Taylor Mitchell's living legacy

I didn’t personally know Taylor Mitchell, who died Tuesday after being attacked by coyotes while hiking in Nova Scotia. Still, I feel as though I’ve lost a member of my extended family.

In our newsroom yesterday morning, the story was that an anonymous stranger had been killed in this horrific way. But in the folk music community online, everyone was mourning the loss of one of our own. I learned that Taylor Mitchell was the victim of the coyote attack, not from the newswires, but from our many mutual friends in that tight-knit family of musicians.

And that’s where I start looking for the silver lining.

Taylor Mitchell

I’ll be attending the CFMA Awards in Ottawa in a few weeks. You could be forgiven for not knowing about the CFMAs. They’re relatively new, and folk music has a low profile these days. But you won’t forget the CFMAs soon, because Taylor Mitchell was nominated for Young Performer of the Year. There’s already a movement afoot – started by venerable publicist and promoter Richard Flohil – to have that award named in Taylor Mitchell’s honour.

Last night in Ottawa, there was a stirring Leonard Cohen Tribute, hosted by poet-performer Holmes Hooke, who books the legendary Hughs Room (Taylor had launched her CD there last March, an extraordinary feat for such a young artist). Also on the Cohen tribute marquee were David Gray, Lynn Miles, Rebecca Campbell, Lorraine Segato, Suzie Vinnick, Anne Lindsay, Luther Wright, D.K. Ibomeka, and David Serada. This phenomenal group dedicated their show to Taylor Mitchell.

It was apt, because the personal connections run deep. Suzie Vinnick, a 2009 Juno award nominee and the darling of the Maple Blues awards, had co-written a number of songs with Taylor. She bravely spent yesterday speaking to the media despite being devastated by the loss of a friend. Both Suzie, and Juno-winner Lynn Miles mentored young Taylor Mitchell through the Ontario Council of Folk Festivals.

That’s another institution you may not have known about. (I’m on the board, and I always have to explain it.) Taylor Mitchell’s final blog post talks about her experiences at the annual OCFF Conference in Ottawa, where as a promising young performer she impressed her peers with several showcase appearances. It’s a character statement that Taylor gushed over fellow artists she’d discovered during the weekend:

“Run, don’t walk to your nearest computer and check these people out:
Josh Cockerill, The John Henry’s, Jadea Kelly, The Rucksack Willies, John Davis, Katherine Wheatley, Nagmar, Stacy Burke, the Good Lovelies, Ariana Gillis, David Baxter, Jack Marks, and David Celia. They are all amazing and working their asses of to do what they love!!!”

Like so many shooting stars, Taylor Mitchell burned extra-brightly during her brief time among us. Consider these words from Paul Mills – the man who produced Stan Rogers, Loreena McKennitt, Sharon Lois and Bram, among others: “Taylor was a significant talent and on her way to a successful career. She will be missed.”

Michael Johnston, who produced Taylor’s first album, “For Your Consideration” when she was only 18, put it this way: “She was always positive to be around, and people jumped at the chance to work with her… They saw in her the rarest of the gifts – an ability to sing not only from the heart, but in a way that transcended her age and experience and became something universal.”

The accolades and anecdotes continue to flow. Taylor was in the Winnipeg Folk Festival Young Performers’ Program in 2009, where she was mentored by Amelia Curran. This was prestigious placement for a performer of great promise. Taylor was the inaugural performer, opening for Colin Linden at the Music by the Bay Live Concert Series. Many fellow performers have spoken of her maturity as a performer. You can get a sense of it from this radio interview on Back to the Sugar Camp, a community radio show that’s a whistle-stop for traveling folk musicians. And her joy in performing is palpable in this amateur video of her performing for a small crowd in Lucasville, Nova Scotia on Sunday.

Does that all sound pretty small time? I hope so. In the folk and roots community, the small time IS the big time. And Taylor Mitchell understood that, embraced it and lived it.

In her own words,

“In the end, we’re all in this together, and these late nights spent having fun and doing what we love affirms this, year after year.”

I know none of that will ease the pain of her family and friends, but in the community she’d chosen as her own, it will be her legacy.

A memorial fund has been set up at Taylor Mitchell’s website, www.taylormitchell.ca

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