Scene & Heard

McQuaid’s music has ‘shades of multiple meanings’

Sarah McQuaid Sept. 20 made her first appearance in Cottage Grove and dazzled the crowd with her layered songwriting and melodies. BRADLEY COOK/FOR THE CHRONICLE

It was quite the happy accident that internationally acclaimed musician Sarah McQuaid chose Sept. 20 – the worldwide day of protest against climate change – to make her first appearance in Cottage Grove.
McQuaid likes to address humanitarian causes with her songs, and it just so happens that she penned one about climate change, ”Break Me Down,” on her new CD, where she sings about being recycled as compost when the time comes.
”Yeah, I’ve never been one to look for the ‘I love him but he doesn’t love me’ type of songs,” McQuaid said after a captivating two-set performance at the Cottage Events Venue. ”I try to find something that’s meaningful to me, and then I’m always looking for shades of multiple meanings.”
Her new CD, ”If We Dig Any Deeper It Could Get Dangerous,” is a prime example of that.
About four years ago, her son, Eli, who’s now 16, was digging a hole. When McQuaid saw it, she told him, ”Eli, If you dig any deeper, it could get dangerous.”
”As soon as I said it, all of these metaphorical ideas came rushing to my head,” McQuaid said Friday night. ”I knew right then that I had something I could work with.”
Another song on that album, a particularly riveting piece called ”Cot Valley,” is a bit of a protest song as children under 10 were allowed to work in copper mines near Cornwell, England – where McQuaid lives – well into the 20th century, despite the passage of the UK’s Mines and Collieries Act in 1842 that prohibited children under 10 from working underground:

I go there with my daughter
The world is open to her
She can gaze out at the sea
And watch her dreams roll in
Cot Valley is green today
Where the slag heaps used
to smoulder
Now a child is free to wander
Yes I know things could be better
But we’ve come a long, long way
Cot Valley is green today

McQuaid said she wants to do her part to make a difference in the world. Living in England, she said she sees her share of political craziness. She was asked how she believed most Englanders feel about Donald Trump.
”They’re generally appalled, I think,” McQuaid said, ”but it’s a wonder that more aren’t appalled by our own version of Donald Trump, (Brexit leader) Boris Johnson.
”I’ve been an immigrant my whole life. Most of us are immigrants, in one way or another. We have to start getting along better and take better care of our people.”
McQuaid’s music has a worldly sound – and understandably so. Born in Spain (where her father was from), she was raised in Chicago (where her mother was from), and also lived in D.C. and Philly before moving to England (where her stepdad was from). She then relocated to Ireland, where she got married, divorced and married again.
Listen to this singer-songwriter play guitar and you hear so many influences, so many genres, so many layers of creativity … it’s no wonder she recently won a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Ards International Guitar Festival in Northern Ireland.
But McQuaid says it’s that versatility and ability to play a variety of styles, in large part, that has kept her from becoming a household name.
”Part of the reason I struggle to get people to come to my shows is because they don’t know who I am because I don’t fit into any category,” McQuaid said. ”I keep hoping that eventually people will evolve and listen to my music more.”
Friday night’s show was certainly an intimate gathering, as about 20 fans were on hand at the Cottage Events Venue. Owner Kim Still had a special treat for everyone in attendance, as she served homemade apple pie, made from freshly picked apples, between sets. The pie – just like the entertainment – seemed to get two thumbs up from everyone who sampled it.
McQuaid, who is making a 35-city American tour in 50 days, made Cottage Grove her 11th stop on the tour. She also visited Roseburg, Sweet Home and Bend.
Sarah puts on quite a one-woman show. One minute she’s singing a cappella. Then suddenly she’s playing a fabulous instrumental. Then she’ll follow that up with an elaborate storytelling song, with the audience eagerly chiming in.
It makes for a thoroughly enjoyable evening of entertainment.
Especially if you’re looking to add something meaningful to your musical diet.



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