Hard work and dedication has put Martin Kerr on the steady ascent to stardom
To hear Martin Kerr play is to be reminded of the important parts of your own life, and of how much stimulating Edmonton street music is never recorded. It’s almost heartbreaking in way, but Kerr’s journey from busking at the farmers’ market to taking the stage at the Edmonton Folk Music Festival has involved a lot of planning and a lot of writing.
“It’s something I’ve wanted to do ever since I moved here,” Kerr says. “It’s such an iconic festival, when you see those 12,000 people on the hill with their candles waving … I’m going to get to play a couple songs before City and Colour on the closing night of the festival on the mainstage, so I’m really looking forward to that and hoping that I can get everyone’s attention.”
It’s a reward that’s been a long time coming for Kerr, whose latest album, Better Than Brand-New, hit number 10 on the Canadian album sales chart in July. Between playing house shows, a sold-out performance at the Winspear, and an opening spot for Sarah McLachlan, Kerr says it’s about giving an audience a moving and relatable experience.
“I try to write about what I’m feeling and what my reality is,” says Kerr. “I know that other people are going through the same things or have been through the same things and will relate to it. They say that for novelists as well, ‘write what you know,’ or journalists, too. As a songwriter, it seems to me that there’s not many songs, at least in the mainstream, that are talking about the realities of family life.”
Kerr’s music seems most comfortable in the same storytelling vein as folk icons like Cat Stevens and Gordon Lightfoot. It’s a sound that’s had a long time to mature.
It’s a busy life, and Kerr’s success is due in part to hiring friend, former tenant, and now executive assistant, Anthony Lovesey, who handles the logistical side of the business. But even with the extra help, it’s still difficult being both a dedicated recording artist and a dedicated father of three.
“It’s pretty intense right now but that’s another reason I turned to busking instead of touring was because I want to be a proper dad,” says Kerr. “I didn’t want to be seeing them once every couple of months. I wanted to tuck them into bed every night. I get to do that and I get to make a living doing what I love as well.”
Kerr has been playing throughout Edmonton for the last decade. Originally from Oakham, England, Kerr left home after high school to travel the world. He met his Edmontonian wife in China, began a long-distance relationship, and eventually moved with her to her hometown.
Discontent with a construction job, Kerr initially tried to get his music out in the usual way. A western Canadian tour, local shows, a CD release party, but none of it was taking.
“I wasn’t making any money,” says Kerr. “I was losing money, and as I looked around me I saw that almost everybody else was not making a living either. I figured I had to try something else. I started busking at the farmers’ market and on street corners and stuff. It was really the street performing that made my career take off. It wasn’t spectacular, but that’s how I started.”
It’s odd to see a musician come so far having eschewed the bar and club scenes, but perhaps that’s a testament to Kerr’s dedication and tenacity. In that sense, Kerr’s triumph is one for local music fans as well.
“That’s very much a communal success,” he says. “It’s due to lots and lots of people helping me, whether it’s just flinging a looney into my case when I was busking or being corporate sponsor of one of my shows. People have helped me on all different levels, but there are thousands of people that have helped me have a career. I think the biggest lesson I’ve learned is just to ask for what you want and what you need.”
Sun., Aug. 13 (12:05 pm)
Edmonton Folk Music Festival
Gallagher Park, Stage 7
General day passes $85