Canadian artist to perform live music for train passengers

TRAVELLING BETWEEN SHOWS is often a nuisance for Canadian musicians. The sheer size of our country usually means a national tour will require dozens of idle hours spent on the road. Anna Atkinson, a Toronto-based multi-instrumentalist, singer, and songwriter, is booked to play shows at several venues in Alberta and British Columbia during the month of November—and is well aware of the transportation problem associated with the bookings.
“I think that one of the huge barriers for touring for musicians in Canada is how huge Canada is,” says Atkinson, who departs from Toronto Nov. 1.

“Not everybody owns a car, and even if you do, just putting gas in it to get you from Toronto to Winnipeg is ridiculous and there’s not a whole lot [of shows] in between.”

For Atkinson, the solution to this problem was taking advantage of the little-known On-Board Musician program offered by VIA Rail Canada. The program allows a small number of qualified Canadian musicians to receive meals and transportation free of charge in exchange for live performances for passengers while travelling by train.

“It’s a pretty rigorous process,” she explains. “They want to make sure that it’s the right fit of music for train travellers, but it’s an amazing ticket if you can get it … You sort of exchange your room and board for playing concerts.”
The program, which has been in place since 2009, will not only save Atkinson money in transportation costs, but it also provides a novel venue to play her music.

“I expect that it’s going to be similar to house concerts … I don’t know if you’ve been inside an entertainment car on a train, but it’s fairly close quarters,” says Atkinson. “I think there’s only room for about 20 people maximum, so it’s really intimate.”

The program has a specific type of music in mind; Atkinson notes that she’s been adding new songs to her repertoire of original music in order to fit the VIA Rail bill.

“It’s a lot of folk music, and they want to focus on Canadian music and covers,” says Atkinson.

“So it’s fun. I’ve been learning some Gordon Lightfoot, Stompin’ Tom, and Joni Mitchell. It’s actually really great because I don’t get a lot of occasions to learn covers.”

After years of collaborating with other artists on projects such as Blue Richard and the Apricots, and Continuum Consort, Atkinson recently released her first solo album, Mooniture, and is excited for travellers to hear her original music from the album alongside her covers of classic Canadian folk tunes.

“For the concept of the record, I just wanted to take all of the aesthetic things that I really enjoy about music¬—sort of chamber music qualities, because I’m very much a classical musician at heart—and combine them with my other interests: Folk music, fiddling, and an eastern European feel,” explains Atkinson.

For those who are interested in Atkinson’s music, but aren’t taking a trip out to the West Coast anytime soon, Mooniture is currently available for purchase online from Zunior, CD Baby, and iTunes.

—Keeton Wilcock