Cate Innish is up for a new challenge.

As we take down the hand drums she’s been using to accompany Peggy Hanifan at Whitewater Wednesday, Innish and I set up her keyboard so she can take centre stage, singing and playing a mix of jazz standards and country songs.

This is something new for her.

“I actually played piano since I was eight years old,” she tells me over coffee one afternoon. “I taught piano while studying sociology at Laurentian University. I couldn’t make up mind if want to save the world or play, so I wasted my time trying to save the world, burning myself out as a social worker until, in my late 40s, I decided to play.

“Music and theatre were the sandbox that taught me to play and lighten up.”

Although she is a classically trained pianist, Innish began her playing career with hand drums: “I took lessons with Cory Chouinard,” she explains. “I wanted to play drums so I could play with other people. With piano I could only play classical music, which isn’t a social thing unless you’re playing a duet.

“I think harmony and percussion are my favourite parts of music.”

With that, she furiously taps out the drum line from The Surfari’s Wipe Out with her fingers on the table.

Innish continues, “I didn’t start playing keyboard until Wick Parish, a friend of a friend, gave me one out of the blue. I thought, ‘This is a message.’ I’ve always played piano, never electric keyboard. Now I use the keyboard all the time. I still teach on piano. The kids find it a novelty to play a real piano. Norah Jones is my favourite music to play.”

Norah Jones is also one of Hanifan’s favourites and she always requests that Innish play Turn Me On. “Cate has the perfect voice for that song. I love listening to her,” Hanifan says.

“I first started singing in public, as myself and not as a role in theatre,” Innish continues, “through karaoke.

“I know: karaoke,” she laughs at herself, “that word people love to hate. But it helped. The first time I tried it I was in Dawson City at the Palace Grand. I was so panicked, I couldn’t breathe.

“The first song I ever sang publicly was Crazy by Patsy Cline. Two years ago, I went to Winnipeg with a play for FemFest and did karaoke with a live band in an Irish pub. It was amazing. I’d never heard of karaoke with a live band before. I’ve got to say, karaoke is a great thing for getting over stage fright.”

Since overcoming her initial stage fright, Innish is making her mark in Whitehorse. Innish plays alternate Saturday evenings at Flipper’s Pub, right after Peggy Hanifan’s Saltwater Saturday Afternoon Jams.

She performs with Gary Lachance and Rob Hunter in The Silver Ravens, and solo at the Yukon Inn on Fridays.

You can also catch her as several other-worldly characters in Moving Parts Theatre’s production of The Tempest starting February 20.


Five things you should know about Cate Innish:


She studied translation at Laurentian University for two years.

She’s an expert whitewater paddler (and now expert Whitewater Wednesday pianist).

She’s a practising Shaman. Done for lifetimes. She also practises Joh-Rei (“purify the spirit”).

She loves Cat Stevens’ Tea for the Tillerman.

Samhain (Halloween) is her favourite celebration.