Sure, we had just returned from our first long-festival-weekend of the summer season – almost 470 miles north of home in the beautiful surroundings of Canadian Cottage Country, and initially had plans for a weekend of rest and recuperation once back home. But, when Toronto singer-songwriter (and good friend) Shawna Caspi reached out with news of performing a pair of shows in the US, well, you can’t turn down the chance to experience her always-fabulous music live in your (almost) backyard, right?
A Friday night show in downtown Philadelphia was not a feasible option for us on a work day, but a Saturday evening show just a short two-hour drive south in Herndon, VA certainly was – and on a glorious summer’s day, we found ourselves visiting the Arts Barn, a restored and renovated building perfectly configured for intimate live music. Shawna last performed in this part of Northern VA just before the arrival of the pandemic (an event we did not learn about until it was too late), so allowing lightning to strike twice and miss out again was simply not up for debate.
“Thank you so much for coming, this place is gorgeous,” Shawna stated once stepping up to the microphone, ready to commence a 2-hour set for a packed room. “I’ve just started coming back to the United States to do shows since the pandemic … this is so lovely to see so many people in the room for live music, so I’m going to start this show with a song about hope.” Launching into a beautiful acoustic version of “Hope Lives,” Shawna would take time throughout the evening to share several cuts from her 2021 “Hurricane Coming” album (reviewed previously on GDW), mixing in many older tunes for those in the room familiar with her pre-pandemic visit to the area.
As gifted a storyteller as she is a lyricist, Shawna shared plenty of tales behind these new tunes, reminiscing about road trips across the Saskatchewan prairies (“Ghost Town”), the art of quilting (“Leaving Came Easy”), and a composition born from a songwriting challenge (“Celebrate”). Shawna would also perform “Give In,” a tune written just before the arrival of the pandemic, and explained why she has not shared it for some time. “This is a song that I wrote and played for the first time on a New Year’s Eve show that I did when 2019 was moving into 2020. I was doing this show in Chicago – they have a radio station out there that used to have New Year’s Eve parties, and their studio would have a bunch of musicians come in and play a New Year’s Eve concert and broadcast it on the radio,” she offered. “So, I was really excited to play this song at the stroke of midnight, and then when everything hit, I just didn’t want to play this song anymore because it was filled with things that we weren’t allowed to do, and it just bummed me out so much. But now we’re back, and I’d really love to play this song again.”
Accompanying older tunes with amusing vignettes, such as the inclusion of “Tennessee Waltz” to her repertoire, thanks in part to her Via Rail Music On Board performances, or sharing Joni Mitchell and Anaïs Mitchell songs that Shawna ‘wished she had written,’ the interplay between artist and audience shone all evening. The room certainly loved the tale that preceded “My Baby Can Fix A Bike.” “I’m an all-season cyclist in Toronto, although these days we don’t get much of a winter anymore, so it’s not too, too bad,” Shawna explained. “But it does a number on the bicycle because we do a lot of salting in Toronto, and at the end of the winter I always take my bike in to get checked out and fixed up so I can get back on the road again – so I wanted to write a love song for all the bike mechanics.”
Revisiting the pandemic-era theme, Shawna would connect “Devil’s Rolling Pin” to a tale about her home city. “Toronto was one of the most locked down cities in Canada during the pandemic, and it’s usually such a bustling place, a big city with lots going on, so it was really strange to have just everything shut down for so long,” she shared. “And it’s quite amazing that any live venues survived that. But they’re coming back, and I’ve got this place in my neighborhood called the Tranzac Club, where they’ve got music going on there all day, every day, and they were shut down, and now they’re open again, and they’re back at it. And it’s just so nice to have that again. … so, I want to dedicate this song to you tonight for coming out.”
With time for a final tune (although an encore would follow), being in such close proximity to the largest political geographical region on the east coast on this given night gave Shawna’s performance of “Not So Silent” a little more context, a proverbial extra punch. “If we sing this one really loud, maybe the folks in DC will hear it and they’ll just stop rolling back women’s rights all the time,” she exclaimed, the room nodding their agreement. “I try to play this song every show that I do. Someone said we should send some pot smoke from Canada to this direction next time we want to send smoke somewhere [referencing the current Canadian wildfires], and maybe they’d just chill out and stop banning books and all of that stuff.”
- Hope Lives
- Devil’s Rolling Pin
- Ghost Town
- Clouds (Joni Mitchell cover)
- Give In
- Hold The Light
- Love In A Moving Van
- Nothing On You
- My Baby Can Fix A Bike
- Never Enough
- Tennessee Waltz (cover)
- Real World (Anaïs Mitchell cover)
- One More Chance
- Leaving Came Easy
- Not So Silent
- Running Start