Call it mysticism or call it serendipity but North Shore singer, songwriter and poet Kevin Aitchison believes that there is a powerful energy that bubbles to the surface when two rivers come together.
“In Tatamagouche, where the French and Waugh rivers meet at the bay, sometimes I hardly know where the landscape ends and I begin,” he said.
Aitchison maintains that this energy fosters creativity, entrepreneurship and volunteerism, encourages people to come here on their vacations and inspires them to stay. He grew up in the area and remembers when Tatamagouche was a dying community. But this is no longer the case.
Just the opposite he says.
“There’s an optimism here, an excitement in being part of the community that is contagious. It spreads and makes everyone try a little harder.”
He cites as examples of Tatamagouche’s revitalization, things that anyone who walks along Main Street immediately notices. The refurbished train station, Subway, Creamery Square, the road train, Tatamagouche Brewery, Dexter’s, two new gift stores, the new library, and a school under construction are all part of a micro-economic rejuvenation that is difficult to miss.
Aitchison, who recently performed his songs at The Grace, sings about the history of the area and about the changes that have taken place.
“My whole point is to demonstrate, through my songs and poems that big things can come from small places.”
But in saying that, he is guarded and humble.
“It’s not a me thing. I don’t want people to just check my music out to stroke my ego. I want them, most of all, to appreciate the local places and events in my songs.”
His song, “Wood, Water and Wind” describes the Alexander Campbell shipyards on the French River. He wrote it during his summer job when Anna Hamilton hired him to work at the Fraser Cultural Centre to sort through papers in the archives. Hamilton was a monumental supporter of the arts on the North Shore but she may have been blissfully unaware that the rebellious young history and philosophy graduate, who should have been cataloguing documents, was spending his time writing poetry and songs.
Aitchison is now 40 and easily remembers the days before helicopter parenting. In “Two Rivers,” he sings about Pogey Hill, the slope just across the street from the pharmacy in Tatamagouche. This was before cell phones and video games when the kids would gather there on Friday nights to enjoy sneaky beers and smoke.
“On any given Friday night, there were probably a dozen people. We would try to spot the cops before they spotted us. There wasn’t much else to do,” he said.
“Now They Don’t Come ‘Round Here No More,” is about friends gathering down by the train tracks near Patterson Wharf, before the reconstruction, when that place was a mecca for kids skipping school just to hang out, tell stories and dream of the future.
Some of his songs address themes of tragedy. “Willow Church Road” is about a car accident in which two were killed and one seriously injured.
“I want my songs to reflect the people of the area, their hardships and their victories. My songs are my children and I take them seriously,” he said.
It hasn’t always been easy for Aitchison. He spent some time in the youth facility in Waterville when he was 17, but he credits David Rundle-Woolcock of The Falls and high school teachers, Mr. Henderson and Mr. Burris, for mentoring and supporting his education after his release.
He migrated out to the Oil Patch twice, driving trucks and doing labour work on a pile driver. But although he wrote a lot of songs there, he missed back home.
“Wonderful things happen around here and I want to be open to them,” he said.