Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Just Fearing, a guitar... and no T-shirts for sale

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In some ways, Stephen Fearing's world is being turned upside down and in others, it's hardly changed at all.

The Juno Award-winning Canadian singer-songwriter, who brings his solo act to the West End Cultural Centre tonight, has his roots in folk music, where it's long been the norm to come out and meet fans after shows, pose for some pictures and sell a CD or two.

So, he's fascinated to see so many other artists rushing off the stage to get behind a "merch" table -- including his Blackie and the Rodeo Kings bandmate, Tom Wilson -- and start glad-handing fans who approach with open wallets. (Colin Linden is the third member of the band.)

"It's business as usual in the folk scene, except we're watching the oncoming demise of the CD, which has been our meal ticket. We're all trying to figure out what we can sell people. The live show is now as it and it always was for me," he said during an interview at the Winnipeg Free Press News Café.

Fearing said he used to feel like the "poor cousin" with record labels because so many other artists were making their living from the radio and record store sales.

"That's gone. Now everybody is out on the road. Those of us who have an audience are lucky. Pre-Facebook and pre-Twitter, fans used to stalk the artists. Now it's the other way around. We're all after that audience, so the more you can meet and greet people and make a connection with them personally, that's the name of the game."

So, what does he sell? Blackie and the Rodeo Kings have experimented with selling barbecue sauce, incense and cooking aprons. Wilson sells paintings, which he'll often do before a show in the hotel restaurant -- with his fingers, no less.

"I do photographs. I sell cards and prints," Fearing said. "Do you want to take a CD home, a black T-shirt that's too big or a photograph that I took when I was travelling on my last tour that is Canada as I see it? It's something to make a connection (with fans) that's not too cheap, too cheesy or made in Taiwan," he said.

Fearing is quick to note he does not sell T-shirts on his solo tour.

"It's like working at The Gap. You end up folding T-shirts after the shows for hours and hours," he said.

Fearing is touring in support of his eighth solo album but his first in seven years, called Between Hurricanes.

His inspiration came from extreme change in his life -- he moved from Ontario to Nova Scotia, he left his record company, he parted ways with his longtime manager, he got remarried and he hit a milestone age.

"I was going to call the album 50 because I had just turned 50 and my wife told me that was perhaps the lamest title she had ever heard for a record," he said.

The show is just Fearing and a guitar, which was a driving force behind making the record.

"I'm in this wonderful, loud, exciting band but I started out playing little coffee houses. That's been my bread and butter for many years," he said.

Years ago, fans used to come up to him during solo shows and ask if Blackie and the Rodeo Kings were still touring. Now, people ask after the band's gigs if he still does solo performances.

"I thought it was time to make a solo record and rebrand myself to remind people that I started out doing this," he said.

geoff.kirbyson@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 1, 2013 D3

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Updated on Friday, March 1, 2013 at 10:17 AM CST: adds fact box, embeds video, replaces photo

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