Interview: Singer-songwriter Jadea Kelly brings her Ontario roots to Calgary Folk Fest

Jul 24, 2014

Jadea Kelly. Credit: Jen Squires.

The 2014 Calgary Folk Music Festival runs from July 24-27 and like years past is offering a plethora of fantastic musicians to be enjoyed amongst the pleasures of Calgary’s (hopefully) idyllic mid-summer season. One of those musicians is Whitby Ontario’s Jadea Kelly, a quickly rising talent in the music world. After pulling over her van filled with band-mates in front of The Best Little Pork Shoppe in the aptly named Shakespeare Ontario outside of Stratford, Jadea discussed her excitement with playing this year’s Folk Fest.

Nathaniel Schmidt: Can you start by giving us some insight into your musical background?

Jadea Kelly: I grew up in Ontario in a place called Whitby, which is a little suburban town near Toronto and I’ve been singing and playing different instruments since I was a kid. I’ve put out two records and I do a lot of back up singing as well—for people like Catherine MacLellan, a Canadian metal band called Protest the Hero, and also lots of studio work on top of that. I now live in Toronto and this will be my first time playing the Calgary Folk Fest, which I’m pretty excited about. This won’t be my first time playing in Calgary though. I’ve done shows here about ten times.

NS: What’s it like to be playing the Calgary Folk Festival for the first time?

JK: This is probably the biggest festival we’ve played so far and we’ve worked pretty hard to get it. My band and I did a showcase last fall for the festival directors and they booked us right on the spot. Anytime I come to Calgary I play the Ironwood, which is one of my favourite venues in the city, but playing this festival is a huge highlight for my career at this point.

NS: You’re a very intimate performer. How does it feel to be playing a larger venue like the Folk Fest?

JK: Many of my performances, especially online, have been quiet acoustic stuff but I’m going to have my full band with me in Calgary, and we tend to get pretty loud and spacey. I’m excited to bring my newest record Clover to the stage with them. It’s pretty big and pretty produced and it’s great to have a venue like the Calgary Folk Fest to really show what we can do.

A live performance of “Lone Wolf”, a track from Jadea Kelly’s most recent album Clover.

NS: Do you find any big differences between performing live as opposed to recording in the studio?

JK: I think a lot of musicians deal with that. Either you sound better on your CD or you sound better live. In my opinion, the latter is far better because it gives people incentive to come see you and it shows that you can excel beyond what you’ve done in the studio. I feel like we sound best in a live scenario because you can see the emotion. Clover came from a pretty vulnerable place and when I’m on stage it becomes like a healing process for me, it’s like therapy. I put all my emotion and energy into my songs.

NS: Can you tell us a bit more about the story behind Clover and what led to its creation?

JK: The album gets its name from my grandfather’s farm in Ontario. When I was making this record, my dad was taking over the farm because my grandpa was getting older and he couldn’t do as much of the labour as he could before. While my dad was taking over, I saw how happy he was after 20 years of being away from the farm. He was back delivering cattle and bailing hay which was something he really enjoyed. From this, I started to realize the similarities between being a farmer and a musician because in both professions there’s zero degree of retirement, zero degree of make money; it’s all a gamble. The most powerful similarity, though, was that you have passion for it. My passion for playing music, making music, and having a life in music is in many ways the same as the passion my dad, grandfather, great grandfather, and great-great grandfather have felt about farming. It was these sorts of feelings that really inspired the record.

The track “Hour North” off Kelly’s newest album, Clover.

NS: You seem to have a very genuine and grounded process which is something that ends up being expressed with your songs.

JK: I have many songs that I’ve written that aren’t always for my own records. It’s not to say that those songs are bad but I just have a different style that I like to present with my own music. It all comes from my own personal experiences and I guess that’s why I like to produce and layer it the way that I do. I want it to be something beautiful and something artistic, not something instantaneously catchy.

NS: Clover was a pretty big shift in sound from your previous album, Eastbound Platform. Is staying within a genre something you think about?

JK: I’m open to all sorts of genres and like to think that I listen to everything. I love pop music, country music, bluegrass, and metal. Clover sounded so different because it was a whole new band that I hired to do the album and they come from such a wide array of musical backgrounds. Our bass player Nigel Hebblewhite plays with Run with the Kittens, our guitarist Tom Juhas plays with Friendly Rich and these crazy metal polka bands. I’ve known these guys for years and I chose them because they didn’t sound like anyone else. Our keyboardist and organist Jason Sniderman is a monster genius player and he plays on some of the weirdest 80’s records. I think that’s the reason it sounds as unique as it does.

NS: What do you hope results from playing the Calgary Folk Fest?

JK: I hope that I can open some more ears to my music. I would like for people to just enjoy the songs and I hope that these songs and performances heal people. This record really healed me and I just hope that other people find a bit of themselves in the songs as well.

NS: Are there any upcoming projects you can tell us about?

JK: I’ve been writing like a madwoman so there should be a new record coming out sometime in 2015 and we’ll be recording it this summer. Besides that, lots of Canadian music festivals all summer long and then in the fall down to the United States for a tour. I’d just like to add as well that I’m honoured to be playing at the Calgary Folk Fest with so many great musicians.

You can see Jadea Kelly live at the 2014 Calgary Folk Fest at the following dates and times:

Friday, July 25 at Festival Hall beginning at 4:00 pm.

Saturday, July 26 at the Conoco Phillips stage beginning at 11:45 am and 3:15 am on the Field Law stage.

Follow Jadea Kelly on Twitter:

This interview has been condensed and edited.

-Nathaniel Schmidt

Contact me for any comments or suggestions:
E-mail: or tweet @N88TE

About the Author

Brandon Wallis

Brandon is the Director of Marketing, Communications and Visitor Experience and for the National Music Centre and Editor-in-Chief of Amplify.

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