Two of P.E.I.’s most well-known and celebrated artists are honorary East Coast Music Award recipients this year.
Celtic-rock group Rawlins Cross and its lead singer, Islander Joey Kitson, will be receiving the Dr. Helen Creighton Lifetime Achievement Award, named after the folklorist who tracked down and published traditional Maritime stories and songs in a career spanning from the 1930s to the 1980s.
The annual award is given out by the East Coast Music Association, which is holding its annual conference in Halifax from May 3-7.
Rawlins Cross is marking its 33rd anniversary this year, with Kitson having joined three years after it was formed.
The band has released 11 recordings, earning multiple Juno nominations and nine East Coast Music Awards.
Kitson told CBC P.E.I.’s Mainstreet host Matt Rainnie he had to take a moment to reflect when he heard about the band’s latest ECMA recognition.
“It’s hard to believe. When you get in your 50s you think, ‘Where did the time go?’” he said.
“I’m grateful that we’re still performing and we’re still great friends. And we’re still producing new music.”
Kitson said he was a local performer not known outside of P.E.I. before the opportunity opened up with Rawlins Cross. He had played with a number of groups, including the Rock Island Blues Band.
I think vocally as long as I feel I can still cut the mustard and perform and enjoy it, having this outlet is great.— Joey Kitson
He auditioned for Rawlins Cross and was doing a gig with the band the same week.
“We’re not always together, but when we get together we play music, we enjoy each other’s company and it’s still great after 30 years,” Kitson said.
“We’re not full-time …. but still being propelled forward creating new music. I think that in rock’n’roll you obviously can’t retire because we look at Keith Richards and [Paul] McCartney. You like to think it’s a type of art that you can still improve.
“I think vocally as long as I feel I can still cut the mustard and perform and enjoy it, having this outlet is great.”
Kitson said even after 30 years, fans are excited to see the band, which got its name from a notoriously tricky intersection in St. John’s, N.L.
“Any opportunity to be out, whether we’re playing in Lunenburg or Ottawa and people come out and they’re actually excited about the music, I’m going to take. I’m definitely going to go there,” he said.
Fiddler Richard Wood will be receiving the Stompin’ Tom Award, given to an artist from each of the Atlantic provinces at each edition of the ECMAs.
Wood started stepdancing when he was eight, took up the fiddle at 11, and has been making music ever since.
At the end of the day that’s what makes this so special, to know the music is living on.— Richard Wood
He said he is very humbled by the award.
“Seeing the amount of interest in young players, at the end of the day that’s what makes this so special, to know the music is living on. And doing my small little part to help contribute to Celtic music and its longevity.
“As you go through music and your career and now at over the 30-year mark of performing, and doing what I do — it’s extra special.”
Woods’ eighth album, Unbroken, was nominated for a Canadian Folk Music Award and won an ECMA in 2019.
The Stompin’ Tom Award also has meaning because Wood got to play with the man it’s named after, the revered singer-songwriter Stompin’ Tom Connors, who spent part of his childhood in Western P.E.I.
Wood has a number of shows coming up, including a singer-songwriter circle at Centre 150 in Summerside in early June, another run of Richard Wood Through the Years in July at the Florence Simmons in Charlottetown and Canada Day in Shilo, Manitoba.
He said it’s good to see a new generation of musicians embracing fiddle music.
“It is such happy music and it’s a soulful music that really does get to you … It doesn’t really matter what age you are, you are captivated and taken by this music,” he said.