Take me home… Whitehorse’s Luke Doucet follows the country road back to Winnipeg
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Luke Doucet has a new appreciation for Joni Mitchell’s famous lyric, “You don’t what you’ve got till it’s gone.”
The singer-guitarist, who plays in the Americana duo Whitehorse with his wife, Melissa McClelland, brought his family to Winnipeg this summer to live so they could spend time with his ailing mother, Margaret Ormond.
Ormond, who was the longtime executive director of Sunshine House, the resource centre and community drop-in that focuses on on social inclusion and harm reduction, died Aug. 19.
Amid the sadness, Doucet has gained a new love of a city he left behind 30 years ago to join Sarah McLachlan’s band in Vancouver.
With Jesse Northey
- Saturday, 8 p.m.
- Park Theatre, 698 Osborne St.
- Tickets: $43.45-$48.45, including fees, at ticketmaster.ca
On Whitehorse’s Facebook page, Doucet expounds upon the coffee culture on Corydon Avenue, the pickerel burger at One Sixteen restaurant on Sherbrook Street, brunch at Tallest Poppy and nightspots such as the Yellow Dog Tavern or the Handsome Daughter.
“There’s a lot of life and vitality in the city and it sometimes it doesn’t look like that,” says Doucet, who will visit another Winnipeg landmark, the Park Theatre, with McClelland tonight when Whitehorse plays the Osborne Street venue as part of the Winnipeg Folk Festival’s Hear All Year concert series.
“Winnipeg’s taken it on the chin and sometimes you see it from the wrong perspective — like, Winnipeg’s looking pretty rough — but I’m so impressed how beautiful the city’s been,” says Doucet, who got his start in local folk band Acoustically Inclined.
“Obviously, we show up in summertime and Winnipeg’s got its best foot forward, but people are still making incredible art and really committed to doing cool things.”
They enrolled their son Jimi into school in Winnipeg so Doucet says the family is in the city until June, when they will decide what their plans are next.
“I had been coming back for the last three years, sometimes once a month, because I’m close to my brother J.D. (Ormond, also a musician), and my mother and I were pretty tight,” Doucet says. “I don’t need to be sold because I’m such a fan of hanging out, but it’s a bigger ask for people who haven’t grown up here.”
Doucet, 49, also sees a lot of musical advantages in Winnipeg compared with musical meccas where he’s lived previously, such as Toronto, and before that, Nashville, a place he had hopes for because so many of his favourite records, LPs by J.J. Cale and Bob Dylan, were recorded there.
“Winnipeg doesn’t suffer from the industry that Toronto does,” he says. “We did Nashville for a year, Melissa and I, and I found that city had a kind of oppressive effect on how I write songs.
“Not that people can’t break out of Winnipeg, they certainly have and they will. There’s also a community of people who are making cool (stuff) because that’s what they want to do. That’s really a sweet thing.”
Whitehorse has joined the sweet musical parade this summer with two new songs, Division 5 and Leave Me As You Found Me, which will be part of a new album, I’m Not Crying, You’re Crying, which will come out Jan. 13, 2023.
The songs are decidedly country and nothing like the indie-rock of their 2021 projects, Modern Love and Strike Me Down.
“It’s a country record, through and through and unambiguously,” Doucet says. “At least country by the way we define it, the mid-1970s, like Dolly Parton and Emmylou Harris and even earlier than that, Gram Parsons stuff, and from a Canadian standpoint there’s some (Gordon) Lightfoot influences and Anne Murray.”
John Prine’s death in April 2020, one of the first famous people who succumbed to COVID-19, pushed Doucet and McClelland toward the new musical path, “putting up guardrails” so they kept a tighter focus.
But as the western classic says, don’t fence Whitehorse in.
“When Melissa sings, there’s so much Patsy Cline in her voice that you can’t help but come back to the early 1960s, and I’m a big enough Dwight Yoakam and Lyle Lovett fan that we end up pushing into the ’80s too,” Doucet says.
Tonight’s concert will offer a little bit of everything Whitehorse has done since McClelland and Doucet teamed up fo the band’s debut in 2011, except this time they’ll have a pedal-steel guitar player on stage too.
“We’re going to play some sad-sack folk-country, we’re going to play some rock ‘n’ roll and some s–t-kickin’ barn-burners,” Doucet says. “That’s just what it’s going to be.”
Alan Small has been a journalist at the Free Press for more than 22 years in a variety of roles, the latest being a reporter in the Arts and Life section.