by Dara Schindelka
Eliza Mary Doyle is a familiar name in the Saskatchewan music scene. For the last five years Doyle has been touring all over the globe, both as a solo artist and as a member of other groups. Her banjo playing, bluegrass music is well known across festivals in our land as well as abroad. If you have ever seen Doyle perform, you will know she has a way of engaging with her audience in both intimate house concerts as well as in large, outdoor festivals. She loves music and people and it shows.
NSMZ recently caught up with this wonderful whirlwind of creativity and found out what she is up to as the new year begins. But first, we looked back at the year that was. As the March lockdown began, Doyle was about to perform on one of the stages for the Juno Awards that were to be held in Saskatoon in 2020. Instead, she found herself in lockdown in a little farm-house in the Leask area with time on her hands and projects that were finally about to be getting the attention needed to put them into action.
As most creative people find, things happen organically and often build into something amazing. One such thing was the interesting journey of both her music festival and her music program that reaches isolated northern communities. It all began though with a party.
For her quirky milestone birthday of thirty-two years, Eliza started a music festival called Doylefest on a little patch of land she owns outside of Saskatoon. It was supposed to be a one-time event with friends and musicians that had a great time jamming after the summer festival season was over. However, it continued to gather momentum. Over the years it has become an annual event and now takes place at Eagle Creek Regional Park the second weekend of September. People gather to camp together, play music together, and listen to other great musicians. This event has also become a way to give back to others and fund projects like the Community Arts Mentorship Program (CAMP).
The CAMP program also came about by a surprising turn of events. About two years ago Doyle was invited to go up to Stanley Mission with a provincial music grant that brought a professional musician to the community. Doyle was asked to fill that role. In those five weeks of the project she saw a desire for more music and more opportunities to learn. Community members loved it and were hungry to see it grow but didn’t have the tools to see it develop on their own. This made Doyle search for a solution. Since that first visit, she has travelled countless times up to the community she now stays in for months at a time and worked with Lac La Ronge Indian Band to create solutions to this musical void. Through the efforts of Doyle and community leaders, a sustainable music teaching position was created in Stanley Mission where various musicians fill the role of music educator. They share their expertise with both students and community members. The idea is to use this successful model to create sustainable programs that other places can follow and have the community itself learn so that they can continue the music journey whether or not out of town teachers are in the school to help.
Doyle has taken a huge lead on the project in Stanley Mission and is proud to see that one of the bands that she helped mentor will be performing at the Napatak Ramble this summer. She is also excited to see that the schools in the north are looking at having more teaching positions like the one she helped create. Her desire is to see this program reach into further areas so that more places can have music passed on to the next generation.
Doyle’s efforts and leadership have not gone unnoticed. This December she was among the winners of the CBC Future 40 awards. The list of winners is impressive and she is right at home at the top of the list. She has also been nominated, for the second year in a row, in the Industry Achievement Category for the SaskMusic Awards. It is telling that she is the only individual in this prestigious category for two years in a row. The other nominees are music festivals, radio stations and music production companies. Eliza, however, all on her own, is carving a future for Saskatchewan music that rivals that of a group entity.
What can we see in the future for this powerhouse of a performer and advocate?
“The icing on the cake for the music program CAMP and Stanley Mission is a recording studio. It has been in the works and so close to being done since the start of the Covid-19 lockdown," explains Doyle, "The big idea was to record my next album up there and teach the community members how to record while doing the best album I have ever made with the elements at my disposal. I have a bunch of songs in the works. I have other people I want, ready to be up there, to work on the album. So that is still a super cool project that could be very positive for the community and help bring these voices out. In doing so we would be including everyone in the narrative of the province.”
With so much on the go and so many plans yet to unfold things can sometimes get hectic. The pandemic has highlighted stress and anxiety in so many of us and music and self-care have been important for Doyle in the last number of months. When asked what she is listening to these dark days of the pandemic Eliza says that Mandolin Orange, Justin Towns Earl and The Secret Sisters are some of the top groups on her music playlist. Lastly, what is her advice to those of us struggling with year two of the pandemic? “It’s ok to not be ambitious. Go easy on yourself. Look at your to do list and if it doesn’t all get done there’s always tomorrow.”
Doyle takes her advice to heart and is making sure she also takes time for herself and her music too. The future may be uncertain right now, but it is definitely looking bright for this shining light in the music world and those lucky enough to be in her path.
*photos courtesy of Eliza Marie Doyle