catherine maclellan

It’s been four years now since the World Health Organization proclaimed COVID-19 as a pandemic. It had a huge impact on the music scene, closing down venues and festivals worldwide.

Although things are back to relative normal now, the effects are still being felt, with higher costs for travel, accommodations and everything else a touring musician has to deal with.

But of course it was the initial shock of the lockdown that forced artists to question how they were going to continue their careers.

Prince Edward Island singer-songwriter Catherine MacLellan had released her album Coyote just a few months previously.

“Yeah, it was perfect timing,” she said at last year’s Folk Harbour Festival in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia.

“I got to put it out and not really tour it.”

So how did she get through that scary time?

“One day at a time,” she said. “At first we thought things would be closed down for just a month. But we were lucky in Prince Edward Island that it came to us last. We had our borders tightly closed.”

As a result, venues on the island were able to remain open, which really brought area musicians closer, emotionally but not necessarily physically.

For the last few years, Catherine has gotten together with other PEI songwriters like Irish Mythen and Rose Cousins to co-write and share new songs.

“The beauty of a small place is that we’re all close and know each other really well, can share songs and work on songs together.”

One of the strange benefits of everyone not being able to tour was they had time to see each other at home and work on new and interesting projects.

Catherine, Rachel Beck and Tim Chaisson created “Saltwater Songs,” a night of songs, stories and harmonies.

“We would never have done it at any other time because we’re all so busy,” she said.

The show later included Cassie and Maggie MacDonald in place of Tim.

The time off the road also allowed Catherine to re-evaluate the types of songs she’d write.

Known for songs filled with melancholy and regret, she’s now looking more to the bright side of life.

“I’m tired of sad songs,” she said.

“I feel kind of pent up with joy. I want to feel joy a little more.”

She has also wanted to connect more with her audiences. Being able to sit with her songs a bit longer has allowed her to dig deeper emotionally.

“I haven’t done as much as I thought I would but what I’ve been writing, I think, is some of the best stuff in my life,” she said.

While being “stuck” on her beautiful island province, Catherine developed new skills such as making videos and home recordings.

Using archival footage, she created videos for her friends, poet Tanya Davis and singer-songwriter Tara MacLean.

She’s also been working with Bob Mersereau on a book about her father, Gene, writer of ‘Snowbird’, ‘Put Your Hand In The Hand’ and many more classic Canadian songs.

“It’s the scariest thing I’ve ever done in my life.”

The reason she’s tackling the project is because no one’s ever done it before, although some have tried over the years.

“I think my dad is a bit of a mystery ‘cause no one really knew him,” she said. “Not a lot was documented.”

To fill in the blanks, Bob has been talking to as many people as he can.

“It turns out I didn’t know anything about my dad,” Catherine said.

“I knew about him as a wonderful father, and I knew some of his songs.”

Catherine has been working on her own songs the last few years although she wasn’t as prolific as some of her contemporaries.

“I definitely felt like my job had ended, and then I didn’t know who I was, so I took a long break from writing,” she said.

Last spring Catherine gathered together the new songs she had, along with songs that hadn’t fit her previous albums and spent a couple of days recording with a band.

She describes the experience as “super fun” and “super upbeat.”

“I felt like it might be the first fun record I’ve ever made!” she said.

“Music is fun, music is playing. That’s kind of what I discovered. It doesn’t have to be serious all the time. Being a little bit more playful is the next part of my life.”

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