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Brian MacMillan & Dala’s Sheila Carabine finally get Kennedy Road off the ground after a pandemic lull

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It’s a story we’ve heard before. A band puts together a new album and has big plans to tour in support of it, only to have the plans dashed by the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown.

It was hard enough for established groups to face this obstacle.

But what if you’re a brand new band?

Let me introduce you to Kennedy Road.

The duo consists of Sheila Carabine, one half of the duo Dala, and Brian MacMillan, guitarist extraordinaire from singer John McDermott’s band.

As long-time members of the Toronto music scene, they knew of each other, having been part of concerts like the Gordon Lightfoot tribute shows at Hugh’s Room.

But they really didn’t know each other.

“He was wearing a three-piece suit, and I thought, ‘This guy means business,'” said Sheila at last year’s Folk Harbour Festival in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia.

Plans were made for a double bill concert at a venue called The Burdock, so they spent a few months rehearsing songs from their respective repertoires.

“If we got an encore, we’d play a song together,” she said. “We ended up playing the whole show together because it was way more fun.”

The success of that first appearance, which consisted of cover songs, led them to the idea of writing together. Once their first song, “Kennedy,” was written, they decided their next show at The Burdock would feature all original songs. They also got the chance to record some of the new songs. Singing harmonies with someone with Sheila’s skill was a new experience for Brian.

“I’ve often sung harmony with other people but not with one person in such a comprehensive way,” he said.

“It took me a month to learn how to harmonize with Sheila on ‘Kennedy.'”

Their first gig was also a learning experience for both of them as they hadn’t sung into microphones together.

“Sheila was the quietest singer I’d ever worked with!” Brian said.

“I was just mouthing the words because I was too loud. You could hear my heart beat over the music.”

“If you can hear the words, it’s too loud,” joked Sheila. “Just hear my intentions.”

After a year and a half of writing and recording the songs on what became A Little Fight Left, Kennedy Road was set to hit the road for an Ontario tour of concerts and festivals.

“It looked great on paper,” said Sheila. “And then March of 2020 hit.”

After going through what she called the many stages of grieving (denial, anger and acceptance), Sheila and Brian looked to livestreaming to maintain some sort of momentum. With the help of Side Door Access, they booked a number of shows, which gave them something to focus on. Each performance had a theme and even included costumes to fit the theme.

“Interestingly, we caught the first wave of people being extra supportive of those in the arts,” said Brian. “But we also realized that 99 per cent of what we make goes into getting to the performance. And now we don’t have to leave the couch!”

Besides getting together every day on Zoom to learn new songs, Brian and Sheila also spent a few minutes jumping rope to stay fit and have fun.

 

“It was the life raft for me,” said Sheila. “It was a chance to find fun anywhere we could.”

Between her time in Dala and in Kennedy Road, Sheila released her solo album, All In, in 2016. It came out of a 2014 French Immersion camp at a school in Pointe de l’Egise (Church Point), Nova Scotia. The government-funded bursary program came with the stipulation that participants would refrain from speaking English.

“I had the greatest five weeks of my life,” she said. “It was life changing.”

Sheila ended up working at the school for three sessions. As a way to unwind each day, the instructors would sit around with guitars and sing together. Soon enough, she started writing songs but wondered if she had something to say as a solo voice, outside of Dala.

“And invariably I asked Amanda (Walther, the other half of Dala) to sing harmonies on most of the songs!” she said. “But the process was a really big step for me because I had to face a lot of my fears. So this was like taking ownership of my dream a little bit.”

Brian has released three solo albums of his own, and the soundtrack to the 2014 movie The Volunteer, besides working with John McDermott, Kevin Hearne’s band, Thin Buckle, and The Lowest Of The Low. So what has he learned from these collaborations?

“I love writing songs and playing guitar,” he said. “That’s kind of my home base. But I love doing so many things. Each little new thing I can do scratches a new itch that I can’t really scratch when I’m ‘the person.'”

Kennedy Road’s appearance at the Folk Harbour Festival renewed their excitement about what they created and now look forward to more writing, recording and touring.

“Making music and recording it is endlessly fun,” says Brian.

“I just want to be on stage, so we’re a terrible match!,” laughs Sheila.

“The future is so perfect,” quips Brian.

For more on Kennedy Road and A Little Fight Left, go to kennedyroadmusic.com.

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