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Canada's Whitney Rose Blooms While Living the American Dream

The Huffington Post logo The Huffington Post 14/03/2016 Michael Bialas

She still looks young enough to get carded, but there's a reason crooning Canadian cowgirl Whitney Rose feels pretty comfortable in a bar. She grew up in one.
Yet trying to break big in America can potentially make the coolest cookie crumble -- especially when the crowd isn't laughing at your jokes between songs.
Whitney Rose look mic © Provided by The Huffington Post Whitney Rose look mic "One day I will learn that I'm not as funny as I think I am," the promising singer-songwriter (left) said upon hearing crickets halfway through her supporting set at the Larimer Lounge in Denver on March 7.
Sharing a touring band with headliner and label mate Sam Outlaw, all four of them were onstage providing musical and moral support as Rose playfully chastised the audience for its humdrum response to her mention of an established country music hitmaker.
"All right, the rest of the show is canceled because now I'm just gonna give a tutorial on Tom T. Hall," she said in the dingy club that used a makeshift drape to separate the 100 or so serious listeners from the heavily drinking hipsters at the bar. "Drop the blackboard, boys."
There were more befuddled looks than laughs, a precious deadpan delivery so spot-on that spectators were practically expecting her to slap their hands with a ruler.
Instead, she knocked them out with a moving version of Hall's "That's How I Got to Memphis."
And that's how a killer coquette with beguiling eyes, a perky smirk and the spirit of a cheerleader connects with city folks posing as cowboys while biding their time until the main act officially appears.
'This ain't my first rodeo'
That closing punch line from "My First Rodeo," one of eight songs she wrote for her 2015 breakthrough album Heartbreaker of the Year, could serve as a mission statement for Rose, who's seeing many American cities -- including Denver -- for the first time.
She learned the ropes quickly as a Canadian musician but is wise enough to realize overnight success is merely a cliche.
heartbreaker © Provided by The Huffington Post heartbreaker Calling from the road two weeks earlier as the band's 16-passenger van headed toward San Francisco for the third gig of this tour, Rose seemed so glad to be living -- and playing -- in the USA. Despite a few rough patches in the chitchat portion of her Denver debut, it took the pride of Prince Edward Island only 10 songs -- including five from Heartbreaker -- and just under 45 minutes to prove she's at home onstage on this side of the border.
There will be more lounges, dives, taverns, saloons and humbling experiences to negotiate during this indoctrination before Rose graduates to swanky nightclubs and cool concert halls.
Though she started singing in her grandparents' Charlottetown bar "before reaching the age of consciousness," this late musical bloomer remains on the student side of that virtual blackboard now. Learning on the job, some of her best teachers have been fellow touring musicians.

"Well, when I was little, I had, and I think a lot of little girls have, this dream," Rose said, merrily riding along in a van full of men. "You want to be like a star. But that left me when I was a teenager and especially when I entered my 20s and saw the difference between a star and an artist. And so I always wanted to perform. It's possible it never really occurred to me that I actually could."
Uncool music to drive by
In the mid-90s, while Canadians such as Sarah McLachlan and Shania Twain were conquering America, an 8-year-old Rose was taking a road trip with her mother that included a ferry ride to Halifax, Nova Scotia.
They went up Citadel HIll to see her first concert performance --  the Rankin Family, a Nova Scotia group of siblings that mixed Celtic and country sounds and still exists today despite the deaths of some of their original members.
"They're a cool band," Rose said. "I still listen to them every now and then, like when I'm on tour now. Usually in the van, we take turns DJing, and so sometimes I'll play Rankin Family for my band because nobody really outside of the (Canadian) East Coast has even heard of them. ... I don't think it's solely nostalgia. I think that I actually enjoy the music, too."
WhitneyLocation_176JenSquires © Provided by The Huffington Post WhitneyLocation_176JenSquires Not gender-biased in the artists she adored while growing up, Rose balked at listening to her family's collection of Whitney Houston and Paula Abdul while favoring queen bees of Nashville such as Dolly Parton, Tammy Wynette and Kitty Wells or country kingpins like George Jones and Hank Williams or Keith Whitley, another hard-living artist who left too soon.
Those timeless tunes sent her scurrying through her grandparents' cassette tapes, where she discovered the Ronettes and "the 'Runaround Sue' guy," the pop rocker from New York otherwise known as Dion (DiMucci), whose big hit of the 1960s came after he left the Belmonts.
"I still listen to that stuff today," Rose said. "And I did even through my teenage years. My friends never wanted to drive with me because I would not be listening to like quote-unquote cool music. ...
"I wasn't making a strong, cool case for myself as a teenager," she recalled, laughing about her later participation in a Judy Garland tribute show after "I really got into '40s music. I'm a huge Judy Garland fan. ... I would  be mortified to see any kind of footage or anything from it. But at the time I felt like it was the right decision and I stand by it.
"It's a fond memory," Rose added, punctuating her remarks with a joyful noise.
Five years in the making
When she decided to make music, though, things got serious. Taking her transient nature to five different colleges, Rose studied journalism and majored in English before a gift from her Uncle Dan -- a starter guitar -- prompted her to begin writing songs.
After a 2011 move to Toronto away from "a farm in the middle of nowhere in Nova Scotia" and a relationship gone wrong, she left behind her only remaining friend there ("my horse, Marty") but had written enough songs to make a record.
As a 27th birthday present from her boyfriend in 2013, Rose received a Gibson acoustic guitar she named Aggie, her "baby" and traveling companion.
"When I started playing guitar, I never intended to ever play in front of anyone," Rose said, still sounding unsure about her ability. "I always kind of meant it to be just a writing tool. ... It's kind of one of the biggest surprises of my life that I actually play guitar in front of people night after night because at one point it would have been absolutely my worst nightmare."
Whitney Rose smiling © Provided by The Huffington Post Whitney Rose smiling Whitney Rose performs onstage at the Larimer Lounge in Denver
with a band that included bassist Andrew Hunt (right).

