Vancouver Island’s Genevieve Charbonneau wins 2017 ArtsWells Songwriting Contest
She performed during the festival on the August long weekend. Next year’s contest will be open in April 2018, so get your submissions ready. The “Songstress of the Cowichan Valley” may have to add an amphitheatre to the greenhouses and gardens of her Homestead if this keeps up. A bigger trophy case wouldn’t be bad advice, either. Three years after her debut album pulled in a couple of Vancouver Island Music Awards, and who knows how long since she wrote her first song about Gem and the Holograms at age 9, Genevieve Charbonneau found another Updraft of rarified air when she was crowned champion of the recently concluded 2017 ArtsWells Songwriting contest. She found some time to speak to our Editor@Large Craig Gilbert about it all after missing the 3 p.m. ferry to the Mainland en route to a mini-tour with stops in Vancouver and the Okanagan.
How did it feel to win?
It was really exciting. I got the email and I was like ‘Oh my God, Oh my God!’ you know? It’s sort of validating in a way. I haven’t really been out there for a very long time. I did my first album about three years ago and another album last year. Only songwriting for maybe six years or so.
It’s a late-in-life thing for me, but definitely a passion.
Why song-write now?
I’m homesteading in the Cowichan Valley and basically moved my young family up into the mountains onto bare land. We started building a house and gardens and greenhouse and everything but there were many years when it was super-rustic living and we didn’t have TV or anything, so we just started playing music around the campfire. I’ve had a guitar since I, like, 9, but I never really played it seriously.
I’m actually a trained dancer and I have a theatre degree, so I have done a lot of acting, I’ve performed a lot and I’ve always been musical. I guess I went to a show, a bluegrass show, where a lot of local bands from the Island were playing original music and I thought ‘I can write a song, I know three chords on a guitar!’ so I went home and started writing. I guess I got more seriously into the songwriting after we completed the house. It took a lot of energy and when that project was finished, it opened up for more space for creative work. That’s when I really got into the songwriting as a way of personal and political expression.
What do you get out of the songwriting?
I think for me the most gratifying is when I have someone come up to me after the show and say ‘Oh my God, thank you for writing about this’ or ‘thank you for your words,’ or ‘I just had someone die and that particular song was special to me.’ That, to me, is the best. I don’t think anything beats that feeling, just knowing that you’re connecting people emotionally, and politically. I have a lot of political songs.
It’s tricky for me. I’m doing this tiny little tour right now, I’m heading into Sorrento to play Nimble Fingers. It’s hard for me to tour. I can’t tour all the time because I have three kids and a homestead with huge gardens, and I’m busy. That said, I love it so much and my partner is really supportive so, the more I can do, he’s like, ‘yeah if you make it big, then I can retire.’
I did just make what I think is a pretty awesome music video called Lost Cell Phone Blues. It’s totally apropos – everyone can relate to losing your cellphone. It’s kind of hilarious, it’s a little tongue-in-cheek and it’s beautifully shot. I threw that out to the world hoping maybe it would get some traction but it hasn’t yet. Maybe it people know about it, it can go somewhere.
We’ll see what we can do. Is that the song you won for?
No, the song I won for is called Down, Down, Down. It’s a little bluegrassy, old-timey song and it’s about the Recession but it’s lively and upbeat and fun and catchy, but it’s got some kind of serious lyrics. I don’t know why song has taken off more than other songs; that song also was a finalist in the (2017) International Acoustic Music Awards. I guess people like it.
You’ve mentioned politics a couple of times. Without losing the rest of my afternoon, what gets you going these days? It seems like an obvious question but go ahead.
I just wrote a song about Trump called Alternative Facts, that one’s fun to play. I don’t know, what gets me going? There is so much material. There is no shortage, I just need more time to keep writing. I need more time to teach my band all the songs I keep pumping out. That’s what I need more of.
So what’s next for you?
I have a show in Vancouver tonight and I’m in Summerland tomorrow, then I’m taking flatpicking guitar at NImble Fingers. Then, it’s back to school and back to the grind. I’m hoping to make a professional live video in September, that’s something I don’t have, then planning possibly a U.K.-Ireland tour in February and I’m thinking about going to Blackpot (Festival and Cook-Off) in (southern) Louisiana in October. I work at a winery part-time and September is a pretty busy month.
Anything else before I let you get on the ferry?
No, just thanks – to ArtsWells, surely – for the platform and for having the competition. I’m really thrilled to have won it.
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