Downtown Summerfest is growing here at home and also across the province. Up-and-coming B.C. recording artist Eryn Robertson is making Prince George the northernmost point on her summer tour so she can perform at this city's street festival this Sunday.
The singer-songwriter is based in Vancouver but grew up in a combination of Gibsons and California. It gave her a strong appreciation for highway miles.
"I really love the studio. What gets me the most excited is creating new music. But for right now I want to get out and tour, see new places, learn about how to find your audience," said Robertson, making her first trip to Prince George.
She will be one of the feature performers on the TD Bank Mainstage during Sunday's extravaganza. It's a stage usually populated by local artists. That holds true again this year, except for two notable exceptions. This year's slate includes the all-local cast of Anne Of Green Gables giving a sneak peek of the upcoming musical, Prince George fiddler Chloe Nakahara, modern rock band Redwhyn, classic rockers Steel Wheels Blues Band but also incoming guitar rocker Sean Ashby from Vancouver as well as Robertson and her band.
"I feel kind of bashful talking about my own vocal sound. I like to think its powerful but also hit people by being vulnerable as well," said Robertson, in a charming struggle to describe how she sounds. Comparisons could be drawn to Tara MacLean, Rose Chronicles/Delerium vocalist Kristy Thirsk, even Jewel has come up in conversation but Robertson has a huskiness and duskiness that set her apart from these.
She got her overall sound from a combination of oceanic isolation and urban onslaught. She went to school for pop music in Los Angeles but always present are the trees and tides of the Sunshine Coast.
"It was kind of a small-town upbringing but it is a very supportive community," said Robertson, remembering Gibsons fondly. "They have a great arts community there. When we moved to the States, we got to see the world differently. I got some different perspectives and the songwriting first came to me when I got into that new headspace."
She also got into my parents record collection "and found incredible storytelling and songwriting" in the soul and '70s rock she found in there. Most kids are forced by proximity to hear their parents' favourite music but Robertson studied it. Hours were whiled away at the turntable, taking in the masterful layers of Neil Young, Bob Dylan, Led Zeppelin and Fleetwood Mac.
She bolstered that with the music of her own time. Her formative years were the '90s, so she got radio influences like Sheryl Crow, Alanis Morissette and later Ryan Adams.
It was more than passive infusion. She has established the early markings of a career out of those lessons, formal and indirect. Three of her original compositions - I'll Be Damned, All The While and The Seasons - are available to hear on her website and there's a video for All The While on YouTube to give a clear indication of her work.
"I play a lot on the guitar, the acoustic, and then I also do a lot of freehand writing as well," said Robertson, discussing her songwriting process. "I tend to vocalize things I'm going through better in song than in regular conversation. It just comes out. It's a little bit personal, and sometimes it's scary to share that, but it's important to be authentic, so I let it all go. I want people to hear that and feel that. I'm OK with storytelling, even if its something that I've lived through."
She and her band will give Prince George a personal version of her aspirational work when they play Downtown Summerfest on Sunday. Prince George will also be showing Robertson one of its definitive annual good times, with all the food, family activities, vendors, businesses, and all that downtown has to offer in front of City Hall from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.