It’s been a while since Stephen Fearing stepped foot on this soil.
The respected Canadian singer-songwriter last played the Okanagan more than a decade ago as a solo artist when he toured in support of the former George Ryga Centre.
A lot has happened since then, as locals will soon learn and hear when Fearing returns as the Vernon Folk-Roots Music Society’s next guest, Nov. 21.
You could say Fearing, who recently moved from one coast to the other, that being Halifax to Victoria, has been keeping busy as of late.
He not only has a new album coming out in 2016 with his side project, Blackie and the Rodeo Kings, he has been hitting the road hard. He has just been overseas to perform in the U.K. as well as the Netherlands, and is now crossing this country for a number of solo shows.
“I’ve been on the road almost constantly now for two months so the show is pretty well greased at this point,” said Fearing.
Known for the band he co-founded with former Junkhouse lead singer Tom Wilson and famed Nashville producer/Canadian musician Colin Linden, Blackie and the Rodeo Kings came about in 1996 in what was supposed to be a one-off tribute album to the great Canadian songwriter Willie P. Bennett.
That side project soon turned into a full-fledged band that would go on to attract fans around the world and win awards, including a Juno in 1998 for Best Roots and Traditional Album (Kings Of Love).
Fearing already had a successful solo career before Blackie. His entry into music came years before – with some doubts and piano lessons.
“For years, I thought I was a black sheep in my family because my father was a classically trained pianist, organist, and conductor. My mother is a trained soprano, so my youth was spent around a lot of choir meetings and recitals,” he said.
“I hated the discipline of (piano lessons). It didn’t speak to me. I think, like a lot of people my age, the guitar was a way into music that referenced what I was hearing on the radio.”
Fearing spent a lot of time moving in his youth – from Canada to Ireland when he was six years old and then back to Canada when he was 17.
At the time of his re-arrival, he was listening to punk, new wave, rock and pop – whatever was on Top 40 radio.
Fearing says he had a hard time seeing himself performing that kind of music, especially on a gut-string classical guitar or a steel-string acoustic.
Eventually, Fearing found the singer-songwriter world when he started listening to Paul Simon and his ilk. Then one day his sister, Jane, gave him the Willie P. Bennett album Hobo’s Taunt, and Fearing heard the acoustic guitar. It had a profound influence.
“I felt a connection and kept practising,” he said. “I was kind of like the typical awkward teenager sitting upstairs in his room for hours with the guitar; the singer-songwriters spoke to me.”
Fearing felt drawn to perform in front of people, mostly in coffee houses. Eventually, he started writing songs, and remembers the first song he ever wrote was while travelling from Minneapolis, where he lived for two years, to Canada on a Greyhound bus.
“I thought if I can’t write a song on a Greyhound bus, I’m an idiot. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done,” he said.
The rest, they say, is history and Fearing has not only won accolades for his eight studio recordings, and one live album, but awards, including a Juno in 2007 for Roots and Traditional Album of the Year for the album Yellowjacket, and a 2006 Canadian Folk Music Awards for Best Songwriter.
His last solo release was 2013’s Between Hurricanes.
Audiences can expect a combination of older and newer material and maybe a couple of brand, new songs when Fearing performs in Vernon.
“I tell a lot of stories and I love performing solo. Being solo gives me the opportunity to really interact with an audience. I just love to perform, so hopefully people will pick up on that,” he said.
The Vernon Folk-Roots Music Society presents Fearing live at the Paddlewheel Park Hall on Okanagan Landing Road, Saturday, Nov. 21 at 7:30 p.m. Opening act is Vernon’s own Amistad. Tickets are $25 or $20 for members, available at the Ticket Seller (250-549-7469, www.ticketseller.ca), vernonfolkroots.com, the Bean Scene or at the door.
– With interview files from Paul Tessier, with the VFRMS.