We all have a wide–eyed friend like Kristin Sweetland — artsy, articulate, eccentric, engaging, outgoing, a little odd but always full of enthusiasm and passion for whatever creative project is next on the burner.
Ostensibly, the Ontario–bred Sweetland is a folksinger. She’s been part of the Canadian acoustic music circuit for more than a decade, and regularly tours American coffeehouses – although this weekend’s gig at the Sentient Bean will only be her second–ever Savannah appearance.
Sweetland’s got a nice singing voice, and she not only writes songs, she interprets standards, classics and cult favorites.
The thing is, she’s an amazing guitar player who combines finger–picking with astonishingly original phrasing, rhythm and soulful open–tuning progressions. Half of her sets consist of accomplished instrumentals. This makes her stand out from the multitude of talented Canadian ladies singing and songwriting their way across the continent.
That, and her portrait photography. “I went to school for visual art and writing,” Sweetland says. “Took a little bit of music classes, but mostly I was self–taught, musically.
“I remember at some point where I had to make a decision whether I was going to go for photography as a career, or music. And I decided that musicians probably have more fun.”
As you’ll see on her website, Kristin Sweetland’s favorite photographic subject is ... Kristin Sweetland. She is a master of the artistic self–portrait.
It isn’t ego – it’s because she’s always touring somewhere else, and is the only model she can count on to show up, every time. “It turned into the way I decompress and the way I entertain myself on the road while I was alone so much,” she says.
She was 13 when the music bug but her ... in a typically unusual manner. “That movie Satisfaction had just come out, with Justine Bateman,” Sweetland explains. “Remember that, a million years ago? It was like, this chick rock band got this summer house gig ... and I thought ‘I want to play electric guitar.’
“My dad was a guitar player, and had always been interested in having me play. But until I saw that it was actually really cool, I wasn’t totally into it.
“I said ‘Dad, I want to play guitar!’ And the next day we went and bought this cherry red Peavey Stratocaster, and I started taking guitar lessons. I was 13, and I basically learned how to play by teaching myself songs that I liked.”
Her favorite singers were the Canadian pop star Luba (three–time Female Vocalist of the Year at the Juno Awards) and Alannah “Black Velvet” Myles.
She was drawn not so much to catchy pop music but to the more emotionally–focused stuff, with simple harmony vocals and a couple of acoustic guitars in tandem.
“At age 17, I went on a pilgrimage – I can’t believe my parents let me go – with a couple of my friends,” remembers Sweetland. “We left Ontario and drove to the Newport Folk Festival in Rhode Island, to go see the Indigo Girls perform with Mary Chapin Carpenter and Joan Baez. The formation was called Four Voices in Harmony.
“It was the quintessential adventure for us to get there. Things kept happening, things kept going wrong. And then it started pouting rain – and then there was a hurricane! We somehow snuck our way up to the front row, and it rained so hard that the water was up to the middle of my calves. Then lightning struck the festival grounds. Someone got electrocuted, and then they had to shut the whole thing down. That was right in the middle of the Four Voices in Harmony set that we had tried so hard to get to.
“And I just had this moment that was like, ‘This is the best thing ever, and it’s what I want to do for the rest of my life.’”
Since the early part of the millennium, Sweetland has recorded two acclaimed albums (Root, Heart & Crown and Own Sweet Time). She also plays and records with bassist/violinist Lyndell Montgomery as Captain Dirt & the Skirt, makes short films and writes one of the most interesting and funny musician blogs on the Internet.
Sweetland is a self–described nomad; her art is her life is her art. “Being on the road is the part that I love the most,” she confesses. “Getting out and playing the shows, meeting people and doing what I love – I’ll never get sick of that. I just feel so blessed to be doing this, and have this be my work. And my life.
“The part that gets old for me is the computer work. The constant trying to plan for the future, the anxiety of ‘Is this going to work? Is this tour going to pan out?’ Normal people just get a job. And they know that they have a job.
“When you’re a musician, you’re trying to get a job every day of your life.”
Where: Sentient Bean, 13 E. Park Ave
When: At 8 p.m. Friday, May 27
Artist’s website: kristinsweetland.com