Danny Michel plays the Cumberland Hotel June 4.

From the campfire to Cumberland

Juno nominee Danny Michel at the Cumberland Hotel June 4

Dugg Simpson

Special to The Record

Winter looms large in the Canadian identity.

Our sense of who we are usually includes boots, parkas, hockey sticks, skis and even polar bear swims. Whether it’s short grey days and cold drizzle on the West Coast or digging out from under three feet of snow on the East, it can feel like a long time which is why another part of the Canadian identity is heading south.

Every snowbird has their favourite destination- Cuba, Mexico, Costa Rica or even Florida.

For Danny Michel, it was the island of Caye Caulker of the coast of Belize. He’d been going down there for years and as he learned more about the community, he found himself getting more involved with the people on the island and fascinated by the musical culture.

He got in touch with one of his favourite local bands, The Garifuna Collective, asking if they’d be interested in a musical collaboration and they said “sure.” They went into the studio with a few song ideas and no preconceived notions. The studio was a rough and ready situation, with old gear held together with gaffer tape, but the results were pretty amazing.

The album was called Black Birds Are Dancing Over Me.

Reviewers raved and it was nominated for a Juno Award. Michel organized a stressful-but-successful summer tour of North America with the Collective and when all was said and done there was $70,000 in the Ocean Academy Fund he’d started to provide scholarship funds for local teenagers.

Taking chances

It was one more musical adventure in the life of an artist bursting with ideas. In an age when artists are told to stay with a successful formula and build their brand, Danny Michel works by intuition and takes chances. It is not the way of the successful pop star, but it is the artist’s way.

When he saw an ad for custom-painted, Star Trek-themed 1978 GMC Vandura on Craigslist, his intuition said “Yes!” The van is now his mobile studio for a video series he does with musical guests Hawksley Workman, Emm Gryner and astronaut Chris Hadfield joining him in the van’s diamond quilted, crushed red velvet interior.

“The older I get, the more I realize that this is what music is all about.”

It’s a trapeze without the net, he says, and it seems to be working. He put out his first album in 1994 and there have been 11 more since.

He’s been nominated for three Juno Awards, the Polaris Prize and CBC’s Heart Of Gold and David Suzuki chose his song Feather, Fur and Fin for Suzuki’s “Playlist For The Planet.”

At the heart of all of his different projects is the same clear goal – writing more thoughtful music.

Every song he writes has to pass the same test. It must be strong enough to be played on an acoustic guitar around a campfire.

“They have to start from there,” Michel said. “Until the songs are good at that level, they don’t go any further. You always want to start with a really strong foundation.”

Danny Michel will bring his vast musical repertoire to the Cumberland Hotel, June 4.

Tickets are available at islandmusicfest.com or at the hotel.

 

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