Festival Fever

For the last 2 weekends I have had the pleasure of performing at 2 wonderful festivals. This first is one I look forward to every year, Vancouver Island Musicfest, which I have the privilege of MCing and performing at every year. I just love it!

But it is the second that I want to blog about.

This year I was asked to go to Bella Coola to MC and play at their annual music festival. For those who don’t know, Bella Coola is up past the north of Vancouver Island and is either a flight, loooong car journey or a 13 hour ferry ride. We chose the latter.


When I mentioned to my husband that Daisy and I had been asked to play he immediately said that he and Charlie were coming too. It’s always great to do these things with the whole famdamily🙂

The 3 hour drive to Port Hardy was beautiful and from the moment we stepped on the ferry we knew that it was going to be an amazing experience. The ferry crew were hilarious and between them and the whale and dolphin announcements, not to mention the fact that it was BBQ day, the 13 hours went so fast and we were in Bella Coola being picked up and whisked away to our first night in a lovely lodge.





They even let the kids steer the ferry for a while!



The next day we headed over to our accommodation for the rest of the weekend which was a cabin on the beautiful Rip Rap campsite. We had this gorgeous cabin all to ourselves and the scenery was stunning!




We had the day to hang out before a really nice gig at the legion across the road.


The next day was day 1 of the festival and we were kicking the whole thing off with a family concert which meant the Charlie got to play his first proper concert, including playing fiddle and singing backing vocals, which he does scarily well!


They had this rentable climbing wall there and needed some help and Trevor just happens to have been a climber in a previous life, so spent the afternoon helping little climbers, including Charlie.



At 5pm I started my MC slot and performed a set with Daisy. Little did Daisy know that I had organized a surprise for her with Trent Freeman, a close family friend, who just happens to play with The Fretless who were also performing at the the festival.

Daisy wrote a new fiddle tune in June and I had sent it to Trent to learn so he could surprise her by joining her on stage to play it. Trent is an inspiration to a whole generation of fiddlers in the Comox Valley, including Daisy, so this was a thrill for her. We had so much fun with it!


He then stayed on stage and played another tune with us!!


The rest of the evening was MCing for me where I got to intro a whole load of great music including the fabulous Locarno and the amazing Derek Miller.



Day 2 started with us again and this time with talented Ivonne Hernandez from The Fretless. Ivonne got Daisy to join her on some fiddle tunes but when she started them they were so fast that I thought that there is no way Daisy can play these. But then Ivonne told Daisy to take the tune while she played a harmony and to mine and Daisy’s surprise, Daisy rose to the challenge and played them really well. I was SO proud.


Trevor helped out on the wall again, Daisy helped out in the kids area and then we had a gig in the kid’s zone where we brought out an old skill of Daisy’s…. hoola hooping while playing the fiddle. It was a hit and she had little girls asking for her autograph.


Charlie joined us again and then we were done all our duties!


It was so great to hang out with The Fretless, Locarno, Scott Cook and all the other bands.



I have to say a HUGE thank you to the festival, the great drivers who got us everywhere on time, Rip Rap campsite and especially have to mention the food for the musicians. It was incredible. All fresh, local and so tasty!! We were SO well looked after.

I took a photo from the stage and have to say that it has to be the best stage view ever!


The trip home was equally fun and we had the same crew as on the way over. They made us laugh and really looked after us. So thank you BC Ferry crew of the Queen of Chilliwack!!!

Bella Coola Musicfest, you are one cool festival and we hope to be back again sometime!!🙂

THE Dress!!

I had to write a short follow-up to my JUNO blog about THE dress!

Today I found myself on various websites featuring people on the JUNO red carpet etc.

Here are a few…


Toronto Sun


Now the irony of all this is as follows…

If I had won I would have worn a little black dress in case any photos of me were used. But because I had not won I figured no one would care what I wore or what I looked like so I threw caution to the wind, stepped out of my little black dress box and went for the multi-coloured number.

Also, I hammed it up a little in front of the press… again not really caring what they thought.

Between the dress and the jazz hands I seemed to have caught the attention of photo editors from quite a few on-line magazines including CTV (the main TV sponsors of the JUNOs) and am included in slideshows along with all the big names.

So hooray for funky little dresses and silliness. A demure little black dress and coy smile would have gone unnoticed. In case you are wondering the dress is by Karina Dresses in Brooklyn NY. Here’s one more…🙂

Windsor Star

I also wrote a blog for the dress company Karina Dresses

2013 JUNO Awards… an experience!

What a weekend! I am going to attempt to write about my JUNO experience in order to process the events in my head. So here goes…

After a few months of prep which mainly revolved around what I was going to wear (helped by the kids from a local elementary school) I was all packed into a medium sized suitcase (impressive) and ready to go.

