Culture  Cosying up to Craig Cardiff

Canadian singer-songwriter takes an unconventional approach to performing

Correction appended

Like many McGill students, I balance my love of music with my academic commitments. Or at least I try to. On February 11, Canadian folk singer-songwriter Craig Cardiff performed at Thomson House to a full crowd in an intimate setting, and I was very glad to take part in the cosy experience. The venue was well suited to Cardiff’s musical style: he’s known for playing in living rooms, churches, and basements. Indeed, Cardiff invited the audience into a collaborative musical process, welcoming them to sing along. The performance was also recorded live, and the tracks made downloadable to all of those whose voices, curiously well-pitched, came together that night.

The show at McGill’s Graduate House was produced in part by Hello Darlin’ Productions and as part of Cardiff’s tour for his 2009 album Goodnight (Go Home), his 11th effort in ten years. The album’s tracks include “When People Go,” which was written to teach his young daughter about death, and “Smallest Wings,” a song inspired by the organization Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep, which helps parents of terminally ill newborn children deal with the loss of their infants.

Cardiff’s songwriting, the development of his career, and his approach to musical performances are particularly interesting to me because of the model that they offer for aspiring singer-songwriters who have little desire to be a part of the music industry. When I strum my guitar and I think about the words I write, one of Cardiff’s songs reminds me of the kind of music I strive to create. “Dance Me Outside,” which tells the story of young girl dying of exposure to the cold, is a jewel of a song that is both disarmingly heartbreaking and genuine. Cardiff explains that the song’s title comes from Canadian writer W.P. Kinsella’s collection of short stories about life in an Albertan First Nations community. “We have third-world pockets in Canada that people in Montreal, Toronto, Halifax don’t know about,” he says. “It’s embarrassing. Horrible things pop up in the media…and then everyone just forgets about it. There are so many songs out there that are not saying anything. The idea for [my] songs is to have some meaning.”

That evening, another voice made a strong impression on the audience. Twenty-four-year-old Allison Lickley, the opening act for Cardiff, was adorable, her music and rapport with the audience sweet and inviting. Since her recent move to Montreal, Lickley has released her first full length album, You Might Find Me Here. “I’m really happy and excited,” she explains. “In a lot of ways, deciding to follow music as a career was a lot like starting my own business. I’m still figuring out what kind of life I want, but as I go I’m discovering how different artists are doing this, and I’m learning from these experiences.”

Due to an error on the part of our editors, the original version of this article stated that the song “when people go” was written about the death of Cardiff’s young daughter; In fact, the song was written to teach his daughter about death. Cardiff’s daughter is alive.