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Kate Reid

Calling her second album "I’m Just Warming Up" (2009) was both prophetic and something of an understatement for Vancouver-based singer-songwriter and storyteller, Kate Reid. The acclaimed 2009 release has proven to be an artistic coming of age for one of Canada’s funniest, sharpest new talents—a whipsmart wordsmith with a dynamic stage presence who leaves her audiences by turns laughing, crying and pumping their fists in delighted, singalong solidarity. A 2010 critics’ poll conducted by Penguin Eggs, Canada’s respected roots music magazine, made it official by naming Reid “Favorite New Discovery” ahead of Scottish singersongwriter Paolo Nutini. "I’m Just Warming Up" also earned the southern Ontario native a nomination for a Canadian Folk Music Award and generated a stack of press clippings that invariably cite her originality, topical songwriting and laugh-aloud humour. When comparisons were made, they aimed to flatter by namedropping Ani DiFranco, Joan Baez, Ferron, Penny Lang and the Dixie Chicks. Critic Tim Readman summed up the consensus view when he described the album as “brilliantly written, beautifully sung, packed with diverse emotions and extremely musical.”

Her musings about identity, love and queer life are matched with an irreverent, often self-deprecating sense of humour typified by live favorites like The Only Dyke at the Open Mic, Co-op Girlz and Uncharted Territory, a response to the handful of people who claim she sings too much about being a lesbian. As she puts it in the latter song, “By being who I am, you see it’s an act of rebellion/So I guess that makes me one hellava/Rebellious, political, singer-songwriting, earth-loving/Woman-identified woman.” Season those sentiments with one of Reid’s habitually warm, disarming laughs, and you’ll understand why listeners of all persuasions have taken such a shine to her. Born in Cambridge, Ontario and raised on a 200-acre hobby farm in nearby Ayr, the teenaged Kate learned guitar with an Eagles songbook and harmonica while listening to Neil Young’s Heart of Gold. Other early influences included Bob Dylan and John Denver, though it was Joni Mitchell who inspired her to sing. “I think I listened to Blue almost non-stop for a year. That album taught me how to use my voice.” Her first gig at 21 found her nervously belting out Janis Joplin and Neil Young tunes with her father’s bar band.

Yet it was neo-folk activists/singer-songwriters like DiFranco, Tracy Chapman, Ferron and the Indigo Girls who truly modelled the possibilities. “I didn’t know what it was at the time, but something was waking up inside me,” she says of her slowly blooming musical and sexual identity. “I grew up in a dysfunctional family and there are some dark periods in my childhood that are reflected in some of my lyrics. What pulled me through—saved me, in fact—was discovering I could write and perform and sing and make people laugh. Eventually I reached a place where I had no choice but to follow my heart and do music for a living. It was like I owed it to myself and to others to just go for it.”

After getting a degree in psychology at the University of Guelph, Reid moved west and led a somewhat nomadic life in the mountainous Kootenays region of southeastern British Columbia. During that time, she got a teaching degree at a University of British Columbia satellite program while working to conquer her early stage fright by playing at house parties, community events and open mics in Nelson, BC. She also earned a living wage as a teacher and honed her performance chops as lead singer and mandolin player in a bluegrass band alongside four gentlemen pickers and grinners. Settling in Vancouver in 2005, she turned up the wattage, coined a memorable slogan (“One woman. One guitar. Lots of attitude”) and quickly won a loud, proud grassroots audience with a style she described as “slam poetry meets folk music.”