But the gods of planes trains and automobiles were not shining on us as the fog descended on the Comox Valley and no plane could land therefore we couldn’t get out. Panic set in as I had a gig early the next morning and it isn’t good form to miss a JUNO gig. Eventually they bussed us to the next town where, fortunately, the fog had lifted and we were off in time to get our connecting flight to Regina.

Everyone told me that Regina was cold but I wasn’t expecting the kind cold that takes your breath away (and a few digits if you stay outside long enough).


Friday night was the first of the events,a green carpet walk and a drinks reception with a particularly lovely martini bar and wonderful snacky things wandering around us carried by incredibly lovely police cadets. Here I met two of the other nominees in my category, Jennifer Gasoi and Marlowe Stone from Marlowe and the Mix. I immediately liked both of them. We had already been in contact to sing on each others songs at the gig the next morning. We are a very friendly category🙂

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On the way back to the hotel Trevor, my husband and date for the weekend, insisted we get sushi. I wasn’t hungry so just went to watch him eat. In an interview with Jo-Ann Roberts of CBC’s All Points West earlier that day she asked me who I would like to meet most and I said Jian Ghomeshi from CBC’s Q. I have sent him my music previously (along with chocolatey bribes) in the hopes of getting noticed by one of Canada’s largest music taste-makers.

As we approach the sushi restaurant who should be waiting to be seated but Jian himself. I walked in and introduced myself and was thrilled that he said “oh, you sent me your album and you’re up for kid’s music award aren’t you”. He remembered me… so the chocolates must have worked! Anyway, he was very lovely and we had a quick chat and went our separate ways to eat.

There were shuttles put on to takes us anywhere we wanted to go, which we were SO grateful for given the minus temperatures and Saturday early morning was no exception as we headed to the Children’s Category nominee gig at the Regina Public Library. All the JUNO staff were so friendly and welcoming and we had a wonderful SOLD OUT show packed with kids and their parents.

I met another nominee, Emilie Mover and we all sang on each others songs and played a song together at the end. Even though all our style were SO different I think we sounded really good together and it was so much fun.


Saturday afternoon the nerves started kicking in. What if I won? I hadn’t really thought of a speech but had considered who I would thank. What if I didn’t win? Would I cry? So instead I had a nap… the answer to everything🙂

I chose a little black lacy number for the Gala dinner where many of the awards were being presented, including my category. There was another green carpet (I must google the meaning of green vs red carpet) where the press were gathered so I got to strut my stuff in front of them.


There were more martinis and pics and then dinner. We were sitting with other nominees including a jazz and a classical musician and we were all sitting upright, hopeful. There were various performances by Colin James, Donny Parenteau (cool fiddler) and the Four Tenors along with a local choir. These were interspersed with awards and hosting by Jian Ghomeshi of the afore-mentioned sushi restaurant encounter.


We were rooting for each other at the table while trying to eat steaks the size of my head. How do you eat honking great piece of meat while preparing yourself for elation or disappointment? The first on our table didn’t win and the second and the third. There was only me left as the expectant shoulders had gone from upright to slumped.

My award came up and it was a thrill to see my face up on the big screen and my music playing, but before I knew it they were announcing Emilie Mover’s name and my shoulders also slumped.

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But only for a few minutes. Emilie’s album is excellent and she is such a sweet, sweet person so I was really happy for her. It was also nice to have the technology handy to text my friends and get all the feedback that good friends are there for. And after putting it on FB my community in the Comox Valley posted reams of comments that made me feel so loved that I didn’t care that I hadn’t won.

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Sunday was a lazy day of avoiding the biting cold and watching TV and eating the remains of the best sandwich ever. The previous day we had gone into a local deli and when they found out I was a nominee they insisted on having a picture with me and giving us cannoli. It was the best sandwich ever. If you are ever in Regina you must go to family run The Italian Star Deli.

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So red carpet time was upon us and, as I hadn’t won, I decided to stop playing it safe, ditch little black dress #3 and wear a very colourful dress that had been sent to my by Karina a wonderful dress boutique in Brooklyn NY (long story). And I am so glad I did.


Walking the red carpet was a weird and wonderful experience. It’s all very official with lots of security. You stand in front of a a whole bunch of photographers trying to remember what they do in America’s Next Top Model. It was fun and I played around a bit. You then have to walk the rest of the red carpet with screaming fans who are not sure who they are screaming for until someone like Michael Buble arrives and the screams go to a painful level.

One of my favourite parts (because I am getting older and a little vain) was when an official with a headset ask me who I was and I said I was a nominee. She look at me and said “gosh you don’t look old enough to be a nominee”. Now I am not sure how old ‘not old enough’ is but I’ll take it!🙂


Another reception, more alcohol, more meats on sticks and more chatting to fellow nominees and we were heading to the arena for the live televised show. It was a great, well organized show with the highlight, obviously, being KD Lang’s induction into the hall of fame. What a speech an what a voice. I will always remember the ‘inner quirkmeister’ part🙂


So more shuttles, which, by the way, is a great way to meet new people, more drinks, more food and we were done. My first JUNO experience.

