The career of Kendel Carson took an unlikely, unexpected and unfathomable turn upward over the weekend, as she performed before a nationally televised audience in a one-off super-group led by none other than Elvis Costello.
Carson, who was born in Calgary but raised in Victoria, is an in-demand fiddler, singer and songwriter who usually has four or five musical projects on the go simultaneously. The call to join Costello on Saturday night's Gemini Awards telecast in Toronto was a result of her inter-connectedness, it would appear.
With only a small window of time to assemble a group for the Geminis, Costello had to rely on the recommendation of musicians he trusted. He learned of Carson through Barney Bentall's guitarist, Colin Nairne, who knew of Carson through her duties in Bentall's other group, the Grand Cariboo Opry.
"He told me that Elvis got my name and Googled me," Carson, 25, said with a laugh. "Picturing Elvis Costello Googling me is the best thing in the world."
Costello performed his new song, A Slow Drag With Josephine, live with new bandmates Feist, Ron Sexsmith, Barry Bales from Union Station — and Carson. They rehearsed only once prior to the live broadcast but it was an experience the fiddler will not soon forget.
Carson arrived to the set early for rehearsal, so it was just her and Costello. "Within about two minutes, he got his guitar and I got my fiddle and we stood face to face, jamming through the song. He just couldn't wait to try the song and see what was going to happen. He's got this spirit about playing, and I really hope in 30-odd years I still feel like that."
The Claremont Secondary graduate, who lives in Vancouver, New York and Toronto, began laying the groundwork for a successful career in Victoria, of all places.
Along with her brother, fellow fiddler Tyler Carson, she began playing on streets of Victoria under the moniker the Carson Kids, an adorable — and popular — Inner Harbour busking duo. That soon led to bigger things for the siblings, including performances with the Victoria Symphony in 1995 (when Tyler was 13 and Kendel was 11) and on the Jerry Lewis Telethon in Hollywood, before a viewership of more than 50 million.
The siblings (who morphed from the Carson Kids into the Carsons, and eventually Kid Carson) continued to amass resume-boosting accomplishments well into their teens. In addition to releasing four albums over their career, they were also invited to perform in Japan, Thailand and the Cayman Islands.
In 2004, Kendel and Tyler began working on other projects, which eventually dissolved their creative union. Tyler branched off into bluegrass territory (though he recently moved to Newcastle, England, he continues to teach fiddle and play in various local groups), while Kendel pursued a direction more closely associated with alt-country.
While playing fiddle in the Juno-winning Vancouver group the Paperboys, Carson developed a songwriting relationship with Chip Taylor, brother of actor Jon Voight and author of songs recorded by the Troggs ("Wild Thing"), Merrilee Rush ("Angel of the Morning"), Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings and Emmylou Harris.
Her relationship with Taylor not only continues, it is thriving. Carson's 2009 recording, Alright Dynamite, which Taylor produced and co-wrote, drew raves in the U.K. and Europe. "I've got a really good foundation for a solo career there," she said. "We're really hoping that with this next record, we can push it a bit bigger."
Her forthcoming record will be a concept album of Taylor songs based on an Emmylou Harris model. It will sound "very classic country," according to Carson.
When she's not working with Taylor, she is either acting (Carson plays the lead in the hit video "Dance Mother," by Toronto group Sweet Thing) or working with a variety of groups, including Belle Starr with fellow singer-fiddlers Stephanie Cadman and Miranda Mulholland of Great Lake Swimmers.
Carson, who also performs in a duo with Bentall's son, Dustin, clearly enjoys being a part of the Grand Cariboo Opry celebrations, which materialized five years ago out of kitchen parties at the Bentall family farm.
She will be back on Vancouver Island this week for a trio of concerts with the Opry, including stops tomorrow at the Tidemark Theatre in Campbell River and Friday at the Alix Goolden Performance Hall (the group's Saturday show in Brentwood Bay is sold out).
"It's so much fun, and I do everything I can to clear my schedule for it as much as possible," Carson said of the Opry concerts. "It's an old-fashioned, radio-hour, revue-style show, and the energy is so much fun."
She knows many of the Opry associates from her days in Victoria, including Daniel Lapp, her former fiddle instructor. To her surprise, she noticed the same inter-connectedness at the Geminis last Saturday.
The night's host, Cory Monteith, is from Victoria. Costello's wife, Diana Krall, is from Nanaimo. Sexsmith, though born in Ontario, spent some of his pre-fame years living in Victoria. Carson continues to be amazed by the richness of the Victoria music scene, which has begun to permeate the rest of the world, too.
"There's some sort of energy that is in people here. We sort of find each other all over the place."