It was a dark and stormy night, which is strange because it was only 5pm. Daylight Savings? More like daylight killings.
Last night was a late one, going to bed at sunrise; I was hoping to see sunset but it just wasn’t meant to be. Dark and grim, the soft pitter patter of windswept rain speckled my bedroom window when I reluctantly climbed out of bed like Rob Ford coming out of an afternoon office nap to meet with Kathleen Wynne.
Making my way out of bed today took everything I’ve got. Taking a break from this hangover sure would help a lot. I’d sure like to get away... Sometimes I wanna go where nobody knows my name and they don’t care that I came. I wanna be where I can see my troubles aren’t all insane. I wanna be where everybody knows my name. I wanna go where people know, people are all the same. I wanna go where nobody knows my name.
There’s a place that fits the bill, just down the street. I gently sauntered down the slippery when wet pavement, quietly walked into the bar and found a spot in the corner. The place was nearly empty; a rainy night puts Ottawans into hibernation.
“What’ll it be, stranger?” The bartender asked me. “Caesar. Extra spicy. Easy on the ice. Oh, and could I get an extra spicy bean?” “It’s been that kinda day huh? Sure, I’ll sneak an extra one in for ya.”
There is something soothing about a Caesar -- dynamic, no two are ever the same. Playing with the fixings as the ice slowly melts is therapeutic. In the midst of my spicy bean sword fight, I heard a quaint voice, “If you folks don’t mind, I’d like to play some songs for you tonight.” Ugh, right in the middle of my zen moment. The last thing I wanted was some god awful local singer blaring their shitty out-of-tune guitar at me. I gazed deeply into the red abyss of my caesar and tried to tune it out.
The bar was nearly empty, yet I began to hear soulful music being sung with such passion that it filled the room. Curiously, after the first song I lifted up my tired eyes open. “Hey, I’m Julie and I’m going to be your entertainment for tonight.”
Subtle and subdued, quietly confident, her presence transformed the pub. It became warm and welcoming, more closely resembling a peaceful mid-summer night back home in Almonte.
The ice melted and the caesar sword fight was forgotten as I became transfixed. The sharp contrast between her soaring voice and the impervious watering hole patrons shook me. Something wasn’t right… What was such an astonishingly talented singer doing here, of all places? I had to find out more...
Like a true Ottawan, I followed and supported (hit the ‘like’ button occasionally) her on social media but never actually made it out to a show. And like a true Ottawan, I felt guilty for not going out to support a local artist. As the summer of 2014 became the fall of 2015 I noticed Julie gaining momentum.
A local artist was beginning to bloom; it was the first time I had ever experienced such a progression, such artistic growth. At the time I didn’t quite understand what it was, that strange prideful feeling. When I found out she would be debuting her first full length album at the NAC I did something unheard of: I got tickets to see a live performance by a local artist on purpose!
Cold feet. Sweaty palms. Frightened (me, not her). The intimate venue slowly began to fill until there wasn’t a single seat left. A sell out! Shit, this is actually happening. The anticipation was palpable among the crowd. The entire town of Shawville seemed to show up for the event. A wave of anxiety washed over me as the lights went down. The best way I can describe it is if your favorite hockey team is in the Stanley Cup finals and a nervous excitement kicks in.
After a short opening act, Julie took the stage. Anchored by a full band - guitar, bass, organ and drums - the stage was set. Every open eye was fixated on her.
The band was relatively unassuming and seemingly unfettered by the sold out crowd. Julie on the other hand, was not. Tepid, nervous, unsure of herself; a second wave of panic washed over me. This wasn’t the singer I remembered so fondly from the pub last year. “She’s not ready” I thought.
The show began awkwardly. The opening song passed without incident, but as it came to an end it was evident that Julie needed a saviour. She was just too nervous and shaky to take control of the stage. Mercifully there was one standing right by her side: a charismatic bass player. Gently and confidently, he warmed up the crowd without overtly taking control away from Julie. It was a beautiful thing to see, like a big brother slowly pushing his little sister on a new bicycle before letting go and letting physics take its course. For the first few songs, Julie leaned on him heavily, but she never fell over.
And then it happened. She arrived. The gambit of emotions had passed. The anxiety, the panic, it softly washed away. The show truly began and it was one of the most intimate live musical performance I’d ever seen.
I put down my camera and fell back into that transfixed state. The crowd faded away, and just as it was at the pub last summer, she was playing just to me. And that is what makes Julie Corrigan such a stunning artist. She is so incredibly personable, she connects with a place that so few artists can. She’s not playing for a crowd, she’s playing for you, and putting her heart and soul into every tiny inflection of every single note. I hung on every tiny inflection, soaking in her music in lieu of a Canadian winter’s sun.
I could go on about the soft, classically small town touch that graces every note she sings and strum of her guitar. The way she so subtly and dynamically makes changes of pace in a song that is so perfectly orchestrated that you don’t notice unless you’re carefully listening to every quarter beat. But none of that really matters. Music… Music isn’t about the technicalities of a performance, it’s about the way it makes you feel. Seeing Julie Corrigan perform has a feel that is unlike any other.
Since the first time I saw her, I’ve tried to find a way to express, to write, to explain what it is that makes her energy so unique, so powerful, so overwhelming. Looking back, that inability to express it is what makes her artform so incredible. Impossible to describe, you have to be there to truly understand, to truly feel the astonishing magic that transpires when Julie Corrigan performs.
Music, what do I love about it most of all? In one word: Everything.
Written and Photographed by Steffi