Stephen Fearing was born in 1963 in Vancouver, British Columbia and grew up in Dublin, Ireland where his schoolmates included future members of U2. In 1981, he moved to Minneapolis, Minnesota and immersed himself in the music scene, learning the fundamentals of song writing and performing, while washing dishes to stay alive.
By 1984 he was back in Vancouver, determined to become a professional musician. In the years since, he’s been named as one of the finest songwriters in Canada and has built a national – and international – audience for his music, doing it old school through countless performances at intimate venues and on the concert stages of festivals and theatres across Canada, the US, the UK, and Europe, with appearances at major events like the Reading Festival and WOMAD, to name just a few.
In 1996, Fearing, Colin Linden, and Tom Wilson formed a new band called Blackie and the Rodeo Kings to record a tribute album of songs by Willie P. Bennett. Nine albums and one JUNO Award later, the band has become one of the most respected names in North American roots-rock-Americana music.
Their musical collaborators are many, but to name a few – Emmy Lou Harris, City and Colour, Keb Mo, Exene Cervenka, Holy Cole, Mary Margaret O’Hara, Sam Phillips, Pam Tillis, Vince Gill, Cassandra Wilson, and Serena Ryder.
In 1998, Stephen Fearing met Andy White backstage at the Winnipeg Folk Festival and a fast friendship was formed. In addition to his own work, White is known for his collaborations with Van Morrison, Peter Gabriel, and Sinead O’Connor. As the duo Fearing & White they have released two critically-acclaimed albums and toured throughout Canada and the UK.
Fearing moved from his home in Guelph, ON in 2008, and headed to Halifax, NS. He completed work on Blackie and The Rodeo Kings’ Polaris Prize-nominated Kings and Queens (which featured duets with 14 iconic female singers including Lucinda Williams, Emmylou Harris, and Roseanne Cash). He also got remarried, became a father, and still managed to tour relentlessly.
Fearing has released ten albums as a solo artist, featuring musical guests including: Bruce Cockburn, Margo Timmons, Richard Thompson, Shawn Colvin, and Sarah McLachlan. When not working behind the microphone, Fearing spends time producing records including Suzie Vinnick’s JUNO Award-nominated album Happy Here. “With producing, I really enjoy collaborating with other artists. It’s a blast and, as a bonus, gives me a chance to learn and expand my skill set.” Like the guests on his albums, the many awards and nominations that have come his way over the years speak to the respect he has earned among his peers, presenters, and critics.
The JUNO Award-winner also shares his knowledge and experience with fellow musicians through songwriting workshops. “The classes dovetail nicely with performing,” he said. “My students are from all walks of life and I enjoy helping to coax them out of their comfort zones to create songs they might not have otherwise found.”
Through a life of many relocations and countless months on the road performing, Fearing has become a gifted storyteller and true musical nomad with the ability to enthrall audiences of all sizes and attitudes. “Getting on stage is the fun part, especially when the adrenaline kicks in,” he says, with a broad smile. “People want to escape and be taken on a journey. I build my shows so they do just that.”
Ken Yates, the 2017 Canadian Folk Music Award Winner for BOTH Songwriter of the Year and Emerging Artist of the Year, returns to his hometown of London, Ontario to open for the legendary Stephen Fearing of Blackie and the Rodeo Kings.
Since first planting roots within the Canadian music scene in 2011, Ken Yates has steadily grown a reputation as one of the country’s brightest singer/songwriters. His sound offers the complete package—unforgettable melodies, emotionally charged storytelling, and top-notch guitar chops—all gloriously displayed on Yates’ new album, Huntsville.
Produced by Jim Bryson (Weakerthans, Kathleen Edwards, Oh Susanna), Yates’ second full-length effort is a major stylistic step forward, with its 11 tracks capturing his artistic evolution amid extensive touring over the past three years. Along with handling production duties, Bryson’s abilities as a multi-instrumentalist were fully deployed during sessions at North of Princess Studio in Kingston, Ontario, leading a band that included Brian Dunne on guitars/vocals, James Preston on bass, Marshall Bureau on drums, and guest vocalist Amanda Rheaume.
For Yates, the stars were aligned throughout the creation of Huntsville, beginning with a balanced mix of road-tested and brand new material amassed before hitting the studio. Yates’ only pre-conceived notion for the album was to move forward from his last album and let Bryson put his years of experience to work.
“After playing some of these songs live, you start getting attached to how you think they should sound,” Yates explains. “I originally had in mind that this would be mostly a solo acoustic record, but I told myself going into the studio not to be too precious about my own ideas. The best part was, with that in mind, I was able to let go of some of that control and told Jim to run with it. He’d say, ‘Let’s try things my way and if you don’t like it, we’ll press the mute button.’ But I loved all of his ideas, and that’s when I understood what a great collaboration it would be.”
“Keep Your Head Down,” with its subtle, driving groove, opens the album like a train pulling out at dawn, with vast, open vistas lying ahead. Those come into focus on other key tracks such as “Once More To The Lake,” “Roll Me On Home” and “The Best Part Of Leaving.” Yet, everywhere on the album, echoes of the Canadian songwriting tradition, from Gordon Lightfoot to Bruce Cockburn to Ron Sexsmith, are apparent, proving that with Huntsville, Ken Yates is ready to join that exalted company.
Choosing to name Huntsville after a song he’d written about a small northern Ontario town is a further indication of Yates’ musical vision. “It’s a place that I love,” he says. “A lot of the songs were inspired by what you could say was a northern Ontario landscape, but that song in particular is about leaving everything behind, traveling up north and staying there. After I wrote the line, ‘If them mornings don’t shine how you like, find a night to dream into,’ I felt like it represented the whole album in way, which is why I decided to make it the title track.”
A native of London, Ontario (a few hours’ drive south of Huntsville), Yates studied at the prestigious Berklee College of Music in Boston. His first release, The Backseat EP, came out in 2011, whereupon he got a chance to showcase for fellow Berklee alum John Mayer, who responded with a lengthy blog post that read in part, “Ken Yates wrote a song called ‘I Don’t Wanna Fall In Love.’ This song moved me when I first heard it, and it still does today.”
That track became one of the standouts on Yates’ 2013 full-length debut, twenty-three, made after a year of pounding the pavement in New York City. It also became his introduction to the life of a touring musician, and his diligence in that area soon built a devoted group of admirers, one town at a time.
“At this point, touring still feels fresh to me, and at least half the songs on Huntsville came out of experiences I’d had on the road,” Yates says. “Going back to some of these places kind of feels like visiting old friends now. I’m still mainly playing solo, but making this record has really motivated me to start playing more—and hopefully bigger—shows with a band.”
Ken Yates is a rare example of someone who, from the beginning, had clear intentions when he embraced the troubadour life, and the combined drive and talent to make it a reality. With Huntsville, he has now closed the chapter on those early days, and is ready to open a new and exciting one, without any limits holding back his artistic ambition.