NORTH EAST — Whether she is turning a small moment into something bigger or finding a hopeful light in apparent darkness, Canadian folk singer-songwriter Shawna Caspi sees music as a way of transforming the world around her into something new.
“I really love hearing a story told in a way that I don’t expect or using words that I don’t expect, and then once I hear them it’s like that’s the perfect way to say that,” she said.
Caspi will be performing April 27 at the North Elk Coffee House at St. Mary Anne’s Episcopal Church, located at 315 S. Main St. in North East. Doors will open at 6:45 p.m. and the show will begin at 7:30 p.m.
The suggested donation for admission to the event is $10. Proceeds from the show benefit Meeting Ground, a nonprofit organization that serves people experiencing homelessness in Cecil County.
When she was writing songs for her most recent album, “Forest Fire,” Caspi found that many of them featured themes and situations in which hope could be found even in the most unlikely of places.
“There were a lot of songs where I felt like I was singing about something dark but it was about coming out of that,” she said. “It felt like something where I had to burn down everything in order to start again.”
That idea of sometimes having to burn down in order to regrow stronger came to Caspi while she was on tour in British Columbia in Canada where she said an especially ruinous, summer forest fire season ravaged communities and landscapes there.
“I had been there during that season and I was watching the sky turn orange every day and talking to people about it,” she said. “Just that idea of something that’s been around for hundreds of years burning down in that catastrophe and in that grandiose way, and then having to start again and grow out of those ashes into a forest, that metaphor really felt like it went with the content of this record.”
Part of that regrowth, Caspi said, is found through opening up one’s self vulnerably and honestly to the world — something which she both looks for in musicians she admires and strives to replicate in her own work.
“Now more than ever, I’m looking inward a lot more and trying to be my most honest and transparent self as a person and as an artist … In general, what I do is I love writing about really small moments but making them shine and making them big,” she said.
Caspi began her musical journey by singing in children’s choirs in Ottawa, Canada, where she grew up and studying classical music at an arts high school. She learned piano as a kid and classical guitar in high school, going on to write songs and play them in coffeehouses as a teenager. That’s where she took her first steps into the folk music scene.
By the time she graduated high school and was studying music at York University in Toronto, Caspi was exploring different genres of music, meeting fellow musicians and fully falling in love with folk music.
Caspi said that what makes a truly great song is the story it tells.
“For a song to really move me, it has to be more than just some pretty sounding melody and a beautiful voice; there has to be some some kind of meat to the lyrical content as well,” she said.
Growing up — and still today — Caspi drew inspiration from musicians like John Brooks, Joni Mitchell and Bruce Cockburn. She said she was especially influenced by women and young people who were making a name for themselves in music.
“At that time in the ‘90s, female singer-songwriters were really in the forefront of pop music in a way that they hadn’t been before,” she said. “That was really inspiring to be a young person and be able to watch these people and think ‘Hey, these people are writing their own original music and they’re getting played on the radio.’”
Unlike some other guitarists who play their instrument with a pick, fingerstyle guitarists like Caspi play the instrument with their fingernails. She said she enjoys the sound that using her fingernails gives the song.
“The kind of guitar accompaniment that I write for my songs has a very complex, full, lyrical style to it,” she said. “It’s a very gentle way of playing the guitar, but also I’m trying to kind of emulate the sound a full band using just my fingertips.”
For Caspi, fingerstyle guitar playing creates a closer connection with the music.
“I like the more gentle sound and I like the touch of the strings on my nails and my skin,” she said.
Before Caspi started touring as much as she does now, she said she didn’t get to travel very much.
But having been touring full-time for five years now, Caspi said she has gotten to see the world.
“When I started touring, I was seeing places that I never thought I would see,” she said. “I was so overwhelmed by the beauty of so many of these places.”
Caspi learned how to paint in college and when she went on tour, she decided to pick up the artform again to capture the sights she was seeing.
“It gets me excited because I get to go back and kind of relive these experiences that I’ve had on the road. But to do it in a medium that’s different than music is really refreshing and exciting too.”
Caspi sells her landscape paintings at her shows and she hopes to have some left when she comes to North East, though she made no promises as the show is the last stop on her tour and her paintings may be sold out by then.
Caspi has brought her music to Maryland before, having performed previously in Darlington. However, this will be her first time coming to North East.
“I’m definitely excited to come back [to the area],” she said.
At her show at the North Elk Coffee House, Caspi said audiences will not only hear selections from her “Forest Fire” album, but will also be treated to some new songs that she wrote recently during a three-week songwriting residency in Alberta, Canada.
“I came out of that with a bunch of new songs and I think they’re some of my most personal and honest work,” she said. “I’m really looking forward to sharing that with the audience.”
If there’s one thing people can expect from her music, Caspi said its that even when life gets tough, there is always a silver lining.
“Whenever I write something dark, I try to put a vein of hope through it … I think there’s always that light in any darkness. There’s always a way you can find your way out,” she said.