Reid’s 2006 debut CD, Comin’ Alive, included crowd favorites like I’d Go Straight for Ridley Bent and Starving Artist along with a series of cliché-free odes to self-empowerment and new possibilities for out women in the 21st century. And while songs like Bright Out Here and Heal Myself weren’t funny, they did signal that she was much more than a stand-up comedienne with a guitar. Upbeat reviews, cross-country touring, an appearance at the prestigious Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival and solid airplay on co-op and campus radio followed as she continued juggling music with her dayjob as a substitute teacher with the Vancouver School Board. I’m Just Warming Up is “a definite improvement – more mature, better songs, more solid production,” says Reid, praising her guitarist and co-producer Adam Popowitz (a member of the Six Degrees Records recording act Pacifika). Mainly autobiographical, the ten songs range from humourous to harrowing, gleefully celebratory to sweetly tender. The Only Dyke At the Open Mic and Ex-Junkie Boyfriend deliver laughs, insight and hard-won wisdom in equal measure. Truckdriver documents her youthful wanderlust while Dirty Girl is a paean to lust, period. Emergency Dyke Project addresses homophobia and the kind of lipstick lesbian chic exploited by celebrity pop stars. Anger and outrage fuel No More Missing Daughters, written in honour of the missing and murdered women of Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. Also in the mix is her take on the classic Robert Service classic The Cremation of Sam McGee. Reid first heard the legendary Canadian poem as a girl and decided to record it, noting the irony of the poetic line “The Northern Lights have seen some queer sights, but the queerest they ever did see …”
And now, Reid has released her third studio album, "Doing it for the Chicks". And, like so many musicians before her, Reid really is “Doing it for the Chicks.” What else but quadruple-entendre humour, cherry flavored cigars and a hilarious album cover that paints her as a misogynistic femme rapper can one expect from one of the queerest straight-shooters in contemporary music these days. “I’m merely on a divine plan to convert you to the dark side of the bedroom,” she sings on the title track of her eagerly anticipated third album. “The music's all just extracurricular, I’m just doing it for the chicks.” It’s not for nothing, then, that Reid has recorded Led Zeppelin’s cock-rock classic “Hotdog” with a bluegrass-styled hoot, holler and a broad wink.

Given the all-persuasions crowds drawn to her shows, Reid is doing it for the ladies and everyone else with a yen for her fiery performances and rare ability to glide from laughaloud singalongs to intense tales about the price some pay in staying true to their own trailblazing sexual identities. Critics have been cheering her on as much as her diehard fans, and the new album follows the wave of acclaim that greeted "I’m Just Warming Up". In the interim she has toured like a flame-haired banshee while nurturing a grassroots audience that now stretches east across Canada and south into the U.S.

Reid now lives on idyllic Bowen Island just north of Vancouver following years in the heart of Vancity’s culturally diverse east side. Known for a style she once termed “slam poetry meets folk music,” the farm girl raised in Ayr, Ontario has dialed in more directly on the folk, country and roots directions hinted at on the last album and her 2006 debut. She credits producer Adam King (Jill Barber, Jully Black, the Good Lovelies) for this latest release's sparkling sound and high fives the cast of musicians who augmented her own guitar and harmonica with lap steel, banjo, fiddle and mandolin.

Passionately delivering alt-culture songs that move audiences to laugh, think and cry is Reid’s strength, and the new disc’s 11 originals (plus that one Zepplein cover, Hotdog) showcase her fast-talking humour, activist spirit and compassionate take on life’s bittersweet truths. The title track, Doing it for the Chicks was written in response to a man who agreed to host a house concert for Reid before realizing that not only is she queer, she sings about it oo. Revolution is a hard-hitting protest song about violence against women. Ain't No Drama Queen chronicles the struggles of being out. My Baby’s in the Beer Tent Again is already a crowd favourite on the festival circuit. And while a real-life crossdressing tugboat driver from Nanaimo, BC inspired Captain Cupcake and the Cambie Hotel, Closet Femme is a hilarious confessional about Reid’s own penchant for crossdressing.

Kate Reid continues to build her audience by touring across the country and down in the US. And, sdhe'll be unapologetically flying the flag whether performing for large festival audiences, in clubs, house concerts or Pride events across the country. Says Reid, “For me, it’s very healing to be providing a voice for women and for gay, lesbian, queer and trans-gendered communities in particular. What’s surprising is that my music is appreciated by folks from all walks of life: it kind of seems to bridge the mainstream and the LGBTQ community-the songs seem to bring us to a place of common ground. And, I like shaking up opinions and perceptions, in addition to seeing people howl, tap their feet and resonate with what I am singing about. That’s when I know I am doing my job right.”