While Del Crary Park has proven to be a wonderful setting for Peterborough Musicfest over the course of 36 summers, because of its expansive size and its location near the busy downtown Peterborough, it has rarely if ever felt intimate.
Creating a kitchen party feel typically requires a kitchen, where family and friends come together to share not only a love of playing music but also the joy of simply being in each other’s company.
Raised in Ennismore as one of four siblings, Melissa Payne experienced that family music vibe early on, an experience furthered by her family’s close relationship with the musical Leahy clan.
Gifted with a fiddle at age four, she soon after learned how to play the instrument at the knee of Doug Leahy.
Years later, when the touring Leahys were in need of a babysitter, Payne went on the road with the family, experiencing firsthand the magic that inevitably results when those on stage have a close connection with one another.
On Saturday, July 29th, Payne will headline Peterborough Musicfest, bringing the kitchen party to Del Crary Park with the help of a few of her musical friends. Admission to the 8 p.m. concert, as always, is free.
“I’m so proud to show off all the local talent that this city has,” says Payne. “Nicholas Campbell and James McKenty will be playing guitar and they’re going to sing a few of their own songs too. Rob Foreman is going to be up there with his rock-a-billy (stand up) bass and Matt Greco too, to name drop a couple more. Kate Suhr and Kate Brioux will be there too. It’s an all-Peterborough gang.”
VIDEO: “September Skies” – Melissa Payne
Payne admits to some trepidation taking centre stage to perform for a hometown crowd.
“I’ll be nervous,” she says. “We try to put on our best show wherever we go but when you get home to Peterborough, you want to make the city proud that it has local musicians of this calibre.”
Having released her latest album, Darker Than Your Dark, in early March 2020 just before the world got darker than it has ever been, Payne says things are “brighter” these days in her world.
Married last July, she’s now back in the studio with McKenty and writing new material with help from Blue Rodeo’s Greg Keelor and Jimmy Bowskill. Payne says a new single is scheduled for release in the fall.
“The songwriting has definitely taken a little bit of a brighter turn,” says Payne. “Since I met my wife, everything has come more into focus. There’s more determination to do well, not only for myself but also for her. She keeps me motivated and on track.”
“And people like James (McKenty) and Greg (Keelor) and that gang — they give you that boost to want to keep playing. When you take away all the ego stuff, it comes down to the love of playing music. This town and its music scene have kept me in it every time I’ve been motivated to throw in the towel. It’s this community and these musicians that keep bringing me back.”
VIDEO: Irish Millie and Melissa Payne play some traditional tunes
Of note, Payne wanted young fiddle sensation Irish Millie (Amelia Shadgett) to join her for the Musicfest show, but she’s presently touring the east coast.
“Even though Millie is quite a bit younger than me, I look up to her in many ways,” says Payne, fully acknowledging they share a similar a similar trajectory.
“Millie is such an amazing young talent — so much drive and work ethic. She just loves to play. I think that’s where we’re similar.”
While Payne says she has always been anxious in large crowds, the stage has been and remains her “safe place.”
“I’m with my friends and we’re kind of in a bubble. You can each people and connect with people in a different way than socially at a gathering.”
“It seems like a thousand years ago, but I still feel like that shy awkward kid. I’m definitely more comfortable now in my own skin, but I remember all those lessons (with Leahy) and being mesmerized by the skill and talent and wanting to play like that.”
VIDEO: “Shake Me” – Melissa Payne and James McKenty
Reflecting on a still-evolving musical resumé that has brought her acclaim as both a performer and a songwriter, Payne says her ambition was anchored by a simpler goal when she was in her late teens and looking to break out.
“All I wanted to do was get on the Black Horse stage and play an open mic if they would let me,” she recalls.
“I look back at 18-year-old me and I’m like ‘Wow, I think she’d be super proud.’ I have to remind myself that I should be proud. It’s easy to bog yourself down with ‘I could be doing this or I could be doing that’, but I’m really happy that I’ve stayed true to my music and what I love.”
To those who are following their own musical dream, Payne has some advice.
“Just play, and play because you love the music,” she says. “It’s such a magical thing. It touches so many people in different ways. Even if you’re singing off-key in the kitchen with your mom, like I did, you have to keep playing and singing like you love it and never quit. Always find the love in it.”
Now, as she readies to join her friends at a festival that has hosted big-name international acts since 1987, Payne isn’t the least bit intimidated.
“Hey, we’re a big-name act too,” she laughs. “Those big name acts inspire but I was inspired just as much by the people sitting in my kitchen and by playing on local stages. Come out with an open mind and let’s have fun. Sing with us. Dance with us. Open your heart to the music.”
VIDEO: “1000 Pieces” – Melissa Payne
Back in 2014, in a sit-down with this writer for a feature for a local newspaper, Payne said the dream was to “find a rich man and play the fiddle on a cruise ship.” Close to 10 years on, that ship has sailed but her ambition still has wings.
“I just want to keep writing great songs and get better at my craft,” she says. “That’s the goal — always trying to get better at what I do. That makes me happy and more fulfilled in so many ways.”
“If I’m an 80-year-old woman still playing the fiddle and hopping around, my life will be complete. As long as I’m playing music, I’m going to be happy.”
VIDEO: “All On Me” – Melissa Payne with Ken Tizzard and Music For Goats
Peterborough Musicfest is presenting 15 free-admission concerts during its 36th season, each staged on Wednesday and Saturday nights until August 19th, and supported by more than 100 sponsors, kawarthaNOW among them.
Overseen by general manager Tracey Randall and staff, a board of directors, and numerous volunteers, Peterborough Musicfest’s stated mission remains “to provide diverse, affordable live music to enrich cultural and economic prosperity in our community.”
For more information on this concert and the entire 2023 season, visit www.ptbomusicfest.ca or phone the Peterborough Musicfest office at 705-755-1111.
kawarthaNOW is proud to be a headline sponsor of Peterborough Musicfest’s 2023 season.