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Seasoned folk artist Kristina Olsen savours small audiences & is stopping by Gibsons

World-traveling folk musician Kristina Olsen performs live and via Zoom from the Gibsons and District Public Library at 2 p.m. on Nov. 26.
Singer-songwriter Kristina Olsen plays more than 15 instruments, some of which she will bring to an upcoming performance in Gibsons.

Globetrotting troubadour Kristina Olsen, whose latest album Sweet Stillness is a collaboration with one of Canada’s top jazz guitarists, is returning to the Sunshine Coast to share songs and stories from her rollicking memoir. 

Vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Olsen was raised in the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco during the 1960s. Now touring 10 months out of the year, she has released more than a dozen albums whose material stretches from heart-rending ballads to raucous swing.  

“I have been to Roberts Creek before, staying for three weeks at a friend’s house,” Olsen said. “I looked around Gibsons, which is all so beautiful.” Her upcoming appearance at the Gibsons and District Public Library will be part autobiographical storytelling and part folk music performance, mining the poignant potential of a life spent crisscrossing the planet. 

Olsen’s most recent album Sweet Stillness is a collaboration with Canadian jazz guitarist and composer Bill Coon. In 2009, the Juno-nominated Coon was named Guitarist of the Year by the National Jazz Awards. Olsen and Coon met while teaching at a jazz music camp and began co-writing songs. 

Release of Olsen’s memoir, They Paid Us in Tub Time, was accompanied by an album by the same name, featuring readings and songs. The title refers to one of the more unusual forms of compensation offered while Olsen was on tour. She has performed throughout North America, the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand, in addition to special appearances in Bangladesh and Aleknagik, Alaska, where she shuttled to the performance venue by snowmobile. 

“Some people think I’m a wild adventurer because I travel so much,” Olsen said. “But it’s not like I have a superhero life where I’ve got to keep doing wild, extreme things. I get up in the morning and practice and write. Travelling around the world and hearing people talk about their lives and their stories gives me a broader palette to write from.” 

After decades with a major record company that managed her tours and promotions, Olsen chose a more independent course. She now cherishes the intimate setting of house concerts and grassroots festivals. “I ended up going back to my roots,” she said. “That means playing at events that are set up by fans and really little events, which — it seems in Canada, at least — are becoming really beloved. And it’s really kind of magic because you’re right there with the audience again, whether it’s a living room or a backyard, and there’s immediate feedback.” 

Olsen’s most challenging performance occurred in front of one of her largest audiences. Onstage before a crowd of 40,000 Australians, the delay between her delivery and the spectators’ reaction left her feeling disconnected. “I would say something funny and there’d be this horrible silence. And then I’d go into the next sentence. Then there was a roar of laughter. It took so long for the laughter to reach the stage that my entire balance was off.” 

Artifacts of everyday existence stoke Olsen’s musical imagination. In My Father’s Piano, she sings of an intergenerational touchstone: “When I close my eyes and lay my hands on the keys / Sometimes I can hear my father play / Those big notes come rolling out and tumble ‘round my feet / Go tell him his little girl will be alright.” 

While still touring, Olsen completed a degree program at Boston’s Berklee College of Music, prompted by a feeling that her creative evolution had slowed. “Now, I’m coming out of that period and I’m having this new freedom with new knowledge and new expansion,” she said. “I’m excited to see where I go from here.” 

Olsen performs live and via Zoom from the Gibsons and District Public Library at 2 p.m. on Nov. 26. Admission is free but reservations are required. Call 604 886-2130 to register. 

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