It isn’t easy for a travelling musician.
In a country as vast as Canada, it can be a challenge to get gigs, and in a crowded bar, surrounded by a room full of people more interested in drinking and visiting, it can be difficult to get anyone to actually listening to your music.
Fortunately, there is Home Routes, a nationwide concert series that take place in people’s homes — an intimate atmosphere that includes the host’s closest friends. Home Routes not only features up-and-coming talent such as Meghan Blanchard, but big names including Valdy, Ken Hamm, Ian Tamblyn and Rita Chiarrelli, who have won critical acclaim and awards.
The host advertises the show to friends plus puts musicians up for the night and feeds them on a day that might otherwise be wasted and thus costing the musician money.
In return, the musician plays a private concert.
The host charges listeners $20 to attend, with all of the money going to the musician.
Home Routes is funded mostly by Canadian Council For the Arts grants.
“It’s a lot of fun and it’s a good way to bring music into more rural areas that don’t often get live music, ” said Ali Hancharyk, Home Routes’ operations manager.
Home Routes features a variety of styles of music including folk, blues and Celtic music.
There is 12 English circuits running through the year, with a circuit being a series of 12 households that host shows, plus two French circuits.
Lethbridge has two households on the Home Routes Circuit.
Heather Nicholson hosts shows Feb. 8 with Eileen McGann with David K (www.myspace.com/eileenmcgann), March 8 with Tim Harrison (www.timharrison.ca) and April 20 with Michael Jerome Browne (www.michaeljeromebrowne.com).
Valerie McQuaid joined Home Routes last year in an effort to give back to the national music community for helping her daughter Alyssa’s career.
“We’ve met so many people who have been really supportive of Alyssa, so getting involved with Home Routes seemed like a great way to pay it forward to other artists. We don’t get paid; it’s all volunteer,” McQuaid said.
While she can’t remember how she found out about Home Routes, she remembers being excited to sign up.
She has hosted a variety of musicians including Winnipeg folk darlings The Duhks’ clawhammer-banjo wizard Leonard Podolak, the Crooked Brothers, Chuck Suchy, Scott Nolan and Joanna Miller. She hosts Meghan Blanchard on Feb. 14, followed by James Gordon of Tamarack on March 14, and finishes this season with Alana Levandoski on April 14.
Blanchard, a Prince Edward Island singer-songwriter, has been involved with Home Routes for two-and-a-half years.
“Being a touring musician can be pretty lonely but playing house concerts is making friends. You get to be part of their family,” Blanchard said.
She has two CDs out now of her original folk/roots/country music, and is working on a third backed by her band, which she expects will be completed by the end of 2012. This marks her first musical trip to Alberta.
“It’s just an incredible series. I just wish I could bring my band, but they might not fit in a living room,” she laughed.
The 23-year-old had a brush with royalty last July. She got the opportunity to play for Prince William and Kate as they took in a series of cultural performances.
When she took the podium at the Dalvay by the Sea resort and tried to address the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge by their formal titles, however, things didn't go as planned.
“I mixed up Duke and Duchess and it came out d-o-o-t-c-h, Dootch,” Blanchard said in a Canadian Press interview from Charlottetown.
The mispronunciation — which veered dangerously close to a derogatory insult — sparked widespread laughter from the audience and prompted some “life-saving” guffaws from the royal couple themselves.
“I’ll be able to tell that story to my kids, if I have any,” said Blanchard.
“Quite a while back they told me that I was going to be playing for them, but they told me not to tell anybody. Then they told me I was going to greet them . . . I rehearsed it over and over again. But on the day, it was raining, the stage was wet and the band was freaking out about their equipment getting wet. I was nervous and I called him a ‘dootch,’” she related.
“There were like 40 national media there. But she nudged him and he looked as if to say, ‘What did she just call me,’ but they laughed. And they were so stiff and formal before that, which I guess is what they are supposed to be.”
She gets asked a lot about the incident, usually before she plays the song “Waltzing With You,” which she played for them.
“But then other people will say, ‘What are you talking about?’” she said.
One of the benefits of Home Routes, McQuaid notes, is that the shows are all ages so minors who can’t get into the bars to see live music can listen.
“It’s a listening audience, so it is a whole different audience. And the music starts at 7 p.m. and ends at 11:30 p.m., so people who have to get up early the next morning for work can get to bed at a decent time,” she said.
Also, the hosts really get to know the musicians on a personal level. Having these talented musicians playing in such close quarters is pretty inspirational for McQuaid and her whole family.
“I’ve got three boys. They are underage, so they can’t get into the bars to see music, but we had the Crooked Brothers playing here and right after that show two of them took the money they saved up and went out and bought a banjo and a mandolin,” she said.
Even though it is usually close friends who come, Home Routes has a dedicated following.
“We had a girl call up from Nunavut who wanted to see Leonard Podolak so that was quite an experience,” she said.