Sharing Their Roots

Kim Beggs, Jonathan Byrd and Corin Raymond were driving from Medicine Hat to Calgary when I spoke with them about their current musical tour.

But their eyes were cast on the Yukon.

The North Carolina-born Byrd recalls the first time he was approached about touring in Canada. As soon as the word “Yukon” was uttered, he says, he knew he had to play here some day. He views it as an important musical cultural exchange.

Byrd says following Kim Beggs home to play in Dawson City and Whitehorse this week will be the realization of a dream two years in the making.

The clean, honest style of Beggs’ roots music has often been said to echo her Yukon landscape.

It’s been a banner year for the Whitehorse singer-songwriter, with two nominations at the recent Western Canadian Music Awards, a finalist placing at the 2011 International Songwriting Competition, and golden reviews for her latest album, Blue Bones.

These are story-telling songs, shaped by geography, suited for intimate venues. In other words, her music genuinely reaches back to the roots of her genre to speak of love, land, and hardships, while bringing people together.

Corin Raymond and Jonathan Byrd make a perfect match for Beggs’ unaffected approach. The three create roots music authentically, contoured by their different landscapes and styles.

While Beggs trims the fat from banter and song, Raymond’s exuberant, often comical story-telling gets a crowd going, and Byrd’s haunting voice takes you straight back to the old communities he comes from.

Influenced by time spent in the rich songwriting scene of Texas, in addition to his North Carolina roots, Byrd’s music echoes early Americana folk, yet never sounds imitative.

As Beggs puts it, Byrd “has some kind of channel that drills through generations of people and comes through in a present way.”

Raymond, who comes from Ontario, tells the story of how the three musicians came together from different places.

As in many industries, networking can be an artist’s lifeline to a promising agent or record label and events are set up for such hobnobbing to occur. But it was the search for community that sparked the union of these three musicians.

Raymond heard Byrd play at a networking event and convinced him to come to Canada. At a similar event, Byrd found himself blown away by Beggs’ song Pseudo Feminist Intellectual and “just had to know who she was and where she was from.”

The three finally met while playing on the road in Tennessee.

After deciding to put together a “triple-bill” tour, they have been criss-crossing Alberta and the Northwest Territories before heading to the Yukon.

In an industry sometimes diluted by strategic alliances, or tales of quarreling bandmates, it is refreshing to witness the genuine friendship these artists seem to have developed.

While audiences get to see collaboration in their concerts – layers of harmony, added instrumentation – Beggs says the triple-bill is best described as an eclectic set where each musician brings their own to the stage.

“We’re supporting each other, bringing our stories together in a room in a potluck of different sounds… three songwriters sitting together, helping each other with harmony.”

At the same, each musician is learning from the others.

“When you see people who raise the bar, that’s a game-changer,” says Raymond.

“The honesty of [Beggs] and her music and her voice, the beauty of what she creates… I’m touring with two of the most honest songwriters I know and we really get to let the pixie dust rub off on each other, get our fingers in each other’s clay.”

Byrd adds that he has also learned from the triple-bill touring: “[Corin]’s a fantastic storyteller. That’s what I’ve learned from him, honouring the story. It’s not a little joke between songs, it’s important as the song itself.”

Beggs speaks of the musicians feeling instantly familiar to her. But more than that, she says. Raymond was someone she knew she could ally with after he made her parents laugh mid-show during a time of grief for her family.

For their part, Byrd and Raymond both express gratitude to Beggs in helping them make a bridge to a place that exemplifies the community-building, geographically-inspired values of their musical genre.

“One of the most exciting things about this tour is getting to see the Yukon,” Raymond shares.

Echoing his North Carolina colleague, he says it’s a place where he has long believed he would find a community in which his music could ring true.

After a performance at the Oddfellows Hall in Dawson City on November 9, followed by house concerts in southern Yukon, the three will appear in concert at the Old Fire Hall on Monday, November 14, at 7:30 p.m.

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