NWT’s Mary Caroline sings her way across Canada by train

Mary Caroline, 'artist on board' with VIA Rail
Yellowknife musician Mary Caroline, 'artist on board' for VIA Rail.
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It’s a rock’n’rolling stock lifestyle.

Northwest Territories singer-songwriter Mary Caroline has traded her cabin on the Liard River for the rough and tumble of life as VIA Rail’s “artist on board”.

“Basically I get a free train ride, then I play shows on the train and at certain stations,” Caroline told Moose FM from Belleville station, in Ontario, on Monday. She started in Halifax a day earlier.

“I played four shows yesterday on the train and it was very cool – I met lots of people.

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“I’m playing a lot of stuff off my new album to promote it, some cover songs too, and some train-based songs like Folsom Prison Blues and House of the Rising Sun. Those are the two I have so far – maybe I’ll learn some more before the end of my adventure.”

The program has been running since 2009 – artists interested in taking part have to meet a few criteria and fill out a form to be considered.

2013: The Globe and Mail profiles VIA Rail’s artist-on-board program

Musicians are warned to expect delays and interruptions to their sets. Caroline, however, says that’s not the real challenge when it comes to entertaining a train.

“It’s very rocky. It can be hard to keep my balance sometimes while I’m standing there with my guitar, and it’s noticeable, I think, for the people watching,” she said.

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“And there’s no microphone. It’s all acoustic, and the room can get quite full, so it’s trying to get my volume up. I was noticing yesterday it got to be a little intense on my voice.”

But Caroline says the experience is proving ideal for album promotion, with many passengers interested in finding out more – once they’ve established what’s going on.

“I guess some people didn’t really know – not all trains have artists on board. My first set was in a station and some people told me later that they didn’t really know if I was a busker, or what was going on,” admitted Caroline, whose journey will lead her to Edmonton and then back to the NWT.

“People just want to chat afterwards, or sometimes mid-set, about the Northwest Territories: where I come from, and my little cabin on the Liard River.

“I’m looking forward to being back up in the North. I left in mid-July, I’ve been on the road for a few weeks and I’m looking forward to seeing some familiar faces and sharing some stories.”

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