Feb. 13, 2013 - Issue #904: The Sugar Trade
Lindi Ortega finds inspiration in Music City
Even today, decades past its legendary days, Nashville remains the immutable beacon for country music of all stripes, from the mainstream hit-makers to the less formulaic alt-country aficionados. It's the city where you can tell strangers you're a professional songwriter, and their accompanying nod will be one of understanding, not sympathy—chances are pretty good that that's what they do, too.
But before Lindi Ortega relocated from Toronto's urban sprawl to the country music mecca, she dipped the toe of her trademark little red boots into the city's musical waters, tentatively spending two months living out of a Nashville hotel—"the extended stay," as she puts it during a phonecall from the road—taking in the city vibe and prepping to record an album.
"I'd been in Toronto most of my life, and tried to make things happen, and this seemed like a logical step," she says. "To go to the epicentre of where country music evolves and lives and thrives.
"Pretty much everyone you meet is involved in the music industry, so there's a lot of commonality with everyone" Ortega continues. "And there's just great music being made there. You can go out on any given night and walk in on some of the most amazing players. So that's inspiring. And then there's the history itself: on Broadway [Street] they still have the honky-tonks going on. And you could walk into Robert's Western World, which is legendary, and see some awesome swing-country bands going on. There's so much happening, and I am a person very much that's influenced by my surroundings."
The Nashville atmosphere has imbued her fourth album, Cigarettes & Truckstops, with an irrepressibly sultry stomp, highlighted by the strength of Ortega's soaring songbird pipes. It's her most critically lauded release to date, and, somewhat ironically, it's kept her away from her Nashville home that inspired it, as she's been busily zig-zagging the country in opening slots for the likes of kd Lang and Social Distortion.
Now she's headlining her own tour, but those opening slots have left an impression on Ortega. After all, while Social D and its audience are far more expressly punk than Ortega—she notes doing an amped-up, more-rock version of her set for those gigs—there's a certain shared overlap in punk ethic between the likes of Ortega and Social D: it's the idea of the outlaw, perhaps best represented for both sides by a certain Man in Black.
"[Ness] ended his set every night with 'Ring of Fire,' and we would end ours with 'Folsom Prison,' so there was a mutual love of the outlaw Johnny Cash there," Ortega says. "And I do think outlaw country is a punk movement in itself, in the country world. It all makes sense."
Sun, Feb 17 (8 pm)
With Dustin Bentall & the Smokes, Erica Viegas
Avenue Theatre, $12 (advance), $14 (door)
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