Teaching herself how to play, Rose laughed when asked how long it took to learn.
"Well, it's still a work in progress, so I don't know how long it's gonna take. ... A guitar is like this little alien on your body and you do your best to make it sound good," she said. "But it doesn't come naturally to me like singing does. But that's also been really cool because it's important for anyone to keep learning and challenge yourself all the time. Until you die, I think."

Obviously, Rose made the grade in Toronto.  Immersed in the Cameron House scene while performing throughout 2011 at the bar that became a second home, she released her self-titled debut record in 2012 for fledgling Cameron House Records.
She got signed by some "really great booking agents" in 2013, made a one-off appearance opening for the Mavericks in Toronto and toured twice as an opening act for Raul Malo's band. They recently reunited for a couple of Texas shows.
That connection with the Mavericks frontman she calls a musical monster "made me a better musician just being in his proximity. ... And you would have to be an idiot to not learn from him," Rose said of Malo.
"So it's kind of stereotypical to say but it was a very natural progression. And kind of continues to be," Rose offered, addressing the career ambition question. "There wasn't even really a day when I said, 'This is what I'm going to do.' My life is kind of a, not a Ferris wheel. I don't know how to describe it. I'm a very go-with-the-flow kind of girl and, yeah, this is just the flow that I've been given, which I'm very grateful for."
Malo produced Heartbreaker of the Year, which included his beautiful duet with Rose on "Be My Baby." And with a voice that can be sweet, sexy or sassy, Rose not only embraces Ronnie Spector's vibrant vibrato on that cover of the Ronettes classic and her own "Only a Dream," but also displays versatility on other songs she wrote for the album.
There are the pop-rock sensibilities of the Bangles' Susanna Hoffs on "The Devil Borrowed My Boots Last Night," the roots authenticity of Kelly Willis on "Little Piece of You" and a rockabilly swagger on "My First Rodeo" that's as fierce as anything Kacey Musgraves has delivered.
Rose may be a country girl at heart, but there's so much more to this 5-foot-3 ("almost 5-4," she insists) bundle of fire who's humorously summed up her sound as "vintage-pop-infused-neo-traditional-country."
Liberty_Rose © Provided by The Huffington Post Liberty_Rose That includes her outfit, a mix of Western garb, colorful ponchos, stylish skirts and custom-made cowboy boots courtesy of Tony Bennatar, the man behind Liberty Boots whom she met through the Toronto music scene. Sticking to the basics in Denver, Rose skipped wearing the snazzy pair with her name and roses emblazoned on each one, and with jeans among her casual attire, she wisecracked, "I never really wear pants onstage. I just don't feel like myself when I have my pants on."
Not every performer has to dress for success, though.
Saying "every major event comes from something seemingly small but in reality it's very significant," Rose recently signed with Six Shooter Records and continues to work with her manager Mike McKeown, the former president of Cameron House Records who recently joined the label, and United Talent Agency's Jack Ross and Stefanie Purificati.
"There was just this, I guess, team who really believed in me and really believed in my music," Rose said. "And so, it's like, 'OK, well, if they think that I can do it, maybe I can.' And I owe a lot of where my career is at to them and their hard work. It's never a one-man or one-woman show. And even as I move forward, I feel indebted to these people and I want to do well by them."

