She was a pure, raw talent, a musician poised on the cusp of an exciting career. But Taylor Mitchells life ended tragically this week, after a savage coyote attack in Nova Scotia.
Taylor Mitchell was in the early days of a tour to promote For Your Consideration, her debut album. Her last show was October 25 in Sussex, New Brunswick. She had some time before the October 28 show in Sydney, Nova Scotia, so she went hiking alone on the Skyline trail in Cape Breton Highlands National Park.
The Sydney show would never happen.
She was just minutes onto the trail when set upon by two coyotes. People heard her screams and help arrived quickly, but the damage was done. According to news reports, there were multiple bite wounds over her entire body.
She was airlifted to hospital in Halifax, but died the next day.
She was just 19 years old.
Mitchell was young, yes, but her original songs are startling for their confidence and maturity. Before reading any further, I implore you to visit Mitchells MySpace page. Under Music in the right column, click Dont Know How I Got Here.
Powerful, isnt it? There are six other songs at the site, all worthy of repeat listening. In fact, I am going to add this CD to my collection.
Tom Power is host of Deep Roots, a national program on CBC Radio that explores the many frontiers of folk music. He played Mitchells music on his show, and met her recently at an industry event in Ontario.
I was speaking to her about two weeks ago in Ottawa, said Power, who lives in and produces his show out of St. John's. I was up for the Ontario Conference of Folk Festivals (OCFF). She ran into me, thanked me for playing her record, and we sat down, had a cup of coffee it was early and we were all kind of recuperating from the night before and had a chat.
Soon after, he received an email from Mitchell, asking about next steps in securing additional airplay on CBC, and to inquire about the possibility of touring in Newfoundland.
This week, Power switched on his computer, and his news feed was full of stories about Mitchell.
I couldnt believe it. My heart just sank It was a real shock. I had been chatting with her, had just met her, only two weeks ago.
Power said Mitchell was quiet, thoughtful and demure.
It makes sense that she would be walking in the woods by herself, because she was like that. She was very introspective in her songwriting as well It was a rare day off, so I can see her kind of going out into the woods, trying to gain some kind of inspiration there. This was all so new to her. Shes from Ontario, coming out to the east coast, out to Cape Breton.
Power said Mitchells first album was quite good, but there were much better things in store.
She was on her way to making that very, very great record, Power said. At the OCFF, I dropped in to hear her a few times and she played some new songs. I saw how much she believed them and there was an earnestness and an honesty in her songwriting that really communicated to me And I knew then. I told her that morning that she was on the way to making the record that will define her as a songwriter, and will kind of blow her up and be a big record for her. I think we lost someone who is certainly symbolic of the new generation of singer/songwriters, and not even the new generation of those in their mid-twenties. What was she, 19 years old? So in about two or three years she could have been Amelia Curran, she could have been Sarah Harmer I knew the next record would be the one that would turn some heads Its a real loss. Its a loss on many levels.
Mitchell was on the verge of breaking out big in Canada, Power said.
She wrote a lot of those songs when she was 15 or 16, when she was in high school To hear that kind of maturity in such a young songwriter is rare I was reading some (online) comments yesterday and everyone in the Canadian folk music community agreed that this was going to be her year. She was up for a Canadian Folk Music Award this year she is up for it still, because she can still be awarded it. Now theres a big discussion about people wanting to name the award after her
Mitchell leaves more than a musical legacy. There are poignant journal entries on her website, where she writes about her music, life and career plans. Heres an excerpt from her last entry, on October 19:
I just finished my first official show of the tour. A house concert presented by Dean Verger and his lovely wife, Ruth. House concerts are beautiful things. The performers are given an interested and well behaved (usually) audience, 100 per cent of door and merch, plus wonderful home cooked meals and a room for the night. The people who open up their homes and run these shows are absolute saints. I could definitely get used to doing these.
The concert was a welcome dose of normality after a whirlwind weekend. The 72-hour non-stop party known as the Ontario Council of Folk Festivals is hectic, exhausting, exhilarating, frustrating, and joyful. All at the same time. Once a year the Canadian folk music Industry (yes, I said it, the I word. Go ahead and call me a capitalist) converges on the Crown Plaza hotel in Ottawa for a weekend of schmoozing, boozing, listening, and discovering great music.
This was my third OCFF and the best one yet. I got absolutely no sleep and made some new friends and connections. My favourite part of the weekend is always the last night, which is total chaos and takes a week to recover from. Walking through the lobby the next morning and watching the other zombie musicians who are just as tired and hung-over as you really makes you feel like youre part of a community.
Mitchells family has set up a Memorial Fund in her honour. Click here to find out more.