'I'm surrounded': Winnipeg country singer, Jets fan stands out in Nashville
'I can't wait for the Winnipeg whiteout to get here,' says Leanne Pearson, who now lives in Music City
In the sea of Predators yellow washing over Nashville these days, a Winnipeg country singer stands out like — well, a Winnipeg Jets fan.
"I'm surrounded," says country singer-songwriter Leanne Pearson. "I can't wait for the Winnipeg whiteout to get here."
The Jets will begin their second-round NHL playoff series against the Predators in Nashville on Friday, after ousting the Minnesota Wild 4-1 in the first round.
The game will be broadcast by CBC TV at 7 p.m. CT Friday from Bridgestone Arena.
As is the case in Winnipeg right now with the Jets, the Preds' presence — be it via flags, signs, clothing or key chains — is everywhere in Music City.
Pearson, 28, has lived there full time since November 2016. Before that, she spent years commuting back and forth between her Winnipeg hometown and the country music hub.
Despite being outnumbered in her adopted city, she's enjoying representing her favourite hockey team. She says while some people do "throw shade" as she boots around town in her truck with Manitoba plates, or wearing her Jets tank tops or jerseys, it's mostly good natured.
"It's kind of all poking fun at each other," she says. "[For] people who do understand hockey it's a lot of respect for the Jets, knowing how equally matched both teams are this year — even the goaltenders," she said.
"It's been such a great run for both teams. [Jets winger Patrik] Laine's name comes up a lot."
A different atmosphere
Pearson has gone to a lot of Predators games at Bridgestone Arena, including several when her beloved Jets were in town.
She says while Nashville fans have gotten pretty savvy about the game after last year's long playoff run, the atmosphere is a bit hard to get used to for a hardcore hockey fan.
"On the Jumbotron they don't play replays … so if something happens or there's a goal, or even an almost goal or a great save … as a hockey fan through and through, I want to see that replay, and they don't play it," she said with incredulity.
"So it's more about the entertainment of it, and the popcorn and the beer and the music and between whistles."
While she's had to get used to the atmosphere in the Bridgestone Arena, it appears some of the patrons were a little puzzled about her at first too.
"The first time I ever went to a Preds-Jets game in Nashville, a lady — probably in her 50s, very, very Southern lady — she was sitting near me during the anthems, and I yelled out 'True North!'" during O Canada, Pearson recalls — a tradition for Jets fans.
The woman later approached her at a concession stand.
"She comes up and says, 'I just wanted to say I felt like it was very rude that you shouted during the national anthem,'" Pearson said.
"And I kind of chuckled and said … 'Well, I'm Canadian. I'm from Winnipeg.'"
After an earnest explanation from Pearson, the woman reluctantly gave her a pass.
Introducing newbies to hockey
Pearson has also taken great joy in introducing hockey newbies to the game.
"A lot of people in the music industry, I'll take them to their first-ever hockey game, which is kind of cool as a Canadian down here," she says.
Pearson fits her hockey passion into a very busy schedule that comes with building a country music career.
Besides the writing and recording side of the business, there is the live performing and a bit of travel. She will be back in Manitoba on the Mainstage at Dauphin's Countryfest this summer.
She's got a big bucket list, including hoping to someday sing the national anthem at a Jets (or even — the horror — a Predators) game. She used to sing it at Bisons games at the University of Manitoba, where she earned her BA in psychology.
But for now, Pearson hopes to be yelling "True North" during the anthem at the playoffs in Nashville. She's working on finding tickets.
Although the policy wouldn't affect her, Pearson is well aware of the controversy about the Predators not allowing people outside the local area to purchase playoff tickets. She can see both sides.
"People here in Nashville think it's great because they want tickets," she said. "But in Winnipeg, people are outraged."
Her family back in Winnipeg has Jets season tickets, so she's thinking she might be able to organize a bit of a swap with a couple of Nashville fans who want to come up north.
If she does manage to score some tickets, she'll likely go with her boyfriend, Jordan Riley, who is from Indiana.
Pearson has done her best to turn him into a Jets fan, but apparently she's only halfway there.
"He wears a Preds jersey but a Jets hat," she laughed.