O'Donovan and Nadine Landry from the Foghorn String Band.
For her northern tour, Scouten be playing with Winnipeg musician and songstress Kristen Berkel.
"I've always wanted to visit the Yukon, but never had a wonderful excuse like this one!" says Scouten.
"It seems like the Yukon has captured everyone's imaginations and I'm excited to see what its all about. Definitely looking forward to seeing the northern lights."
To get a ticket to one of Scouten's shows visit www.homeroutes.ca.
For more information on Scouten and to listen to Magpie Waltz, check out www.sarahjanescouten.com.
Joanna McDonald is a songwriter and folk music enthusiast living in Dawson City.