Breakout West kicks off

While Whitehorse will be a new frontier for most bands attending the Western Canadian Music Awards and festival this weekend, for folk-rock group Fish & Bird it's nothing it hasn't seen before. In fact, fiddler Adam Iredale-Grey and banjo player and lead singer Taylor Ashton have seen more of the Yukon than most residents ever will.

While Whitehorse will be a new frontier for most bands attending the Western Canadian Music Awards and festival this weekend, for folk-rock group Fish & Bird it’s nothing it hasn’t seen before.

In fact, fiddler Adam Iredale-Grey and banjo player and lead singer Taylor Ashton have seen more of the Yukon than most residents ever will.

The two did a 12-house concert-tour of many of the territory’s communities, from Watson Lake all the way to Old Crow.

And then, joined by drummer and bodhran player Ben Kelly, guitarist Ryan Boeur and upright bassist Zoe Guigueno, the group drove north to Dawson City to play the Dawson City Music Festival this summer.

This weekend marks Iredale-Grey and Ashton’s third visit to the territory this year.

“Whitehorse is on my list of favourite cities in Canada,” said Iredale-Grey. “For sure.”

The statement is backed up by the repeated visits, the band’s extensive touring schedule and the fact the fiddler is busy, enrolled in Berklee College of Music’s prestigious roots music program in Boston.

“We haven’t slept much,” said Iredale-Grey talking on his phone on the corner of Commercial and First in downtown Vancouver Wednesday afternoon.

“There’s been a lot of moving around but mostly we feel great.”

The band flew to the West Coast after playing the Ontario Council of Folk Festivals 25th anniversary conference in Niagara Falls. They played a show in Vancouver on Wednesday night before jumping a plane to Whitehorse.

Fish & Bird will be one of dozens of bands playing festival gigs around Whitehorse on Friday and Saturday, and it will play during the awards ceremony Sunday night.

The band has been nominated for the best roots album of the year.

It is its first nod.

“It’s pretty cool,” said Ashton, whose deep, baritone rumble of insightful lyrics contrasts the band’s upbeat, banjo-picking and fiddle-teasing melodies.

“And we have a lot of respect for all the people we’re nominated with, so whatever happens, it’s cool anyway,” he said. “It’s obviously flattering.”

Despite their totally different sounds, the sentiment is the same for country-rock crooner Don Amero.

“I think I’m getting to that place where I need to hire some help – and it’s great,” said Amero, whose music is often called the lovechild of John Mayer and Keith Urban.

“It’s a great place to be in, where you have to start asking for a little bit of help because the workload’s getting a bit heavy for ya.

“Most of us, like myself here, have to sort of fend for ourselves. And, for the most part, if I had a label up until now I would have seen maybe a quarter of the kind of income I would have made, because I think you have to build up to that place where it justifies getting a label.

“If I was going to do this as a career, I had to do it myself.”

Music industry independence is common for Western Canadian musicians. It is something they are known for. And it will be the topic of the opening panel Amero is moderating at the beginning of the festival conference this weekend.

He will also be playing gigs around town Friday and Saturday, as well as the awards show on Sunday night.

Amero has been nominated for aboriginal recording of the year.

He just found out he was also nominated for a Canadian Folk Music Award for aboriginal songwriter of the year.

And this is Amero’s 13th year being nominated for an Aboriginal Peoples Choice Music Award. The Winnipeg-born Metis is nominated for aboriginal entertainer of the year, aboriginal songwriter of the year, best country CD and best music video (he has never won an APCMA in the past).

But by the time all the award shows wrap up by mid-December, Amero will be even busier. He is going to become a dad in six weeks.

“The whole world is just sort of crazy right now,” he said. “But it’s a good thing.”

All of Amero’s success was hard to imagine, growing up in Winnipeg’s north-end “urban reserve,” he said.

But even as a young kid, the hardwood-floor-installer turned musician knew he had to stay away from the drugs, alcohol and gangs he saw so many around him get caught up in.

“They lost who they were,” he said. “I was afraid. I don’t like the idea of losing control of the person I am.”

Singing and songwriting became a type of therapy, said Amero.

And becoming a good role model for youth, especially aboriginal youth, is a main goal for the young artist.

“It’s no secret about the poverty coming out of a lot of (aboriginal) neighbourhoods and reservations,” he said. “It’s hard to come out of that and feel like you have an opportunity. My goal is to help people see that they don’t have to be defined by those things and they don’t have to become that. And that they can be successful in the things they want to do and sort of break that chain.”

Wristbands for all festival venues on Friday and Saturday are only $20.

Downtown Whitehorse is peppered with gigs from 7 p.m. until 2 a.m. at the Old Firehall, Tippler’s, the Gold Pan Saloon, the Rock PUB, the Roadhouse, Jarvis Street Saloon, the Visitor’s Information Centre, Centre de la Francophonie and Foxy’s.

Sunday night’s awards show will be at the arts centre.

Please visit breakoutwest.ca for full schedules, artist profiles and more details.

Contact Roxanne Stasyszyn at

roxannes@yukon-news.com

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