A two-time Juno award winner is set to perform at the 2021 Bruce Telecom Lighthouse Blues Festival on Sept. 11.
An Indigenous musician who grew up on the Wikwemikong reserve in Ontario, Crystal Shawanda first played in Kincardine in 2015, and is looking forward to being part of the Saturday evening main stage lineup, alongside well-known artists Jack de Keyzer, Delta Sugar and Shakey Trill.
Shawanda spoke to The Kincardine Independent from her parent’s home on Manitoulin Island.
She says she started singing as “soon as I could make noise” and as a young woman, she sang the country and western songs that were popular among her friends and family. It wasn’t until she started listening to the music her older brother favoured, the blues, that she realized that was her preferred genre.
“That’s what kept coming out of me when I wrote songs,” said Shawanda.
The country music industry was her introduction to the business. She achieved success with the signing of her first record contract as a country artist in 2007 with RCA Records, producing a top 20 hit and reaching the Top 20 on the Billboard Country Album Chart. She has toured on her own and with some big names in country music, including Brad Paisley and Dierks Bentley. But the inclination to sing the blues was too strong though, and she eventually left RCA and formed her own production company.
“I grew up with blues music and I used to jam with blues musicians when I was still living in Canada,” she said. “It’s funny. After moving to Nashville the second time in 2000, I was discovered while actually playing the blues —the music made by Muddy Waters, B.B. King, Big Mama Thornton, Janis Joplin. But when I was offered the record deal to make country music, it felt like the opportunity of a lifetime, and so I took it and ran.”
She has a laundry list of nominations and awards to be proud of, including being named the female artist of the year by the Canadian Country Music Association, a Juno in 2013 in the category of Aboriginal Album of the Year and she is the 2021 recipient of the 2021 Blues Album of the Year for Church House Blues. She is the first Indigenous woman to receive the award.
“It was amazing,” she said of her Juno win. “Representation has always been important to me.”
Working through pandemic-times, Shawanda says she has been “one of the lucky ones” and has kept busy during the past 19 months. She has spent her time creating virtual performances for past clients, writing music and recording. She also serves as a motivational speaker and has appeared in the classrooms of Canadian students by way of streaming.
Rick Clarke, Lighthouse Blues Festival founder, is pleased to see Shawanda back on the main stage.
“We’re quite happy, with the support of OPG, to bring Crystal back to Kincardine,” said Clarke. “She last played here in 2015 and in the last six years, with the move to Nashville, her career has certainly taken off!”
Her schedule of upcoming performances continues to grow and this fall she will appear at venues all over Ontario as well as in Newfoundland.
She is looking forward to returning to Kincardine to play, recalling during her 2015 visit, the community was “beautiful with amazing crowds”. She hopes music lovers, those that knew her as a country artist and those that see her as a blues performer, come out and enjoy her show.
“It will be high energy and a lot of fun,” said Shawanda. “An emotional rollercoaster (where the audience) can dance, sing, laugh, cry and dance some more. I hope people come out and give the show a chance. Country or blues, it’s still Crystal Shawanda.”
The Bruce Telecom Lighthouse Blues Festival runs from Sept.10-12, 2021. A limited number of tickets are available through www.ticketscene.ca only, to provide Public Health with contact tracing information. Please respect all COVID protocols while enjoying the event.
Tammy Schneider, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Kincardine Independent