Sitting down for an interview via video chat with his kitchen as the backdrop, James Keelaghan appears no different from any normal and humble person prepping for a talk with a close friend. Yet, James has been making history with his music and achievements, and he is continuing to do so by kick starting the streaming concert series hosted by Home Routes, starting Oct. 6.
James Keelaghan, now 60, has been making music professionally for 35 years. Talking about his journey as a musician, he said he felt incredibly honored and humbled that he is able to make music as a source of income and keep the roof over his head. Throughout the years, he has seen growth and development in the music industry through his own experiences all across Canada and the world.
“I’ve toured in Denmark, in Australia, then all the way to Winnipeg, you know? It’s been such an amazing journey,” James said.
James never shies away from expressing his pride in the Canadian folk music industry. In his experience, folk music has always been well-supported and attended by Canadians. People love the ethic of folk music, he said, and he can feel the connection between him and audience members growing stronger with each song.
This is one of the reasons why James is very excited about his upcoming online concert with Home Routes. He has his concerns and worries—he is nervous about whether or not it would be successful—but he is excited to share his music on a new and growing platform.
His show for Home Routes will be the first ticketed show he has ever done during the pandemic. Leonard Podolak, Home Routes’ executive producer and a long-time friend, reached out to James in hopes that he would kick start their streaming concert series. Although nervous, James was more than happy to perform, he said.
“Now it’s the only way to keep in touch with other people. I miss that feeling,” James said, showing his immense desire for connection with his friends and audience.
Sharing his experiences and thoughts about online concerts, James said it’s never going to be the same as live concerts. With online concerts, it is harder to come up with a perfect set-list. However, Home Routes has an open box for song requests from the audience, and James was pleasantly surprised to see many requests for songs he might have forgotten about, he said
“You know, [when] you’ve been making music for 30 years, there are pieces that you don’t usually look back [at]. So this is a chance for me to revisit old pieces and perform them to an interested audience,” he said.
James and Home Routes are very focused on the technical aspects of the concert to make sure the sound and songs are delivered properly to their audience. They use a lot of behind the scenes tricks where some sounds have already been rendered before reaching the audience’s ears. James and Hugh McMillan will also have a professional technician right next to them to monitor the sound so they can guarantee they will be able to perform smoothly without running into technical difficulties. “Of course,” James shrugged, “It’s still nerve-wracking because it’s the first time I’ve done this. But I am honored to do so.”
Throughout the entire interview, James showed incredible humility. Even after winning a Juno Award, he still has a problem seeing himself as an icon in the folk music industry, he said. When asked about what changed after his Juno Award win, James laughed, “You know, it’s actually a funny story…
“Of course, it was a great honour to receive the Juno Award. But, that night, I was actually on my way to my tour [in] Minnesota. I had my van parked right in the airport, and I drove my van heading to Norway, upper Michigan, right after the award. I rented a room in a tiny, tiny motel. They had that, you know, that black and white TV with a channel dial on the side. And a rotary phone too,” James recalled, delighted to relive the moment, “When I saw that right after the Juno Award, I just sat there and said to myself “Wow, my life has changed!””
Because James does not see himself as an icon, he still has a hard time thinking about his responsibilities given his influence in the folk music industry. He holds himself responsible for performing at his best, for helping other people when they need him, for being the bridge of connection between music and audience and among his friend circle. And he would love to keep making music and contributing to the folk music industry because, more than anything, James believes the folk music industry is able to stand strong through challenges because “it is such a resilient community,” he concluded.