Nominees for Music PEI's Album of the Year share tales of their 'magical' instruments
'He played it every day until he died'
The nominees for Music PEI's Album of the Year are a seasoned list of some of the Island's best performers — but even they need great tools to work with.
Enter their favourite, time-trusted instruments — each one with its own story.
The Album of the Year award will be presented Sunday night at the finale for Music P.E.I. Week at Florence Simmons Hall in Charlottetown.
Dowling and Dennis Ellsworth have been nominated for their album, Everyone Needs to Chill Out.
Dowling's favourite instrument is her violin, which has been in her family for three generations and "is so comfortable to play like it's been worn in perfectly."
It's full of ideas and songs and it sounds so beautiful.— Dennis Ellsworth
"My great-grandfather found it in Belgium during the war in 1915," she said.
"It was in a bombed-out house but it was untouched. He was a fiddler all his life so I guess he was pretty excited to find something so awesome. There were no other people in the town so he took it with him."
He played it on the ship home when the war was over, and "played it every day until he died," Dowling shared.
The violin was passed down to her grandfather, then to her dad Alan (a drummer) who quickly passed it on to Kinley in Grade 7.
"I've had a couple of people appraise it over the years, but really it is priceless to me. It is my favourite thing I own and it almost feels part of me," Dowling said.
MacLellan has been nominated for If It's Alright With You — The Songs of Gene MacLellan, an album that went with her hit show about her relationship with her late father.
The guitar serendipitously made its way back to Gene's daughter's hands.
"It was my dad's guitar and he gave it away to a cousin decades ago," she said. "It lived for 30 years, mostly beat up and in a closet on the west coast. Almost 15 years ago, the family sent it back to me and I fixed it up so it was playable.
"When I'm playing it, I feel like I'm holding a creature with its own life and a long and tumultuous history," she said.
"I'm not much a 'gear' person but I do love my Yamaha AC3R acoustic," says Liam Corcoran, who's nominated for his debut full-length album Nevahland.
"I toured with it for many years and it can handle a lot of punishment," he said.
Corcoran is the former front man for popular P.E.I. band Two Hours Traffic, and is now the program manager at Holland College's School of Performing Arts.
"I've always loved Yamaha acoustics ever since my friend Patrick got one when we were kids. I learned how to play on his, so I always wanted one of my own."
Ashley Condon has a lot going on this year. She released her fourth album Can You Hear Me? in the summer then in the fall opened Copper Bottom Brewing, a brewery and concert venue, with her husband.
"I've been with this guitar longer than my husband," said Condon of her Taylor 214E, one of the basic Taylor models that retails for about $1,000.
She bought it with her uncle, Sam Turton, at Twelfth Fret in Toronto almost 13 years ago.
"It has gotten better with age and sounds nicer then it ever has. It is all banged up from many summers of campfire jams and years of touring. I used to be a pretty hardcore strummer so the front body has some pretty serious scratches and you can almost see my strumming pattern right in the wood."
She said the guitar has "great projection."
It matches my voice well especially when I get into some good old John Prine country songs," Condon enthuses.
Dennis Ellsworth's favourite instrument was gifted to him by an ex-girlfriend's father, who'd played it when he was a boy but it sat in a cabin, unused, for 40 years.
"I found it behind a couch in their family summer home in the Catskills," recalled Ellsworth. It's his "home guitar," he said — 60 to 70 years old, with no makers marks or tags.
"It's full of ideas and songs and it sounds so beautiful," he said.
"The reason I like writing with it is because of its tone. It is a nylon string guitar, so it is a lot more hushed than other guitars, allowing me to really hear what the melodic vocal parts can be. Very soothing."
Ellsworth has had a lot of people ask to buy the guitar over the years, but he said he never will — it's too "full of magic."
*Note: The East Pointers, who are currently touring in New Zealand, were unavailable for this story.
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