When Ken Workman played the Elmdale House Tavern for the first time earlier this year, he was “blown away” by how a quaint yet boisterous drinking hole could so quickly be transformed into an intimate listening room.
Modestly, he credits a good crowd more than his own ability to make people stop and listen.
“Playing for beers and a bit of money over the years, I guess I’ve just become accustomed to being part of the atmosphere that people talk over rather than playing to them, so it was a nice experience,” he says.
The rootsy, alt-country singer/songwriter and his band — whose sound has been described as John Cougar or Steve Earle fronting Blue Rodeo — have been playing for years in Ottawa and beyond. Workman first started playing in cover bands, but he says it got a little dry and frustrating always “playing someone else’s songs” so he slowly began incorporating a few originals into his sets.
And despite a passion for songwriting that started when he began to appreciate the storytelling ability of Bruce Springsteen, Gordon Lightfoot and Fred Eaglesmith, Workman was at first nervous to share his own stories.
“The first time I played one of my songs I didn’t even want to say I wrote it, and I don’t think I played again for months. I was terrified, but I didn’t want to give up on it either because I felt like I had something to say.”
He brought some of his tunes, which explore “working class” themes of raising a family, coping with the daily grind and romantic woes, to Dave Draves at Little Bullhorn Studios to record a demo. A song called Come Back To Me, which was inspired by advice his mother gave him, is now often requested by a growing number of “regulars” who come out to his shows.
The fans like what they hear, and Workman says he’s now working on a longer album, which he’d like to release later this year.
But whether or not his music ever makes it to the masses, for now he’s happy playing for a few attentive souls at a local pub. Especially if their willing to listen and sing along, between sips of their beer.
After covering hard news for a few years, Kim discovered her real passion – writing about the wonderful world of music, theatre, visual arts and literature.