Mia Kelly: Live At Home County Music & Art Festival

Mia Kelly

We kick off another exciting week of Home County Fest recaps today, and turn our attention to Gatineau, QC folk-blues artist Mia Kelly – an emerging musician that we first featured last summer here at GDW, and one whose name very quickly cycled to the front page of our ‘concert wish list.’  We use the emerging tag loosely here, because Mia possesses an incredible voice, a confident demeanor, and the stage savviness of a musician well beyond her 20 years of age – are we sure that Mia was not born with a guitar in her hand?

Performing on the North Stage early on a warm and sunny Sunday afternoon, Mia used her 45-minute set to not only share songs from her breakthrough 2022 “Garden Through The War” album, but to also road-test a handful of unreleased tunes. Strapping on an Epiphone hollow-body electric guitar, Mia would launch straight into a one such new tune, tentatively titled “Tom’s Song,” and showcased her passion for the sounds and style of southern delta blues. “Well oiled / Hard boiled / Tom typically gets this way / Too hungry / No more money / The beast with the belly’s gonna pay.

Switching guitars, and playing the majority of her set with an acoustic variety (the hollow-body would return during the album’s title track later), Mia transitioned into another unreleased number, one preceded by a tale of its origins. “Last year I had the joy of spending a couple of months in Central America. The first week that I got there I met … the oldest, British-est, grumpiest man I’ve ever met in my life,” she commenced. “We didn’t like each other at first, but we quickly became friends. So, we were just talking about his life and he told me when he was thirteen, he left juvenile prison to join the British Navy, and just had this crazy life. I asked him when he was in the British Navy, and he just said [insert British accent], ‘When the ships were made of wood, and the men were made of steel!’  I thought that was fantastic and so I wrote this song about being in the British Navy in the 50s.”

Mia Kelly

When you think of the term Murder Ballad, you’re likely to conjure up thoughts of Canadian artists that have added such songs to their repertoire – Nova Scotian Dave Gunning and Ottawa’s Lynne Hanson spring to mind. With “Oleander,” Mia brings a solid and genre-appropriate offering to the table, and took time to share how she discovered music with such a dark nature. “I was not really made aware of murder ballads or their history until earlier this year … and how a lot of these murder ballads end up with the glorification of killing women, [how] all the stories end up with the woman at the bottom of the river, the bottom of the ditch, and it’s just kind of horrible,” Mia recalled. “I [felt] very inspired to write this feminist, revenge, badass murder ballad, and so I did. I wrote it in Cape Breton, and it tells the story of Mary, who lives in a very small town. I like to imagine it’s Cape Breton, but maybe not. It could be in the deep south, that would work too.”

As a bilingual artist, Mia shared “Morphée,” a French language tune from her current album, before taking time to discuss the importance of her home city, and being drawn to the river that flows through it. “I live on the Québec side, but the beautiful river that splits Québec and Ontario right beside Ottawa, and I’ve kind of come to depend on the river for my sanity and it’s just kind of this beautiful place for me to calm down and feel all the things I need to feel,” she explained.

Following a performance of “Remedy River,” Mia would return to this theme to segue into “Kitchissippi,” her 2022 hit single. “Another love song dedicated to the Ottawa River, and the original name of the river, is Kitchissippi in Anishinabe, which is the language of the Algonquin people whose land our beautiful river flows through,” she continued. “I’ve always had a love for the river, but in the last couple of years, I started river surfing. Surfing on standing waves, and I do it all year round. It’s just the most cathartic activity.”

Set List:

  1. Tom’s Song (*working title*)
  2. Bonefish Boys (*working title*)
  3. Time’s Easy To Blame
  4. Oleander
  5. Morphée
  6. Mama Said (*working title*)
  7. Remedy River
  8. Garden Through The War
  9. Kitchissippi
  10. Vagabond

If you want to see an exclusive clip of “Tom’s Song,” watch it from our YouTube channel here:

The British guy that crossed the ocean and crash landed in central Pennsylvania (to quote Greg Keelor, “And I wonder what am I doing here?”). As the youngest of four siblings, exposure to music from a very early age nurtured my passion and appreciation for many musical genres. Continuing to discover some amazingly diverse and talented musicians based in Canada, I gravitate to live music experiences and remain devoted to spreading the word about such a vibrant music scene.

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