Spread Joy! An Interview with Michael Bernard Fitzgerald

Michael Bernard Fitzgerald walks towards me with his arms wide open for a hug and a mega-watt smile. The sleepy heat-induced lethargy within the media tent immediately lightens as soon as MBF approaches. He has just come from a performance and autograph signing at the Winnipeg Folk Festival and has a short block of time before he heads over to the Shady Grove Stage to watch his mentorees from the Galaxie Young Performers Program. MBF leans forward in his chair with his arms resting against the edge of the table and waits expectantly for the start of the interview period.

Spending the summer playing at folk music festivals is a welcome way to spend the summer for MBF. “I love Folk Festivals because it seems like everyone is here to love music. There is no other reason. I mean people’s cellphones don’t work out here. I love that,” he says. MBF invited bass and drum player, Sacha Daoud and Benoit Moirer from Chic Gamine on stage for his two final pieces, Brand New Spaces and Firecracker in his Friday afternoon concert. His enthusiasm for musical collaboration is palpable: “[Chic Gamine] blew me away yesterday. I thought they were fantastic. And the collaboration with [Sc Mira, Until Red, and Young Folk for the Galaxie Young Performer’s Program] is what we were working on for that set for later today. I thought it would be great if we could do it another time because they sound so good. I’ve obviously fallen in love with Chic Gamine. Everybody in that band is the best at what they do,” gushes MBF about his new folk-fest find and giving a slight shake of his head in reminiscing about their performance.

MBF is always looking to keep things fresh for himself such as working with different musicians and playing his songs in different ways. He is not concerned with structure and prefer to just let things happen: “I think there’s room for more beautiful things to happen if you don’t control the flow so much…chaos is managable. You find something new in it, moments of inspiration,” he says with a quiet wisdom that balances the buzz of his vibrant energy.

Taking a listen to MBF’s tunes, messages of positivity and love are themes throughout his works: “I try to make that as the approach. Sometimes I think there is enough sad stuff and anger already. I don’t feel like I need to go on a rant or anything. Man Overboard has a bit of social commentary but I wouldn’t say that it’s dark. I like up tempo, fun, and love.” However, MBF is not one to limit his compositional process. “I hear something musically that starts to resonate. I find the words come so fast. I don’t do well if I sit down with the paper, pen in my hand, and think: ‘it’s time to talk to about Camembert over cheese.’ I don’t do so well with that. I love being with other musicians for that,” he says. MBF is also conscious to state his gratitude for the support of people surrounding him such as percussionist and vocalist on tour, Andrew Ball and Katie Stanton. He conveys an unpretentious and humble tone when recognizing how it he is here because of the support from others.

MBF describes the point in which he began to recognize his characteristic voice as an Artist:” I think oftentimes you cannot listen to a body of work for a while and think ‘this is obviously better than what I did before.’ I think my computer was on shuffle one time. I was able to hear a track from an album we did a long time ago and I started clicking on it to see what it sounded like now. And I love what we’ve done. And I see I’ve been able to make a mix of music on each of these CD’s that hasn’t been defined to one thing. It’s all tied together by acoustic guitar and vocal. There’s lots of different elements. On this [YES album] there is brass but then there’s also strings and synth. We’ve been able to do what we want with all these recordings and not be so targeted or aimed [to a genre] and I think that’s a lot of the style.”

New audience members may wonder if his on stage positivity is just an act. This is not the case. His positive perspective is shaped from utter comfort with his own identity. It has come from acknowledging that he had strengths and weaknesses but he has embraced this duality with understanding. Thus, when you see him on stage – it is his core character on display. His goal is to make honest music: “I know instantly if a song is from me or not. So once that’s done and it’s released in a large sense, the way to keep it honest for me is not to dress it up too much or be larger than life. Today we played at the record tent and I forgot the words to the second half of two songs. I think a way to keep in that honest place is just to look people in the eye and not try to hide the fact that I didn’t know them. Or if I make a mistake, I just don’t care. We’re here to have fun together. And I hope that’s something that reads in that honest way,” he states with a tone with friendly truth.

MBF just notes that he wants to be part of great songs and put them down on paper. He keeps a balanced perspective towards how listeners may receive his music when his newest album ranges from quick hits like Man Overboard and Firecracker to mellow love tunes, Follow and I WilI. “I understand that some people can listen to a diverse amount of things and listen to that from top to bottom. But with some, that may not be their cup of tea, and that’s okay. If they hear me live they’ll still stick around and have a good time,” he says.

MBF is a mentor for the Galaxie Yong Performers Program presented by the Winnipeg Folk Festival. This year, emerging Artists from Manitoba, Ontario, Alberta, and Nova Scotia were mentored by festival Artists. MBF reflects upon his start in making music: “I knew I wanted to make music and I just started. I knew that I wanted to play shows so I just played one. There’ll be people all the time that tell you all the time that ‘you should do this first’ or ‘you shouldn’t do do that before you’re totally rehearsed.’ I just started. I think by that kind thinking this whole thing for me has been a complete progression since day one. And it progresses all the time and I’ve never been at my best yet. I’ve been having a great time and allowing it to become what it is. I think that set me up for behaving this way. If I tried for it to be perfect out of the gates and rehearse something to death, I don’t think I would do this anymore,” he says with genuine honesty. I ask MBF what was one piece of wisdom he shared with his mentorees. MBF reveals a quote which he has taken to heart after hearing it from Steve Winwood’s guitarist, Café: “Your sole purpose is to spread joy.”

Beckoning his mentorees forward onto the stage, MBF takes off his own acoustic guitar and places it around one of the young players. He adjusts the microphone around the groups of young singers and stomps his foot and claps his hands behind them as they begin to sing. His smile and energy radiates warmth to everyone from the stage in an moment of pure joy.

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