I’ve never been very open to co-witing songs. The thing is, for me, song-writing is deeply personal. When other musicians off-handedly remark, “Hey, we should hang out and do some co-writes” I’m stunned, thinking, “YOU MEAN BASICALLY GET NAKED TOGETHER?” I can jam into the wee hours of the morning with others — there are many ways, of course, that music is playful and spontaneous in my life — but song-writing is messy and divine. Song-writing comes with tears and shouting and sighs, and is part of a tenuous relationship with the muse that I have often felt I couldn’t risk adding anyone else to.

I did, a few years ago, have a good run of co-writes with Don Harrison (two of those songs appeared on my EP Lost: “The Most Lovely” and “Let it Go”) but the key was that he gave me recorded instrumental tracks and then, alone in my apartment, away from any watchful eyes, I’d sing along and later get back to him with the result. Song-writing, at its best, for me, is that: I just start to sing a song, like it’s been on the tip of my tongue and I’ve suddenly remembered it.

But to remember it I have to be alone.

I always felt a little jealous of those that had the comfort level, the lack of self-consciousness, to write with others. What have I been missing out on? Am I just taking it all too seriously?

In February this year I participated in the Aboriginal Music Program’s week long Market Builder Residency, with huge thanks to Manitoba Music and Canada Council for the Arts. When the opportunity came up the participants were encouraged to pursue creative development, not just professional. I decided to take the co-writing plunge and asked the fabulous Coco Love Alcorn, experienced co-writer extraordinaire, if she’d spend a couple afternoons with me and be my in-person co-writing first. Coco and I have toured numerous times over the years, she probably has seen me naked at least a few times, and I felt safe enough with her to let my guard down and be open to other ways of writing.

We laughed a lot. She encouraged me to simplify. We distilled ideas. I was grateful to be pushed out of my comfort zone. And we wrote a couple songs! Alan Greyeyes filmed this one in its complete newness, inside the Coalition Music chapel. Half of the chorus came from an already in-progress song of mine that I may still return to one day — it has rather sadder undertones than this (I will always like sad songs) — and the rest came from the two of us together, talking about home, anchors, and family.

The annual OCFF (Ontario Council of Folk Festivals, as of this weekend renamed Folk Music Ontario) conference is like none other. I generally hate music conferences where posturing and competition always seem to trample connection and development, but this one manages to feel like a festival, a conversation, a family reunion, an opportunity to learn and a kick-ass party.

Last year was my first time attending and I’ve been looking forward to returning since.  You don’t sleep much or eat well, but faith in both music and community are restored in full, were they in jeopardy (and they sporadically are for me), and the idea that neither need to suffer in the interest of business is reassured. Where many conferences leave me feeling disheartened and deterred, I have left OCFF both times with only excitement and encouragement, not to mention a few new jobs. I think that’s how it should be if you spend three days surrounded by 600 of your peers – that you’re a part of something, not lost within it.

I really believe there is room for everyone in this business of making art. And I love how limitless making art is.  My own performances during OCFF were lovely moments of ears and hearts doing their thing, and I otherwise was touched/thrilled/tickled/softened/sweetened/strengthened/moved/motivated/inspired by Coco Love Alcorn, Ian Sherwood, Jordie Lane, JP Hoe, Glenna Garammone, Awna Teixera, Charlotte Cornfield, JD Edwards, Arthur Renwick and even more. Truly.

Here’s Coco backing up Ian during his showcase:

So good. I’ve toured with Coco quite a few times over the years, and a couple times with Ian too, and they both never fail to kill it. I love my friends.

I had the pleasure/learning curve of helping put together a private showcase room with the fabulous Lindsay May. Here she is rocking out with the prom inspired backdrop we put together in room 205:

One of my favourite daytime moments was the workshop “A Modest Proposal for the 21st Century Singer Songwriter” where David Ross MacDonald illustrated the breakdown of his income and time with apple pie and whipped cream, eventually engaging the crowd by answering “why do you do it?” The thing is, when working/touring musicians look at the sliver of pie that is their time at home, and how if that piece gets bigger, the income slice directly and immediately gets smaller, it can beg the “why” question. But every artist there had the same response – because the connection we all feel, on either side of the listener/performer equation,  is worth it.

I had to step out early from that workshop to do an interview where I was asked how it felt to know that my music helped others through their own difficult times. I felt selfish to realize that knowing that actually helps me in turn – if someone connects to what I’m saying through my music, I get to feel a little more understood, and a little less lonely. If we both feel a little less lonely, well huzzah! It’s working. And it’s worth it. Holy smokes is it ever worth it.

Here’s David drawing whipped cream lines on his pie, to a very charmed gathering of folkies:

That blurred cowboy hat in the top right hand corner? That’s atop Mr. Jonathan Byrd – another of my favourite musical discoveries of the last few months.

Carrying your gear from your hotel room to your car over multiple trips through a crowded lobby of friends and colleagues makes for long and repeated good byes. Just when you think you’ve said your last, as you’re waiting once more for the elevator you again tell them “thank you, it was wonderful, you’re wonderful, see you in a year if not sooner” and indeed most of us will be back next year at OCFF, erm FMO, 2013, for more.

This picture was taken during one of the first of many seeyoulaters with Awna:

And now for two days of going to bed early and sleeping in. Later this week we play Montreal, Ottawa, Kemptville and London and then, for the first time in a month, turn our faces and the car to the West to start our homeward bound journey.

La la la!