More Than One Way to Become a Guitar Hero

Whitewater Wednesday isn’t just a night for tour-seasoned musicians. It’s also for people who are just starting to play their first songs.

Lisa Vollans, a close friend of mine, is one of those. She’s starting to relax and enjoy performing songs like MGMT’s Time to Pretend, and The Moldy Peaches’ Anyone Else But You.

And how did she make the transition from sitting in the audience to standing on the stage at Flipper’s Pub?

“I got Guitar Hero about a year ago and I was getting good scores,” she explains over a couple of pints. “I was starting to do the songs on hard level when someone, it might have been Peggy [Hanifan], suggested that all the time I was spending on Guitar Hero, I could learn to play a real guitar.

“So I’m learning guitar the same way I learned Guitar Hero. It’s repetition, keep practising, keep practising.”

Vollans has always been a passionate music lover.

“I’ve always, always, always, always listened to music. I remember when I was a kid I wanted a Strummin’ Smurf guitar and I heard that if kids freak out in stores, they get what they want. And it actually worked: I got a blue guitar with four strings.”

That humble blue-plastic beginning was followed by a brief flirtation with guitar playing as a teenager in Harrow, Ontario. “I was on an exchange program and we’d sit around the campfire and play. I wanted to play so I’d be cool,” she adds with a self-conscious sarcasm, “but I didn’t keep it up.

“Now I play every day. I bought a guitar and I play every day for at least a half-hour minimum.”

She turned to established members of the local music scene for help. “I have to give a shout out to Rob Hunter. I was bored with trying to learn chords on my own, so I did a three-day course with Rob and learned a few songs.

“I also have to give a shout out to Peg. I spent 45 minutes one afternoon with her, playing songs, and I could sing and play along after that. It just clicked.”

Her dedication to guitar has improved not just her playing, but also her relationship. “I knew I was getting better when my girlfriend Linda would stay in the same room as me. Before that, I’d have to go upstairs in the office and close the door.

“In so many words, she’d say, ‘Do you have to practise now?’ I told her, ‘If I don’t, I’ll always suck.’ So she saw the investment, I guess.” She laughs and adds, “She’s not going to kill me for saying that.

“I’m not a real musician, not in a reality-based world,” admits Vollans, a government-employed youth worker. “I’m just doing it for fun.

“But I have fantasies of performing in an Ani DiFranco-Evalyn Parry kind of style. Both of them are out and proud and I’ve never read anything negative about either of them. Women with guitars seems like something strong, something to aspire to.

“I can’t wait until I’m good enough to do acoustic hip hop. That’s what I really want to achieve.”

Vollans began listening to hip hop as a way to connect to the youth she works with, but now she’s a fan. “I really like hip hop. It’s a funny idea, a white girl playing hip hop on guitar. And a lot of hip hop, like K’naan, has a good message, and he’s Canadian.

For now, though, she’s enjoying her first forays into musical performance on Wednesday night and Saturday afternoon. “Playing at the jam is fun because I have friends there who give me so much support.

“They pretend to enjoy it. It’s like playing around a campfire; it’s comfortable. But playing Wednesday nights – Peggy’s been playing for years, some of the jammers have record deals and some are Yukon-famous. It’s daunting.”

Daunting or not, Vollans is there, joining in the fun – just what Wednesday nights are made for.

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