Lately I’ve been thinking about a particular Steve Earle lyric.
“There are those that break and bend, I’m the other kind.”
On March 1st of 2022 Miss Emily was nominated for a Juno in the Blues Album of the Year category.
For the first time in three years, I missed the live announcement; my friend Chris, a Toronto news reporter, messaged me about it so I immediately pulled up the livestream. I fast-forwarded through the categories until I found the right one. When I saw it, the emotions rose to the surface; not because Emily was getting national recognition or realizing a dream. Not even because it was about damn time. No, I got emotional because, despite everything that’s happened, Emily’s stubborn refusal to accept defeat had been vindicated.
The last two years has been a tough road.
It started with so much promise. On the evening of February 2nd, 2020, Miss Emily won two Maple Blues Awards: Female Vocalist of the Year and New Artist of the Year as well as the Sapphire Blues Video Award for “Hold Back the River”. The celebration went well into the following morning. We toasted, we laughed, we cried and we hugged a thousand people. Over the next few days, we were inundated with media requests and offers to play. Interviews, phone calls, meetings, even some label interest. It was all happening the way it was supposed to when a 20-year overnight sensation finally gets recognized for her immense talent and her unparalleled work ethic. Anticipation and excitement coloured every conversation.
Sadly, we all know how the rest of this story goes. Six weeks later the world shut down. The cancellations didn’t happen immediately. Tentative dates and might-happen promises kept us hanging on for a month or two. At one point, I was so weary of fielding and responding to cancelled shows, that I just broke down. I couldn’t call Emily one more time to tell her yet another festival was cancelled. I waited a day or two and then broke the news. Her response was resolute and surprising. “I knew it was coming but COVID is not going to stop us. It’s just going to delay us for a bit.”
Hearing her steadfast resolve reminded me of a different challenge we’d faced in 2017, just prior to announcing the CD release shows at the Isabel. Em was in Newfoundland and she called me in tears. Another big local show had announced that they were going on sale, putting the successful launch of our show in jeopardy. These CD release shows weren’t just any concerts. We were promoting them ourselves which meant the costs were born by Emily and if they didn’t sell well, she would end up on the hook for a significant amount of money. I offered up several solutions. We hadn’t announced the shows to the public yet so we could pare it down to a single show and sell the hell out of that. Maybe we could move to a different date or even a different city. Belleville? Picton? We still had some flexibility. Em listened and absorbed and, as she often does, she took a little time to think about it. The next morning, she called me back. The tears had been replaced by determination. The shaky voice was now strong and clear. “We’re doing this and we’re going to sell out both shows.” How could I argue? This woman who had every right to be upset or concerned had simply decided she would persevere. And she did. We sold out both shows. We sold a ton of CD’s and we turned what could’ve been defeat into the foundation for an appearance at the Blues Summit in Toronto, which turned into our best summer ever, which resulted in Female Vocalist of the Year, New Artist of the Year and the inaugural Sapphire Blues Video Award.
So after telling her about yet another cancelled show and then hearing, “this won’t stop us,” I believed it. But make no mistake COVID continued to destroy our plans. It turned a new studio album into a live album. It turned festivals into livestreams and it turned band rehearsal into group-texts and email threads. We were battling a hurricane of bad timing. Even a brief ray of hope for summer shows in 2021 gave way to more cancellations, more maybe-next-years and more disappointment. Still, as much as COVID pushed her backwards, Emily just kept putting one foot in front of the other. Then came the personal bombshell. Em’s relationship was ending. We talked a lot during this time and despite the devastation and shock, she never failed to finish every conversation with some version of, “This will only make me stronger.”
Her words and her attitude inspired me. Each time I felt as if COVID was a burden, or my own life was a bit less than stellar, I thought of the woman who had stared down and overcome more challenges in two years, than most of us face in a decade. So, when we decided to submit “LIVE at the Isabel” for Juno consideration I was hopeful. Her resolve was undeniable. Even if the Junos didn’t come knocking this time, they would come eventually…and they did. That’s the thing about Emily; she builds belief and confidence, which turns into positive action, which inevitably becomes success.
We all go through difficult times.
We’re all confronted with obstacles.
We all react differently as the world appears to crumble around us.
In the face of relentless misfortune, it’s hard to fault those who break or bend.
That’s why I marvel at Miss Emily.
She’s the other kind.