This weekend is the 26th Peterborough Folk Festival (see full schedule). It’s also the 15th year for the festival’s Emerging Artist Award, which each year recognizes one young local artist with great potential. This year, the honour goes to folk singer-songwriter Evangeline Gentle. We take a look at Evangeline, and interview her about music, her background, and being queer in Peterborough.
But first, listen to Evangeline’s latest album, 2014’s Nice While It Lasted:
The first thing you’ll probably notice about Evangeline’s music is her voice. An immigrant from Scotland to Peterborough, she still has a hint of a Scottish lilt in her clear, expressive vocals. The next thing you’ll notice is the emotional rawness and vulnerability of these simple songs, whether reminiscing about sweet quiet moments with lovers and friends (“In The Morning”), or chronicling emotionally gutting breakups (“Doin’ Alright”).
And then, you’ll notice that along with that vulnerability is a real strength. No matter what awful shit is thrown her way, these are songs about finding the will and the defiance to fight another day. “A broken heart is the strongest,” she sings on “The Winter.”
And that defiant spirit is what makes Evangeline a particularly interesting choice for Emerging Artist. Her relationship with Peterborough is, in a word… turbulent. She’s been heavily involved with the city’s supportive arts community, but has also been a harsh critic of the “city [that] holds my deepest heartache,” as she calls it on “It’s Not That I Don’t Love You.”
In her music and in her life, she’s got a strong political streak, dating back to her involvement with the Save PCVS campaign while still in high school. (The harsh lessons of that fight are the subject of “My Bitter Education.”) Since then, she’s continued to be a force against homophobia, transphobia, and misogyny in Peterborough.
And the city – and modern folk music in general – needs more of that: people who are engaged enough to understand the city’s problems, and who care enough to fight to make things better.
Read on for my interview with Evangeline.
Tell me a bit about your personal history, how you came to be where you are.
My parents moved to Peterborough, Canada when I was 11 years old from a small fishing town on the North East coast of Scotland called Peterhead. Lot’s of things have led me to be where I am at this moment in time. eg. My involvement in the PCVS integrated arts program, my participation in the wonderful program Rock Camp For Girls, my family’s musical influence.
Is there a Scottish influence in your music?
I think in some songs there is for sure. My songs “James Dean” and “The Shore” both share traditional folk melodies with pop overtones.
In your time in Peterborough, you’ve been pretty outspoken about political issues in the city. Does that translate to your music as well? Are your songs political?
My songs are about my queer bleeding heart. I think that sure they’re political. I think they’re political because every time before I get on stage I think to myself “holy shit I’m about to out myself to X number of people and I feel so vulnerable in this moment”. It’s a scary thing, to be an outspoken queer person playing music sometimes. I think that my music speaks a lot to the issues that queer people struggle with in relationships and making connections with people.
Since coming to Peterborough, has the city been supportive to you? Is it a good city for musicians?
Peterborough has treated me very well, I love the people I play my music to, I feel honoured every time. This city and some of the great things happening in it have contributed where I am now like the above mentioned PCVS, RC4G and I think it’s a good city to be a musician but I’m not going to lie and tell you I’ve never felt like I’ve been left out of a boys club here before. I think there are lots of wonderful dude musicians who are consciously trying to make space for queer and women artists in the community, but then there are the guys who don’t care at all.
Now you’re this year’s Folk Fest Emerging Artist. What does that term mean to you? What is an “Emerging Artist”?
I feel like the emerging artist award is some kind of beautiful recognition of my work so far in the community. I think it’s a very hopeful title, suggesting that I still have far to go.
What’s next for you? Is there another album coming?
I’m working on a self recorded album currently titled What’s Golden Is Good, I’m really excited about the project. I feel like learning how to record myself has been a very powerful experience for me because I can now fully take control over what my sound is going to be like and accurately portray my true self through these songs. Not to say that my other albums aren’t like that, but this one is just more so than the others.
See Evangeline Gentle live this Friday, Saturday, and Sunday at the 2015 Peterborough Folk Festival – see the full schedule of events.
Photos courtesy Evangeline Gentle.