Sarah Harmer plays free show at Olympic Plaza 

Juno Award-winning singer-songwriter performs new songs and old favourites

click to enlarge PHOTO SUBMITTED - Musician and Activist Like her friend Gord Downie of The Tragically Hip, Sarah Harmer tries to be a good citizen.
  • Photo submitted
  • Musician and Activist Like her friend Gord Downie of The Tragically Hip, Sarah Harmer tries to be a good citizen.

Sarah Harmer is bringing new songs to Whistler.

The Juno Award-winning singer-songwriter recently wrote one new ballad, the soulful "Just Get Here", for a documentary on the life of the great Canadian poet Al Purdy.

It has become part of her repertoire.

"A number of musicians were asked to write something that included Al's poetry or was inspired by his poetry. 'Just Get Here' is about where people come together and create," she says. "I like playing free shows — it's nice having a free night out to see live music. We'll bring a few new songs but mostly play previously released music."

Harmer and her four-piece band perform at Whistler Olympic Plaza on Friday, Aug. 26, at 7:30 p.m., as part of the Summer Concert Series.

Harmer says she hasn't performed in Whistler in recent years, though she had played the late, legendary The Boot Pub with her band Weeping Tile sometime in the 1990s.

The new songs augment a career that began in the late 1980s. Harmer's most recent album, Oh Little Fire, was released in 2010.

She is working on new material for her next album, but says there is no timeline for its release just yet.

"I have been very low output in the last little while, but I am definitely getting there slowly," she says.

"I have enough songs written and figured out to put a new album together, so that is my plan. No timeline, but soonish. In terms of the music, it is whatever gets in under my fingers when I'm playing guitar."

Harmer lives just outside Kingston, Ont. Close musically and personally to those other Kingston greats, The Tragically Hip, she was at the band's final concert in their hometown on Saturday, Aug. 20.

In May it was announced that frontman Gord Downie has a terminal brain tumour. The Kingston show was the final performance of a Canada-wide tour to support the band's 14th album.

Around 11 million Canadians watched the final show on CBC.

"It was awesome," Harmer says of the concert. "They're inspiring that's for sure."

She has been called upon a lot of late by the media to talk about her friendship with Hip Downie, and performed a gorgeous version of the band's song "Morning Moon" on CBC Radio's Q just last week.

"It was hard to choose a song, there are so many. But that one really moved me when I heard it. I loved it, I loved the chord progression and the way the minor chord comes through. It's just beautiful," Harmer says.

Like Downie, Harmer has an activist's heart.

"He's a really good listener. Some of his friends have recently noted that. I think, like a lot of people, he sometimes feels like he doesn't do enough in some ways, considering the needs there are in this country for righting some wrongs.

"On the environmental front, he's a great leader with the Waterkeeper organization (www.waterkeeper.ca). He is just educating himself and being an active citizen. He is a very great example to me."

Harmer most recent activist work has been to protest the continued use of the aging Line 9 Pipeline, which moves bitumen oil under high pressure near her home and literally runs through her parents' farm in Burlington. She says inspections of the pipeline section on the farm found an "anomaly" compromising the pipeline's integrity in the past.

"The whole issue of transitioning away from fossil fuels and not investing and committing to more (oil and gas) infrastructure is important, if we do what we say we're going to do in terms of the Canadian government and climate change goals," she says.

Her experience led to Harmer becoming an intervener in the National Energy Board hearing into the pipeline.

"I don't set out, necessarily, to hone in on anything. It's just what ends up crossing my path. Line 9 does that," she says.

"There are lots of concerning details, once you start looking into it."

Harmer also travelled to Mexico, Honduras and Guatemala in 2012 as part of the Nobel Women's Initiative — meeting women from these countries and talking about the risks they face when speaking out about environmental damage, including disappearances and killings.

This knowledge and involvement meant she was well-informed when she wrote to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau earlier this year following the assassination of environmentalist Berta Cáceres in Honduras.

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