For years Chelsea Atkinson of Springhill has dreamed of taking to the big stage at the Cavendish Beach Music Festival on Prince Edward Island.
The 19-year-old Nova Scotia Community College social services student has taken a step in that direction after being named to the Top 3 in the Country Liberty Cover Contest that saw her recording of John Denver’s 1971 hit Take Me Home Country Roads finish second in online voting with almost 38,000 views on the company’s Facebook page.
“It’s a song that I have always loved and I find a lot of people don’t want to listen to the new country as much as the old,” Atkinson said. “It’s a song everyone knows and one that people are going to click on because they want to hear another version of the song and how I performed it.”
Her take on the song was a slower and softer version.
“Right now, country music is the scene in Canada. I have over a thousand Facebook friends and I’m in many groups and follow a lot of people and they follow me back. That helped me a lot and having performed a song everyone knows and likes helped.”
In the first round of the competition, she received almost 38,000 views. The first time she entered, two years ago, she received 25,000 views and 15,000 views last year.
Country Liberty is a clothing brand from Rexton, N.B. that it based on country living and wilderness. The company has a partnership with the beach festival for local artists to enter for a chance to perform at the popular series of concerts held each July on Cavendish Beach.
Oddly enough, the entry almost happened. James Hand, who edited the video and played bass guitar, said a technical issue almost led them to miss the submission. After 10 takes, Atkinson, Hand and Ryan Reynolds – who played the cajon – thought they had a finished product only to discover the guitar track was not picked up.
The trio had to get together the following day and complete another five takes before finishing. Hand quickly edited the video and submitted the entry mere minutes before the deadline.
“I know it was later than 11:45 (p.m.),” he said. “The deadline was midnight. We waited one day, then two days to see if had made it online and when it did it just took off.”
Hand said having to re-record the video almost made it better because it had to be perfect. Because there was little time for editing, it was almost as if it were live.
“The fact we came in second in the first round is incredible,” he said. “We were hoping for 30,000 and we would’ve been happy with 20,000 considering it was a last-minute entry. We blew it out of the water.”
This is the first time she has had musical accompaniment and credited Hand and Reynolds for helping deliver a much better performance. Hand said it was different for Reynolds and him to play country music, having both played rock and roll or hard rock.
“It brought the song to life,” Atkinson said. “A lot of people recorded themselves on their iPhones, but I had Ryan and James work with me and it seemed to add to what I wanted. It really made it sound better.”
Now that they are in the final round, they are playing the waiting game as they wait for Country Liberty and the Cavendish Beach Music Festival to make a decision on who will get to perform at next year’s festival.
“It would mean everything for me to get a spot at the festival,” Atkinson said. “I’ve been singing and following country music for years. I got to open for Brett Kissel and have performed with some amazing country artists all over Canada. Cavendish would give me that extra step to open my options in the country music world and having Ryan and James to join me gives me an even bigger boost.”
Performing at the festival so far are Miranda Lambert and Dan + Shay. To be able to say she played the same festival as the would go a long way to further her career in the industry and maybe, someday, put together a CD and hopefully get to Nashville.
Whatever happens, she has come a long way from performing as an eight-year-old in an elementary school variety show.
“I think I sang a Hannah Montana song,” she said. “I found I really liked doing it. Mom would play the Dixie Chicks and I followed Carrie Underwood through her American Idol performances. I was hooked. I learned to play guitar and my high school music program really helped me a lot.”
Atkinson has also written a number of songs, including one a couple of years in honour of the Humboldt Broncos that received thousands of views on Facebook.
Hand, who produces a show featuring local artists for CFTA Tantramar Community Radio, met Atkinson after she opened for Kissel in Liverpool and knew right away that she had amazing potential.
“I’d say she’s one of the top local performers right now,” Hand said. “There are some people who record some songs and they’re content playing around, but Chelsea is young and has the potential. She’s at the beginning of her career and as she does more performances and gets more comfortable, I think she’s going to be a star.”