I have to give a huge shout out to my wonderful date for the weekend, my husband of nearly 21 years, for being patient, gracious and sociable, all the qualities anyone could ever ask for on a weekend such as this. And had I won I would have thanked him, my wonderful children and the community of the Comox Valley. Hopefully I will get the opportunity another time.🙂


Silly/Serious turns Serious

Well… I made it to 15 weeks of my songwriting challenge of 2 songs a week and then could be neither silly nor serious anymore. Also, during that time I put more silly songs onto Soundcloud than serious ones and there is a good reason for that.

Mid songwriting challenge I started sending my serious ones (well the ones that weren’t ridiculously jolly) over to Paul Otten to produce and co -write unaware that it would turn into anything. I met Paul at a Taxi Road Rally a couple of years back and we became facebook friends along with a whole bunch of other really supportive Taxi people. Musicians need this kind of support group to keep going… and cosmopolitans😉

Myself with the 2 Pauls – Paul Otten is on the right, the other is Paul Cufflin, another very talented singer/songwriter.

Paul had produced a commercial song called Colour It for me previously and I really liked what he did. But when I sent him my serious songs it turned out that we shared a common love of an indie/folk/rock sound and our voices sounded really good together.

After sending the first song to my publisher they LOVED it but wanted a rewrite of the lyrics and so I entered into my first collaboration for many years. I wasn’t a fan of songwriting collaboration (I know,I know… collaboration is essential to songwriting… blah blah blah) so I was a little cautious. But it was really cool. The beauty of it is that if you get stuck you can ask the other person, but egos must be left at the door. You can’t fall in love with an idea/line/melody if the other person isn’t into it. The power of veto. It works in my marriage and seems to work in collaboration. And Paul is very easy to work with. We put our first song up on soundcloud which you can still listen to here.

So we tried another song which, again, everyone at my publishers office were gushing over so we figured we were onto something. Watching my 15 year old teenage daughter break out into a weird dance every time I played it in the car was also a reassuring sign🙂

Six songs later and we are going to be releasing an EP under the project name of Big Little Lions. The name came about because he is really tall and I am… well… a little on the short side!

If you want to know more info as I get it you can either sign up to my email list by sending me an email at helen@helenaustin.com or by following me on twitter and Facebook.

An Unexpected Day


Two weeks ago I got an email asking me for ‘media’ for the Juno Awards but clearly stating ‘this is NOT a confirmation of a nomination’.

I had submitted albums to the Junos many times and had never been asked for anything… as I expected it would go.

So when I was asked for media I was confused. Did this mean I had a shot? How was I going to be able stand the next 2 weeks of a mixture of excitement and dread. Alcohol helped.

So Tuesday 19th February rolls around and my husband found out that they announce the nominees 7:30am our time… which was good because there was no way I was going to able to sleep in… plus I had to get kids and feed them before school etc.

So we’re watching all the big award nominee announcements and the promos and finally we get to the jazz, classical and then before we know if the Children’s Album of the Year Category has come and gone. Did I really see my album cover flash up on the screen? I have to check with Trevor several time before jumping up and down like a crazy person.

My daughter heard my squeals and thought it was her little brother being annoying… but no… it was just me being a little over excited. Then it occurred to me. I am a Juno Nominee. It doesn’t matter if I win. I am a Juno Nominee. I can forever put that on my publicity. Yay!

When I started pursuing this musical career thing seriously, less than 5 years ago, a Juno was about as likely as an Oscar… and if you have ever seen me act you will understand. So I wondered, how on earth did I end up here.I wonder that a lot… all the time.

On the one hand, I work hard and love what I do and push hard to get it. On the other hand… it’s a JUNO NOMINATION!!!

I am just going to enjoy this moment and on Monday I can start worrying about what I am going to wear!

Silly & Serious – A New Challenge.

Since finishing my Song of the Week challenge over 2 years ago I have felt there has been a hole in my songwriting process. Unless I was writing for an album I found I was starting so many songs but not finishing most. I thought about doing song of the week again but it felt like I would be going backwards a little.

Then, while writing some upbeat tunes with a view to ad placements for my publisher a few weeks ago, I found the urge to counteract the jolliness with something sad and depressing. I really enjoyed the juxtaposition (and I like the word juxtaposition!). So after quietly setting myself a goal of writing and recording one of each a week I found that I was being way more productive because I really do love a deadline. I thrive on it and every day I wake up excited that I have a purpose.

