Stepping Onstage

In junior high school I was in a quartet, harmonizing the songs of the day at school dances. I began to play the guitar at 14, when a friend gave me an old one that was no longer being used.

At that time there was a coffeehouse in Vancouver called The Bunkhouse that had an open-mic hootenanny on Sunday evenings. The girls in my class dared me to go onstage, promising that each one would give me one dollar if I took the dare. There were 42 girls in my class, so how could I resist? Many of them came down to the club with me to cheer.The moment I stepped on the stage and stood in front of the audience, it felt comfortable, easy, and as natural as breathing. I felt like I was coming home.

That night Josh White, a southern blues singer and civil rights activist, who was scheduled to perform at the club the following week, was in the audience. Josh asked if I would open the show for him the following week. I was 15 years old, and that was the beginning of my ‘professional’ career.

Soon after, I was given a part as a singer in the first theatre production of George Ryga’s play, The Ecstasy of Rita Joe. Chief Dan George played the grandfather of Rita Joe, a young Native American woman torn between the ways of her people and the tragedy of colonialism. That was when I wrote music for the first time, quite by accident I might add. Those of us on stage and people in the audience found ourselves being transformed by the passion, content and commitment we felt as our awareness was focused on something important- something that needed to be seen, acknowledged and changed. I learned that stories and music have the power to impact culture in deep and meaningful ways. This caused me to dedicate my gifts to the service of creating such moments, for myself and for others. And this initial experience set the focus and course of my life as a creative artist.