A winter coat. A small shovel in case of snow.
The yellow Aveo is crammed with the essentials for more than a month on the road.
A map of Western Canada lies open on the dash.
It’s a hot Mother’s Day afternoon when Kim Beggs and Natalie Edelson roll into the North Okanagan town of Armstrong.
They’re weary from that day’s 550-kilometre drive from Cochrane, Alberta. Not to mention 20 concerts in the past 29 days.
“It’s been a spectacular tour, probably the best I’ve ever done,” Beggs will say the next day. “All the seeds I’ve been planting for the past five years are starting to bloom.”
Planning began a year ago for this tour to promote Beggs’ third CD,Blue Bones, which comes out officially on July 21.
Unlike her first two albums, produced in the Yukon by Bob Hamilton, this one was produced by Steve Dawson of Vancouver label Black Hen Music.
Beggs was with Whitehorse-based Caribou Records until it closed its doors a few years ago.
“In a way, I kind of went down with the ship, but I had my life jacket,” she says. “I didn’t feel like I had to jump to another label just to stay afloat, because I’d kind of been keeping myself afloat anyway.”
For someone accustomed to doing most of her own marketing and conceptualizing, signing with a new label was primarily an artistic decision.
“It was important for me to step in another direction, just for my own artistic growth,” she explains. Still proud of her previous albums, which she calls “my babies,” Beggs welcomed the chance to work with other musicians from outside of the Yukon.
“I had a lot of really neat guests on the other albums, but I find that Yukon albums tend to have a lot of the same guests, so it becomes sort of the Yukon flavour,” she says.
“On this album I had all these other guests and other blood, people from all over North America. It gives it a cross-section of different DNA, which helps enhance the Kim Beggs flavour.”
Sharing that flavour on this tour has included whistle-stops in rural Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta, and as far away as Sudbury and Barry’s Bay in Ontario.
With Edelson providing both vocal and instrumental backup, the tour has included traditional venues such as the Northern Lights Folk Club in Edmonton and Toronto’s Cameron House, where the Yukon pair played to a capacity crowd on a double bill with The Undesirables.
“We’ve had a lot of sold-out shows on the road, which feels just great,” Beggs says.
The Mother’s Day concert in Armstrong made its way onto the schedule after the tour was well under way, with help from former Yukoner Deb Jutra, who also sang a brief intermission set.
The venue this time was a small restaurant, but the majority of shows have been in private homes, many of them part of the Home Routes house concert series.
It’s a format that draws enthusiastic reviews from both musicians.
“House concerts are a recipe for success. It’s a whole different psychology,” Beggs enthuses. “You get to sit in a comfortable chair and sip on your coffee. People really hear the music, so they don’t mind paying the ticket price, which generally has been about $15.”
With more costs involved in staging a show in a larger venue, the economics of a house concert also works for the musicians.
“They’ve got money left over to buy albums. I’ve sold the most albums on this tour than any other tour,” Beggs says. “You build a steady fan base from that. They’re taking a piece of you home, and they’re going to remember the next time you come through.”
The more intimate setting of a house concert also provides other benefits.
“It’s great for community. It really gets neighbours talking to each other. They visit each other, they get to see each other’s homes.”
With fewer than 60 people at most shows, Beggs admits being apprehensive about the Edmonton folk club appearance, which was booked a year ago. For both musicians it turned out to be a tour highlight.
“We put on a great show, Natalie and I,” Beggs says. “It was a very giving audience, and a huge exchange going on, lots of storytelling and laughing. And tears, too.”
Edelson picked up on that theme in a separate interview.
“Kim’s worked really hard on other tours to plant the seeds of her music, and suddenly there’s like 110 pre-sold tickets,” she says. “To see people in the audience that knew the words to her songs on Wanderer’s Paean, that felt really exciting.”
In Armstrong the audience is sparse, the opening set low key.
“I have a lot of grief in my heart right now, because my aunt passed away while I was on tour,” Beggs explains the next morning.
Not that an explanation was needed. Always the professional, she had kept her sorrow to herself, even when her close friend, Yukon coffee maven Zola Doré, walked in a few minutes after the concert started. She and her father had driven from Summerland to be there.
Beggs bites back tears as she explains the challenge for an artist to keep private grief private.
“It has its place and it’s not on stage, because if it was on stage I wouldn’t be able to sing. I’d be crying.”
The second set is more upbeat. The smooth vocal blend that comes from 19 years of singing together strikes a responsive chord with the audience. More seeds have been planted.
Next morning the yellow Aveo is crammed with precision. Winter coat, snow shovel and all.
Two more concerts until the road warriors get home to their own Yukon beds.
“It’s been kind of epic,” Edelson laughs. “Forty days and 40 nights. I think there was a story written about that. Although we had better weather.”
Better memories, too, no doubt.