Donovan Woods – The Travelling Troubadour
One thing you wouldn’t necessarily know about Donovan Woods when listening to his music is that he’s actually a really funny guy. When we asked him how he got from Sarnia to Nashville, he joked, “Anybody can go. You can just drive!”
Donovan’s music is characterized as folk and country, and he has written happy songs, but for other singers. “Being a person is, like, a nightmare. Life is really hard for people. That’s why sad songs are always so wonderful,” he says. “Happy songs are a fun distraction, and everybody loves them. But the way a real sad song resonates, you know that it’s the truth.”
Donovan doesn’t just sing about the usual things that go wrong, he digs deeper than that. “The Nights You Stay Home,” a hit from his recent album, Hard Settle, Ain’t Troubled, isn’t just about jealousy; it’s about all the activities available through your smartphone and how they can distract you from those around you. “They Don’t Make Anything in that Town” was inspired by the slow decline of the manufacturing sector in the southern US. (Sounds like a familiar topic to Waterloo Region, doesn’t it?)
Donovan’s standards for his own songs are high: he admits that it took him 15 years before he felt ready to perform his music in public. “I knew it had to be very good.” But get Donovan to define “good” and you get the answer of what “good” isn’t: “I just didn’t want to be embarrassed.”
Although Donovan has always loved music, he didn’t pick up a guitar until his sister told him that he’d never pick up a girl with his looks and lack of any skill. (He was 13 at the time.) She also told him he’d never be a singer. Not because of his voice, but because he’s “not good-looking enough to be a musical artist.” These days, such opinions may seem harsh.
But Donovan laughs when he tells the story. He calls her a realist and he said he took her advice to heart. “I looked up whether you can be a songwriter without being an artist [performer], and it says you could.” He also sees his own actions in a larger picture: “Everything everybody does in a roundabout way will be to find a partner they love.”
What’s fascinating about artists like Donovan is their voice, how they find the truth within them and then draw it out in such a way that resonates with us. Donovan considers himself a late-bloomer in developing his voice; he feels it took him about 15 years before he had written anything he wouldn’t be embarrassed to share, and he had his first performances in his early 20s. But to write the songs he does and then to still have a sense of humour about life is the mark of someone who knows the world isn’t black and white.
Seeing a performer of his kind of depth will make a truly remarkable evening, where you’ll experience the intimacy that our OnStage series is known for. If you’re worried that you’re going to come out sad, don’t. Donovan loves engaging with the audience. “The songs are really sad, and I think people are owed a little bit of levity in between so we can all take a deep breath.” Besides, “I always like when an artist is good at chatting, so that’s part of my show, too.”
For his show here at the Centre, Donovan and his band will be singing mostly his own work, including songs from his latest release, Hard Settle, Ain’t Troubled. Tickets are available now, and the show is on Wednesday, October 26.