Unleashed! Joey O’Neil On Tour

“If the last two years have taught me anything, it’s to not get too attached to original ideas. Ideas are not a finite resource and sometimes we can end up in a more-interesting place than where we first imagined,” Dawson-based folk musician Joey O’Neil said.

At the moment, O’Neil is on tour with her dog, Oblio, playing songs from her album Ever Ahead, in dog parks across Canada. The idea to play music in dog parks was inspired by her furry friend, of course (and by the pandemic). O’Neil said she wanted to create a more-flexible tour that could handle whatever Covid would throw her way. “I knew that an outdoor series of shows, with social-distancing abilities, would be the best-possible route. I always try to stay ‘on brand,’ while brainstorming, and aim to place my songs in a context or space that helps to further the music’s message.

“Since so many of my songs are about my canine companion, dog parks were an easy solution when thinking of outdoor spaces across the country.” O’Neil added that they are always using puppy playgrounds as pit stops while travelling.

“It was fun to design a tour around our favourite dog parks, and some new ones, too.” Her Unleashed Tour started in June and brought her to Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Ontario.

Many musicians suffered during the pandemic because concerts were cancelled or rescheduled. O’Neil felt lucky that she was able to go on a short northern tour that kicked off with Folk on the Rocks, in Yellowknife, last summer she said.

“I’m so thankful that my community’s numbers were quite low and that Dawson City offered a few opportunities to perform live.” She was also grateful for taking part in some virtual projects such as Whitehorse Independent Theatre’s Sing Along or the Friends of the Palace Grand Society’s Encounters of the Yukon radio plays. She added that she was streaming performances during the pandemic. “Investing in a ring light was probably the best pandemic purchase because I was able to stream performances remotely for BreakOut West, Winterfolk Blues and Roots Festival, Folk Music Ontario, and some Instagram Live shows.”

The musician said that it’s been amazing to bring her dog along to every show, during her tour, and to have her burn some energy. “There’s actually a song on my album about an unfortunate moment when Oblio was attacked during our first tour in 2016: the lyrics in ‘Badlands’ consider how to move forward with this trauma we both carry.” In “Badlands” she describes the horrific incident when her dog was attacked by another dog and she had to get between them: “I would learn to drive a car with one hand, if it meant I could go with you. How could I go through life with both my hands and not have you to hold on to,” O’Neil sings in “Badlands” … describing her love for Oblio.

“I am constantly in awe of Oblio’s strength when facing obstacles, and of her passion for adventure,” the musician said. She describes her dog as adaptive, curious and brave. “All of these qualities make for an excellent road-trip sidekick. She’s barked away unsavoury characters in motel corridors, and she’s offered a weighted paw on my shoulder on some teary drives.”

O’Neil has driven across Canada, many times, to visit her family in Ontario where she grew up. It was behind the wheel when she felt inspired. A lot of the songs are about her dog, her truck and her mental state while travelling. With the dog, she ended up at emergency vet visits; and with the truck, there were some surprise mechanic appointments between the Yukon and Ontario. O’Neil turned the challenges she had to face on the road into songs: “Our stories culminated in an album that’s about fixing, accepting and moving on. Taking care of my road dog inspired that strength and passion in me.”

As her tour will come to an end in late September, she says that it has been lovely so far. People were enjoying listening to her music, and sometimes dogs would bark a bit. “Isn’t it lovely to not have to leave your dog at home when going to see a show?”

Her Unleashed Tour isn’t only lovely for listeners, but for her and her dog, as well: “Re-socializing Oblio in various dog parks, with so many new dog friends, has been very healing for the both of us. ”Find all of the dates for Joey O’Neil’s Unleashed Tour here: joeyoneil.com

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