Story by Nancy Saunders
Photos by Dan Katajamaki
While singer songwriter Tony Dekker is used to playing in a band—he’s been the front man for Great Lake Swimmers for ten years—his first solo album Prayer of the Woods is being released on October 8. Dekker played the Finlandia on September 28, kicking off the Sleeping Giant Folk Music Society’s 13th season. When I asked him about his new song, “Somewhere Near Thunder Bay,” Dekker admitted that he hasn’t spent as much time here as he’d like. During the show, he shared his inspiration for the song: driving the band to Thunder Bay late at night, he encountered a herd of deer on the highway—and was able to stop just in time. He was treated to some real “deer in the headlights,” and felt a deep connection while observing them up close. Many of his songs speak of nature: the elements, seasons and feelings of the Canadian landscape.
Dekker started the show by coming out on stage, cranking the handle on an Edison Amberola, then quietly tuning his guitar while the audience was treated to a surprisingly clear, vaudeville-type tune. When the song was finished, Dekker thanked his “opening act” and told us he’d acquired the 100 year-old phonograph during his travels.From then on, we were treated to Dekker’s pitch-perfect voice and acoustic guitar. He played a mix of new songs, some Great Lake Swimmers tunes and a cover of Gordon Lightfoot’s “Carefree Highway” that is also on his new album. For the encore he took requests from the audience and finished the night with the band’s “Changing Colours”—a song that fits well with his new project, as well as his drive from Sault Ste. Marie earlier that day through the fall colours along Lake Superior’s north shore.When I asked him if he has any advice for up-and-coming singer/songwriters, Dekker shared his own a
dvice as well as some given to him by a sound guy years ago at one of this first shows, before he formed Great Lake Swimmers. “My best advice would be to write good songs and spend a lot of time on the craft and the lyrics of it. But then, the advice that the sound guy gave me was, ‘Keep playing. Play as many shows as you can. There’s never anything wrong with playing shows, even if it’s a bad show, or you’re not ready, or you’re nervous, it will all give you experience, it will all give you an opportunity to hone your craft.'”Tony Dekker is playing across Canada, then embarks on a European tour with the band Califone from the States. Great Lake Swimmers are already working on a new album to be released in 2014.