Now I am on week 4 and, while I am not posting all the songs I write (2 a week is a little bit of overload) I am posting some of them exclusively on my Facebook Music page via SoundCloud. I was originally going to call it Happy & Sad but the got a little confusing when some jolly songs are in minor keys etc. So ‘Silly & Serious’ it is.

Unlike Song of the Week, I am not committing to do this religiously every week for a year, but I will keep going (likely with holiday breaks) until I find something else to distract me… ooh look… squirrel!🙂

Click on the image below to go to the new tunes…

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Search for the Unicorn

Part 1 – Finding the photo

One day I came across a photo being used by a friend as her Facebook profile pic and I knew I had to use it as an album cover. There was something about this cute little fella that I just couldn’t put my finger on, something about the snow and the colour, and I knew that no other unicorn would do. When I find what I like I can’t let it go.

I set about trying to find the owner of the picture so that I could ask permission to use it. I asked my friend where she got the photo but all she could remember was that it was from some site with ‘fuckyeahunicorn’ in the url. I lost many hours searching this and so many other variations of the unicorn and expletives. But nothing…. not even close.

I was starting to get obsessed and knew it was time for a different strategy. Someone must have made that unicorn so I started searching for knitted unicorns (oh how I LOVE the internet). I searched Etsy and bay and a whole load of home-made sites. But nothing. I started searching random unicorn images and scrolled through thousands of pictures of, mostly, unicorns… although there are some very suspect images under the heading ‘unicorn’… hmmm. Weird.

Finally I found a tiny image of a green unicorn that had very similar flowers which HAD to be made by the same person. The title under it was cozycoleman.com. I had found it it… woohooo. Feeling very excited (I lead a sheltered life) I clicked on the link and in the flash of a screen I got this

But Cozy Coleman HAD to exist. I had to find them. I revisited Etsy… the home of the knitted items and other home-made treasures. I typed the name into the search bar and… it gave me TWO Cozy Colemans. None sold knitted unicorns so I messaged the first and got a lovely message back telling me ‘sorry… I have never knitted unicorns… good luck’.

The second Cozy Coleman had to be the one or I knew that this was going to be the end of the line. So I emailed and crossed my fingers.

Part 2 – Finding the unicorn

Within minutes I got an email telling me that ‘YES’ she was indeed the Cozy Coleman that knitted the unicorns and we started a dialogue where I asked her if she knew who took the photo that I had found. She was great and asked all the people that she had sold the unicorns to. After a few days of possible leads the trail went cold.

Cozy Coleman turned out to be Sharon Coleman and I asked her if she still had any of the unicorns that she could sell me so I could try to re-create the photo (did I mention that I am obsessive?). She did but only in green and pink. Something was telling me that it had to be the blue.

Then she suggested that if I found a 100% pure wool sweater in the colour I wanted and sent it to her, she could felt the sweater and make one for me. Yay!!!

So I hit the thrift stores and found 2 sweaters that I thought would work and sent them to her. Did I mention that Sharon Coleman is the greatest?🙂

A few weeks later I had 2 beautiful unicorns and just before all the snow on our local mountain had melted.

Part 3 – Shooting the unicorn

Karen McKinnon is a wonderful local photographer who is responsible for most of the photos you see of me so, over a social breakfast one morning, I asked if she would come up to the mountain and photograph my unicorn in the snow. Not her usual sort of job, but she is always up for some fun so we headed up one afternoon to shoot the unicorn…. which was the source of many many jokes… a little sad, I know.

We found a spot on the bunny slopes at Mount Washington where the snow was still good and the trees were far enough in the distance to blur out (or some other photographic technical term). I put the unicorn into position while Karen got comfortable lying in the snow and the shooting (tee hee) began. The unicorn was a little temperamental but we got the shot and headed back down to spruce him (or her, we’re not sure) up a bit.

Part 4 – The cover

Originally this was going to be for my LA album but that all changed when the album was finished and the image didn’t match the sound. But when I decided to release a kid’s album, the unicorn was the perfect photo for the cover.

Stacy from Psoma Design Group was the designer for my LA album (out next year) and she did such an amazing job that I asked her to turn my unicorn into a CD cover for this kid’s album. We had so much fun with all the iterations and I really like the finished product… especially all the extra sparkles🙂

When it came down to naming the album I realized that I wanted a title with unicorn in it. It would seem odd not to. But I had no song with that in the title. So a week before sending the songs to be mastered I wrote and recorded a new song called ‘Always Be A Unicorn’, using the sentiment in those Facebook posts going around that say “Always be yourself, but if you can be a unicorn (substitute batmen etc), then always be a unicorn.” It seemed to really suit the cover and the feel of the album in general.

“Always Be A Unicorn” is out on October 24th, when I will a guest on CBC All Points West with Jo-Ann Roberts.

Click here for pre-order special.