Lost in transition

Jill Barber caps the first half of a stellar year with three intimate shows. Chuck Teed follows her move from supporter to headliner.

Doors opening Jill Barber is ready to take the next step.
photo Rob Fournier

While you read, listen to "Don't go easy" by Jill Barber.

Jill Barber's 2007 East Coast Music Awards weekend was a coming out party that fans won't soon forget. Building on the success of her 2006 release For All Time, Barber wowed audiences with a string of stellar showcases that left the entire conference buzzing with anticipation.

An impromptu floor show at the Pavilion sent the young audience into a frenzy, while a Seahorse singalong captivated a capacity crowd. Capping off the weekend with a two ECMA trophies and a broadcast performance of "Hardline" was merely the icing on the cake—Barber was already a shining star in a weekend full of highlights.

For the select few who have followed the 26-year-old since her tentative steps into the Halifax music scene a few years ago, the ECMAs were a justification of what they've known all along—Barber was, and is, a star on the rise. And while that rising star could afford the luxury of booking a large venue in Halifax (she opened for Kris Kristofferson at the Metro Centre in December and for Stuart McLean at three Cohn shows in March), Barber decided to go the unconventional route instead, choosing to perform three intimate dates at the Music Room from May 24t o 26. Friday is sold out.

"It's easy to get caught up in playing bigger and bigger venues, but it's important for me on a human level to connect on an intimate level to the people who support me," says Barber, fresh from a 10-day west coast headlining tour. "Music should be enjoyed in that kind of space, no matter how big a room a person can fill."

Barber has only recently settled into the role of headline artist, spending the last few years supporting such acts as Ron Sexsmith, Jim Bryson and Danny Michel. With each tour Barber has stepped up her game, and she is now equally adept at impressing audiences with either a guitar in hand or a backing band in tow.

That said, the evolution is not without its challenges.

"I took a lot more on this tour because you have to put on the kind of show that is the show," she explains. "But it was incredibly satisfying, because I felt like I was playing to my audience as opposed to someone else's audience. I feel like I am in a period of transition in my career where I need to step it up. The door is open for me and I've got to walk through if I want to keep going."

For all of Barber's recent success, the fact remains that she has worked the independent music circuit for the last 10 years. While that might seem like an eternity in the music industry, she thinks the timing is perfect.

"If I had done it any earlier it might have been premature," she says in an introspective moment. "I feel like the time is now to throw myself into it, and I am more motivated than ever to work hard and take every opportunity that I can. It's a great place to be."

So when Barber first discovered The Music Room during rehearsals for her For All Time album release last fall, she jumped at the next chance to perform there.

"The first time I was in the space I could tell that it was a cool room, and acoustically beautiful," she says. She initially booked two dates in the space, but added a third night after the Saturday performance sold out. "I can't think of a better way to spend the weekend."

Backed by multi-instrumentalist Les Cooper and pianist Kim Dunn ("I've got to get use out of the baby grand," she jokes), Barber has also invited a select group of special guests to perform alongside her over the three days. Thom Swift will make an appearance on Thursday night, Meaghan Smith on Friday night and Mike O'Neill on Saturday night.

"Each show is going to be different," she says. "I'm going to put everything I can into them." Still, she doesn't expect any fans, even her most dedicated, to make all of the shows. "If someone was to come out all three nights," she says, "I would give them a prize."

Jill Barber, May 24-26 at The Music Room, 6181 Lady Hammond, 8pm, $22adv/$25 door, 494-3820.

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