The deal with Six Shooter "was a really big moment" because it offers validation and progression while allowing Rose a chance to advance her career. She also recognized her move to Austin, Texas, in November as another significant step, saying, "Obviously, it was because it is my first attempt at establishing myself stateside." Her residency at the Continental Club on Congress Avenue continues every Thursday when she's in town.
Spin cycle
While continuing to write songs ("It's kind of an addiction"), Rose believes she has almost enough material to make another album. "But I want to be real careful with this next record (also to be produced by Malo), kind of take my time with it a little bit more and make sure that it's exactly the record I want to be making. ... And I'm really lucky that I have that luxury."
She plans to keep writing and "dip my toes in that world" of co-writing over the next few months with the hopes of getting into the studio this summer ahead of a 2017 release.
Despite the success of Heartbreaker, which includes musical contributions from Malo, his fellow Mavericks and her former wingman/guitarist Nichol Robertson, she has reason to remain cautious.
"The record is a little bit of a mixed bag," Rose admitted. "And some people, I guess, when they're listening to records, they want something cohesive. So I fully understand that it's not for everyone but I'm really proud of how it sounds and how Raul and the band worked the tunes that I had written and the ones I didn't write."
Back to her roots
Rose closes her second album with another cover -- Hank Williams' "There's a Tear in My Beer."
That's as classic as country gets, but Rose has a sentimental attachment to the melancholy ballad, too, which she's been told was her favorite song that she started singing as a 2-year-old.
Raised by her grandparents (she gives a shout-out to "Jeannie and John P. Rose, my favourite people" in Heartbreaker's liner notes) and mother on PEI, Whitney Rebecca Rose was born in May 1986. Living in a home that also included her mother's younger brothers and sisters, she called it "my own little version of Full House."
Combining business with pleasure, her sociable grandparents owned a bar on the island called the Union Hall.
"They'd have friends over all the time," Rose said. "There'd be a guitar going around and I usually would have been in bed for a few hours before people came over but then I'd hear them, I'd hear the crew in the kitchen and I'd get up and ("There's a Tear in My Beer") would be my song of choice to sing. And sometimes they'd give me a dollar to sing it. So to answer your earlier question (about childhood aspirations), I guess it became my career pretty early on. And the pay is about the same now, too. Not much has changed." (laughs)
That sly sense of humor really does exist, but Rose isn't kidding about lifestyle adjustments she's made since leaving Canada.
JenSquires © Provided by The Huffington Post JenSquires Acquiring visas and making a living in the U.S., she discovered, has become "really expensive," so she understands the plight of her fellow Canadian artists who choose to stay.
"It's a beautiful thing but it's too bad that it is so hard for musicians to kind of spread their music around a little more," Rose said. 
Her grandfather's death last summer caused anguish, too, but Rose clings onto "very vivid memories of my Poppy a few beers in singing" his song of choice -- "Ring of Fire," one she still occasionally puts on her set list in his memory.
The Union Hall is also gone, a chain grocery store built on the land where the bar was torn down. That makes it easier to miss the land of her youth more than the people who still live there, but she utilizes technology to feel closer to family (including six half-siblings) and friends back home.
Her grandmother is "probably the only person who I stay in touch with every single day. We talk and text a lot. A lot, a lot."
Whitney-Sam2 © Provided by The Huffington Post Whitney-Sam2 Roaming charger
So Jeannie Rose can expect more progress reports from the road as Whitney heads this week to SXSW in her newly adopted hometown, followed by more shows with Outlaw in Knoxville and Nashville.
They perform on each other's sets with stellar touring musicians Jeremy Long (electric guitar), Corey Gash (drums) and Andrew Hunt (bass), and do duets on a couple of cool covers like George Strait's "One Night at a Time" and Merle Haggard's "Swinging Doors."
"I really love moving around and that's how I thrive," Rose said. "Kind of keep feeling like myself. And that's why I'm so lucky and that's why it's not that hard for me to tour. Because I don't mind waking up in a different town everyday. I like it."
Even if it's a dusty cowtown like Denver, where Rose continues to learn the rigors of the road after initially getting tutored by Malo and the Mavericks.
"You know, even for them, like a couple of months at a time, you have to learn little life facts on how to stay sane and how to stay healthy," said Rose, who also was taught the fine art of becoming a loner. 
"Everybody needs some alone time, in my opinion anyway, to stay sane," she said. "It could be something as insignificant as when you stop for lunch, you get a table by yourself. And you just take that time to kind of decompress and eventually just be alone. Because that can be really hard to come by."
Rose took that to heart in Denver, explaining to the crowd that's she's given up the pre-show ritual of taking whiskey shots with the band.
Her alternative? "I was backstage watching slow-motion videos of Slinkies going downstairs. Rock 'n' roll!"
A candidate for America's Funniest Viral Videos? Maybe, maybe not. Instead of being driven to drink by her comedy act, though, Rose certainly knows where she's going.
By raising the bar with a twinkle in her eye, the rising star of the Lone Star State can expect fans to mix in a few cheers with their beers.
Publicity photos by Jen Squires. Boots photo courtesy of Liberty Boots. Concert photos by Michael Bialas. See more of Whitney Rose performing at Larimer Lounge in Denver.

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