Sometimes, time and place are what matters. For Andrew Laviolette and Kristen Poenn, this couldn’t be more true.
After only eight months in the territory, the “Bryant Crooks” are booked into the line-up of the upcoming Dawson City Music Festival.
Originally from Ontario, these two are set to make waves in the Canadian music scene, and it seems to have all come together in a quaint Northern town.
“It was quite serendipitous. I had done everything I had to do in Ontario,” says Laviolette under the shelter of the Gazebo on Front St. in Dawson City.
“Dawson called and we came.”
Laviolette is accustomed to writing songs and performing in front of large audiences. From Bracebridge, in Ontario’s cottage country, he has been playing and writing music since he was 16.
“I remember… my friend was given a guitar and we would hang out in his bedroom and play,” he reflects. “I played it and loved it even though I wasn’t very good at it.”
His parents noticed his enthusiasm and helped him follow his desires.
“Mom gave me Grampa’s old guitar that was sitting in the basement. It only had a couple strings, and a big hole in the body,” says Laviolette, staring into distance. “We quickly realized that guitar had already passed, so we bought a new one.”
In the following seven years, he followed his musical interests and pursued the instrument that introduced him to playing. After writing song after song, and perfecting his style, he released his first album, This Far From Home, in January of 2010.
“I did that one as a collaborative project with a guy who ran a guitar shop out of Sudbury,” says Laviolette.
“I had done home-recorded tapes before that. I probably sold about 50 of those before before I jumped into the studio.”
His music is deeply rooted in honesty and ambiance. Using open tunings on his beautiful Washburn guitar, he creates a scene into which the listener becomes absorbed.
“I moved into open tunings after I watched Joni Mitchell play ‘Coyote’ in The Last Waltz, ‘then he goes into singing, eating his scrambled eggs’; I’ve been using it seriously for the past four years,” says Laviolette.
Laviolette toured with his first disc last summer, hitting events such as the Northern Lights Festival Boreal in Sudbury, Ontario, as well as the Sunseekers Ball Music and Arts Festival in Chance Harbour, New Brunswick.
But things changed a bit when plans of coming North became reality, travelling alongside Poenn.
Poenn, whose hometown is Little Current, on Manitoulin Island, has a much different musical background.
“My mom put me in piano lessons when I was four. She always wanted them when she was a kid, so she stuck me in it at a very young age,” Poenn recalls.
“I also started violin lessons between the ages of 10 and 12—I can’t quite remember…”
Where Laviolette’s background is grass-rooted, Poenn’s is very much classical.
“Up until very recently I’ve been in the classical world. I was in a couple of orchestras: The Sudbury Youth Orchestra through high-school, and the University orchestra in Brandon,” she says.
“When I went back to Sudbury, I had a classical chamber group that I’d play with as well.”
After finishing her art and music degree at Laurentian University, Poenn was looking for something more is the musical world.
“Up until very recently I’ve been in the classical world and I graduated and felt set-up. But I was kind of unhappy and stressed and I didn’t play for almost a year,” she admits.
“Then I started playing with Andrew. It has been really refreshing to look at music from a different angle than where my roots are.”
And that is how The Bryant Crooks were formed. The couple who met in a university choir two-and-a-half years ago decided to explore the Northern territory.
Poenn was accepted into the 2010/11 Yukon SOVA Foundation Program, and Laviolette felt it was his time to leave Ontario for new inspirations.
In Dawson, Poenn has been teaching piano and violin lessons, and Laviolette, who holds a bachelor of education, has worked as a supply teacher and a tutor at the Robert Service School.
And far from work obligations, the duo have volunteered at a number of community events.
“We were told right away that if you volunteer you’ll have a whole bunch of fun in the winter,” says Laviolette. “The arts community lends itself to volunteering up here.”
The local music scene has greatly benefited from their collaboration. What started as Poenn joining Laviolette for a few songs at his solo shows became a new group with new music, performing first at the local open mics.
“We hadn’t had a chance to play much together before this,” Poenn mentions.
“We come from very different musical places,” Laviolette adds. “We’re taking a bit of time to figure out how to collaborate and lay things down, but it’s working.”
None of this could have seemingly been without the help of the community.
“Being in Dawson has got me started on art and music again… two things that I had gone away from. It’s really wonderful,” says Poenn with a smile.
“It’s great to be painting again and playing all kinds of music.”
Laviolette holds the community in the same high regard.
“Dawson has solidified my belief that if you go to a place by listening to your heart, roaming the path of your love as they say, you will be rewarded with good people and great situations,” he says. “I could count the bad days in eight months on one hand.”
The Bryant Crooks will be performing to a welcoming crowd at the Dawson City Music Festival which takes place July 20-22.
For a sneak preview, you can check them out at Bombay Peggy’s on July 14.
Connor Matak is a singer-songwriter, working on home recording and living in Dawson City.