Delta blues, a type of music that historically has billowed along the Mississippi River, has found depth in Rainy Lake through an up-and-coming local talent.
The genre’s bluegrass harmonica riffs and twangy guitar progressions captivated Mike McCaig at a young age, and have continued to influence him throughout his pursuit of a music career.
McCaig’s soulful vocal style took the town by storm last year when he won “Quest for the Best” as a rookie contender.
But nearly a year later, with a title to his credit, McCaig is preparing to appear as a seasoned veteran in yet another community music event.
“Shannon Darby asked me if I’d like to play at the ‘Harmony of Nations’ festival a while back,” he noted.
“There wasn’t much to it,” he added. “Of course I wanted to play.”
Since competing in “Quest” last summer, the Fort Frances native has become somewhat of a household name throughout the district.
“‘Quest’ was great because I got up there and performed hoping people would get into it,” McCaig remarked.
“More people saw me perform [than ever before] and the audience was responsive,” he recalled modestly, failing to acknowledge he also won the “People’s Choice Award.”
“People saw that I was a musician who enjoyed playing so they thought, ‘We might consider him for a show at some point in time,’” he added.
Having played countless sets throughout the area, including a barn concert at Cornell Farms in La Vallee and a number of open-mic nights around town, McCaig no longer is a stranger to the spotlight.
But he still aims to put on the same “raw, punchy, energetic” show he did when he started out, although he’s added some new melodies to his roster and opts to “plug in” to amplify for larger audiences.
“I have been gigging since I was probably 11 or 12,” McCaig recalled.
“I’ve been playing a long time,” he noted. “But most importantly, I’ve listened to records for as long as I can remember.
“Anything that comes out of the deep south, whether that be country blues or Appalachian music—I took in anything that had tradition to it.”
The 25-year-old talent said although he recently graduated from university majoring in history with a minor in English literature, he did not hone his craft of choice in the classroom.
“I’ve always listened to those records and played along with them, so I’ve done an apprenticeship under the real go-tos like Robert Johnson and Hank Williams,” McCaig explained.
“When I was living in St. Catharines, I was doing a circuit all week long, constantly playing in various bars and clubs,” he noted.
“You sort of gain something with each gig.”
Although McCaig just recently moved back to Fort Frances and future plans are still “up in the air,” he shows no sign of slowing down anytime soon.
“The goal is to not have to compromise in life,” he remarked.
“I’d like to make a record, play more shows abroad in different places, and meet new people while working on my craft.
“To be in a creative state of mind and get stuff out there so I’ve extended myself in some way,” he added.
“That’s what I go by.”
For her part, Darby said McCaig was among the first who came to mind when she was seeking local talent for the inaugural “Harmony of Nations” Music Festival, which goes this Friday and Saturday under the big tent at the Sorting Gap Marina here.
“Mike has progressed so much as an artist over the years,” she noted.
“He always puts on a memorable performance and everyone really enjoys watching him, so we definitely expressed interest in having him right away.
“His name has become known throughout our community so we are happy to host him at ‘Harmony of Nations’ this year,” Darby added.
McCaig will take the stage Friday night as the opening act for award-winning country singer Chad Brownlee.
For more information and the complete performance schedule, visit www.harmonyofnations.ca