By: Victoria Ahearn, The Canadian Press
TORONTO – Juno Award contender Amelia Curran feels a huge sense of pride ahead of the April 21 show — not just for herself but also for the Halifax community that helped spawn her music career and that of two other artist-friends nominated in her category.
Curran, Old Man Luedecke and Rose Cousins are all up for best roots and traditional solo album of the year, roughly a decade after they first met on the vibrant scene of Halifax’s open-mike nights and classic east-coast kitchen parties.
“We were all playing at Ginger’s Tavern for $50 a night and we were all struggling with running our own careers, booking our own shows, trying to do our own publicity, trying to pay rent, all those classic things,” recalls Curran, 35.
“As we’ve all sort of grown in our careers, we see each other less but that means we’re all working. And to see each other again in this crazy scenario, where people would think we’re in competition with each other, it seems to me that that’s proof that a really good music community can grow really successful artists.”
“Not that we’ve hit a ceiling of any kind,” adds Curran. “We’re still growing together and we’re still able to really just pat each other on the back.
“It’s like, ‘Way to go, our neck of the woods!'”
The St. John’s-born Curran is nominated for “Spectators,” the follow-up to her Juno-winning album “Hunter, Hunter.”
Old Man Luedecke, a two-time Juno winner and Toronto native whose real name is Chris Luedecke, is a contender for “Tender Is The Night.” And Kensington, P.E.I.-bred Cousins is in the running for her first Juno for “We Have Made A Spark.”
They’re up against Toronto-bred Annabelle Chvostek for “Rise” and Alberta native Corb Lund for “Cabin Fever.”
“It’s kind of neat that all of a sudden in this category at the Junos there are wonderful … singer-songwriters that have passed through (Halifax),” says Luedecke, 36.
“I guess it’s sort of the artistic hub east of Quebec. I think that’s fair. We’ve had a lot of help and (government) support … so it seems like there was a real sort of blossoming room for this community of singer-songwriters to happen.”
For Luedecke, Curran and Cousins, that blossoming started in the early 2000s. That’s when Luedecke — who first moved to Halifax in ’99 — had just returned from a sojourn of reading books in the woods in the Yukon and was ready to devote himself completely to his music.
With his signature banjo, he tested the waters of the open-mike scene, where he met Curran and Cousins. “At Ginger’s, when I started going there to play open-mike nights, they really didn’t like me because I was one of a set of people that would go play their song … stay there for like five hours and only have one drink, the free one, and not tip,” he recalls with a laugh.
“We weren’t really all that well-to-do, but it was really nice.”
Luedecke also toured quite a bit, either through the Greyhound bus or hitchhiking, staying in youth hostels along the way.
Curran was also frequently touring while becoming a fixture of Halifax’s open-mike scene.
“I saw her play at an open-mike night … at this place called Planet Pool and she came in and played this song called ‘Freedom Walks,’ which is on her first record, and I literally lost my mind,” recalls Cousins, 35, who recently hosted and won three trophies at the East Coast Music Awards.
“I was just like, ‘That’s the most amazing thing I’ve ever heard’ and I immediately wanted to get to know her. She had just moved from Newfoundland and she had dreads in her hair and I was like, ‘Who is this cool chick?'”
Curran, meanwhile, admired Cousins’ brave move in 2005, when she quit her full-time as an alumni events co-ordinator at Dalhousie University so she could devote herself completely to her music. “It’s also earlier in the decade when independent music was a real machine and we were all doing this individually,” says Curran.
“Rose and I and a couple other of our friends would get together and we would just analyze the hell out of this stuff, you know, ‘What is the good way to do it?’ and share resources. It was just a constant machine, there was no stopping.”
Cousins and Curran eventually collaborated with Luedecke: Curran sang on his tune “Joy of Cooking” from his 2006 album “Hinterland,” and Cousins sang two songs on his first Juno-winning album, 2008’s “Proof of Love.”
The three still see each other every so often, either on the festival circuit or through dinner parties and conferences.
But their struggles aren’t nearly as big as when they first met.
Cousins’ “We Have Made A Spark” — recorded in just over a week in Boston — includes the melancholy piano ballad “Go First” that was featured on a recent episode of “Grey’s Anatomy.”
Meanwhile, Curran’s songwriting strengths are drawing comparisons to Leonard Cohen.
And Luedecke — who now has identical twin daughters — was able to make his new record in Nashville with his “hero,” country and bluegrass musician Tim O’Brien.
“I’ve often referred to it as feeling like a graduating class,” says Cousins. “It’s like people moving through steps of a boot camp kind of thing and there’s an amazing group of songwriters from the east that have been doing that kind of in parallel with each other and in different genres, some kind of crossing over.”
This year’s Juno Awards will be held in Regina and will air on CTV.