When an act such as Elton John, Paul McCartney or Céline Dion or even Rage Against the Machine comes to town, it’s expected that tickets will fly out the door quickly.
● Friday and Saturday, Feb. 27-29, 8 p.m.
● West End Cultural Centre
● All shows sold out
Apparently, this is also the case for Winnipeg’s Begonia.
On the heels of the release of her debut album, Fear, the 32-year-old alt-pop singer-songwriter — whose given name is Alexa Dirks — swiftly sold out a precedent-setting five shows at the West End Cultural Centre, the first of which takes place Friday night.
Right out of the gate, Fear was a success for Dirks. Reviews from outlets such as Exclaim, CBC Music, Dominionated and the Free Press praised her candid, emotional songwriting and ability to craft a thoughtful bop. The album remained in the No. 1 spot on Earshot’s Top 50 chart for 10 consecutive weeks and her singles Beats and Hanging On a Line were both named as CBC Music Top 20 Fan Favourites of 2019.
Right after Dirks released Fear in September 2019, the Free Press published an in-depth profile about the songstress and the long career path that led to her debut record. Since we’ve already covered hard stuff and done the emotional heavy lifting, Dirks hopped on the phone with music reporter Erin Lebar to answer some lighter questions ahead of her five Winnipeg shows.
What’s the first thing you do when you get home from tour?
Sleep. That is truly the biggest thing.
Do you have any pre-show rituals?
Usually on the road I have this portable steamer I bring with me that use before I go to bed and when I wake up, and that feels like part of the ritual. Before a show, I find a place to do my makeup: that’s an important ritual for me, so if a venue has a backstage area, I’m doing it in that area. If it’s a bar that doesn’t have a green room, then I’m finding the corner that’s the most private with a bit of light. I bring a mirror and then I just put my makeup on. That’s usually my meditation time. Then I warm up and try to drink a lot of water. Look how boring I am!
Sort of in the same vein, what is the inspiration for your onstage looks?
I mean, I don’t have a specific (goal), like, "I want to look like this or that." Lately I’ve been working with someone who has been reinventing a lot of my old stage looks. I went through a phase where I wore a lot muumuus. I still wear a muumuu every once in a while, but I didn’t want to just give them away and I definitely wasn’t going to throw them away — but I also wasn’t going to wear the same clothes I wore two years ago over and over again.
I found this person in the city who I’ve been working with and she’s been taking all my old muumuus and remaking them into new updated stage clothes.
It’s been really fun to work with her, because she has this cool creative brain and she just thinks of ideas I wouldn’t have thought of. It’s cool for the environment and makes me feel good. I just like feeling like a louder, more done-up version of the person who’s in the van all day in sweats and a hoodie. The stuff I wear just makes me feel more prepared to perform and be the person I want to be onstage.
When you do need to purchase new pieces, what are some of your favourite shops in Winnipeg?
I go thrifting often, if I’m not getting custom pieces made, and now I’m really digging into my old stock and redoing a lot of that stuff.
I used to go to Wildwood Rose Vintage a lot. I go to the Salvation Army on Empress Street, especially around Halloween because they put out all their stuff like, "Wow this is a wacky costume," but it’s just shit I would wear normally. I go to the MCC in North Kildonan... any Goodwill/Salvation Army/MCC, that’s what I’m hitting up for the most part.
I’ve been more and more diving into getting things custom-made, though.
If you could duet with any living artist, who would it be?
(laughs loudly) Such a good question — Erykah Badu, probably.
Is there anyone that you’ve recently shared a bill with that totally blew your mind?
There was this awesome band in L.A. called Your Angel that opened for us on this last tour. They have just started playing together in the last six or seven months or something and they were awesome. It was a three-female-fronted band singing all these cool harmonies and it was fun.
Do you have a favourite city you love to perform in other than Winnipeg?
I have so many favourite cities I like to perform in. This last tour was so amazing for so many reasons — it’s hard to just narrow it down, because it felt like people were listening in a new way. When we go to Saskatoon or something, it feels like a Winnipeg crowd almost, the enthusiasm is so amazing, but I mean we went all the way to Vancouver/Victoria and that was still awesome.
I’ve never had such a positive response in Canada. It feels like things are starting to build in such a fun way.
What’s your most embarrassing on-stage moment, if you care to share?
There’s some pretty embarrassing ones. I say dumb stuff often; I put my foot in my mouth almost every second show, so that’s a thing. In general, I can be embarrassing — that’s something I’ve grown a tolerance for. But there was this one time where we were playing in Brandon last year at an outdoor stage. It was during Fear and my keyboard player, one of his synths started to fall, and it was during a time where I wasn’t really singing, it was during his solo. I was, like, "Oh man, I gotta be helpful, I’m gonna go over there and help him pick it up." And I tried to help pick it up and I got caught in my mic cable and I fell in a really unceremonious, slow-motion fall, but I kept yelling, "Keep going!" because I didn’t want the song to stop. I fell spread-eagle and I was wearing a short skirt and it was hard to recover from that. Sometimes when I slip or something I can do a little dance and it doesn’t look like I actually fell, but that was something I couldn’t hide. It was unmistakable; I fell on my ass.
What was your reaction when you found out the fifth West End Cultural Centre show had sold out?
Oh my gosh. When my team was like, "Let’s do a fifth show," and the West End was like, "We’re confident in putting on a fifth show," I was like, "Y’all are laughing. This is not... we’re milking the teat too hard, people are not going to be into this." I felt like I had the potential to just be embarrassed (laughs). Like hoping that people would come but it’s like throwing a birthday party and no one shows up but you still have all the decorations and you’re still there; I thought it might be like that. But then we put it on sale and it sold out immediately and it freaked me out in the most amazing way. It freaked me out in the most amazing way possible.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Erin Lebar is a multimedia producer who spends most of her time writing music- and culture-related stories for the Arts & Life section. She also co-hosts the Winnipeg Free Press's weekly pop-culture podcast, Bury the Lede.
Updated on Wednesday, February 26, 2020 at 5:03 PM CST: Typo fixed.