Giving a voice to next generation of artists
Patricia Conroy was one of Canada’s top country acts in the 90s, now she is helping other artists reach glory in Nashville.
Over the last decade the Big Valley Jamboree veteran has been adding her name in the writer’s credits section on albums for headliners like Reba McEntire, Michelle Wright and Chad Brownlee, among many others.
This weekend was her fifth time at Alberta’s biggest country music festival, but this time in a role that tapped into her current occupation, hosting the Production World Songwriter’s Workshop.
“It’s really cool to be doing this for the first time,” she said. “Obviously I’ve been writing a whole lot the last half dozen years, so it makes perfect sense to me.”
The Songwriter’s Workshop is more of a peak behind the curtain for fans wanting a more intimate and stripped-down experience with artists playing BVJ. Those taking part this year included the likes of Chad Brownlee, Clayton Belamy, the boys from The Washboard Union, Tracy Miller, and Laurie Kerr.
Though the tent does not carry the spotlight of the mainstage, it has become a must-see stop for those attending the jamboree, with most of it 17 scheduled sessions packed to the gills.
“We try to have a little bit of something for everyone, you may not like the loud concerts but you want to hear the stories behind the songs,” said festival producer Mike Anderson.
The small venue is a comfortable spot for Conroy.
“It is quite different and I’ve enjoyed the big stage and the feedback of thousands and thousands of people, but this is more like the Nashville scene where I live,” she said. “They have real small clubs, smaller than this, and you just go up and sing your songs and you never know if it’s going to be the next Reba hit or Miranda Lambert hit.”
Conroy was one of this country’s biggest acts for a decade. Her catalogue of top 10 hits includes “My Baby Loves Me (Just the Way That I Am),” “Take Me With You,” “Blank Pages,” “Somebody’s Leaving,” “What Else Can I Do,” and “Keep Me Rockin,” among many others, and she was able to revisit them in the songwriter’s tent, but in a different format than what her fans may be used to.
“It’s kind of cool to have it stripped down to the song because I’ve always been a lover of the song, not so much the glory of the business or any of that stuff, I just like to sing,” she said.
She won a Canadian Country Music Award for artist of the year in 1994, the Rising Star Award in 1990, twice was named Independent Artist of the Year in 1999 and 2000, and Independent Female Artist of the Year in 2006.
The adjustment from headliner to songwriter did take some time for the Montreal native, but she has found a new rhythm in her new role.
“It was a big learning curve for me to get out of my own way and stop thinking about what I want to write and just sit down with young artists and find out what their lives are about and find out what they’re up to musically,” said Conroy. “It’s been really fascinating to me, especially writing with men because I have to go in their psyche and it’s kind of crazy some of the stuff they say. It’s kind of fun to think like a guy, think like a man.”
Conroy was one of four artists who played at the first Big Valley Jamboree in 1993 – George Fox, Tanya Tucker and comedic duo Williams and Ree – and for her the festival holds a special place in her heart.
“These people are small-town people, some of them are farmers, they don’t change, they are who they are, their roots run deep, this is part of their culture and I hope it never goes away,” she said. “I hope it’s (around) for at least another 25 years and there’s a generation after this.”