Anyone who has attended a Kim Beggs concert, or listened to one of her CDs, knows that the subject of death often shows up in her lyrics. It certainly did on October 12, during the sixth of 41 stops on her current two-month marathon tour.
Earlier that day, the Whitehorse singer-songwriter and her tour partner, Winnipegger Marcel Desilets, had travelled five hours from Sudbury, Ontario, in the blue Toyota Echo her parents use to haul their goats to market.
Now they were in Peterborough, performing for about 25 people at a house concert to promote her latest CD, Said Little Sparrow. For most of the first set, Desilets had been providing vocal harmonies and banjo accompaniment.
“Touring with a banjo player does present a challenge, because they have to tune a lot. That’s just a reality of the banjo. It has nothing to do with the musicians themselves,” Beggs said.
“Because the tuning has to happen, I have to fill the space. And because I’m so comfortable with Marcel, it really puts me at ease, and I kind of have a pretty good flow with my chatter.”
Desilets was switching to dobro for the new tune, but realized he needed a few minutes to re-tune his instrument. Unperturbed, Beggs decided to throw an unusual question out to her audience: What plans did have for when they die?
“That’s the first time I ever asked that. It was fun. I wasn’t planning on asking it, but it opened up something in the audience,” she said.
Besides touching a vulnerability in her listeners, that spontaneous query also opened a vulnerability in herself, Beggs explained the next day.
“It’s actually a nice question. I might include that in other shows. Of course, it all depends on the room. The stage is almost like a confessional, but hopefully I won’t go overboard on my confessions,” she added with a long laugh.
The new CD is her seventh since her 2004 debut, Streetcar Heart. By her own admission, it is more personal than some of her earlier efforts. The booklet of lyrics even includes stories written by her 80-year-old mother, and her older sister, Edna.
“I’m aware of how much of myself I’m exposing on the album, and I think that might be why it took me so long to get the artwork together, and decide on some of the stories,” she said.
“I thought, ‘Jeez, Kim, are you putting too much of yourself out there?’ But then I thought, ‘Well, what is this music about? Why am I sharing this music?’
“And I guess it is about being vulnerable, and I think if I make myself vulnerable, that empowers people. It empowers me, and because of that, it empowers other people.”
During the break at the Peterborough concert, one listener opened up to her privately about some of the darkness in his own life. For Beggs, that confirmed why she made the album and why she’s doing this tour.
“That can be a real nice thing about a house concert. It has that intimacy, where people feel comfortable, because you’re in a home. It might be different at a venue. When someone comes up to you beside the stage, they might not say the same thing.”
A few nights earlier, Beggs had had a similar encounter at a “very, very small” show in Montreal, where she knew every audience member except one woman.
“I didn’t talk about death at all in the show, but she said, ‘My sister is dying, and I’d like to get one of your albums, because I find it so uplifting and I think that might be really nice for her.’
“I told her that my brother had passed away, and she immediately knew that I knew what she was feeling. I think that made her feel good, and not alone in her journey with her sister.”
Beggs ended up giving her new friend a copy of her 2010 album, Blue Bones, which includes a song called “Longest Dream”, which she wrote for her younger brother, Howie, who died in 2007.
The latest CD marks the singer-songwriter’s first foray into producing, but she is known for keeping close tabs on all aspects of her musical output, and even creating most of the artwork for her albums.
“I would really much rather have a manager and a booking agent, honestly. I would rather put more energy into preparing artistically, and maybe thinking more about the stories, and trying to have a more choreographed show, but my time and energy get sucked,” she said.
Besides maturing as a writer and performer, Beggs feels she has grown in terms of the choices she makes – including inviting Desilets to share this entire tour, which began October 5 in Owen Sound, Ontario, and will end December 1 in Winnipeg.
For one thing, having someone else do the driving frees her to make phone calls about promotions and venues, and to connect with fans during lengthy stretches between performances.
“In terms of sharing that space, it’s working so well with Marcel. We’ve known each other for over 10 years, and we’ve toured several times. We have a real appreciation and respect for one another, and what each other needs for space.”