Musician would rather walk and meet people
Michael Averill has walked 3,379 kilometres across Canada. Ali Bordbar photo
Having walked 2,100 miles across Canada over the last four years for an album inspired by his late father, Michael Averill continues his I’d Rather Walk project to promote wellness and activity by walking around the country. Joe Leary spent 24 Seconds with the singer/songwriter.
24: When did the musical bug first enter your life?
MA: Music has been in my life since the day I was born. My father played guitar and sang, and my mother played a bit of piano. They’d host sing-a-longs/jams every so often at our home in Kelowna and that was really special to experience. I didn’t take interest into playing music until I was about 12. My older brother starting playing guitar around the same time my Grade 6 class student teacher introduced it to me. My father bought us a 3/4 size electric guitar and an amp and I soon learned the power of the power chord - Been hooked ever since!
24 Obviously your father influenced you.
MA: My father (Garry Averill) was a quirky, observant and interesting man. He grew up on the farm fields of Saskatchewan; the oldest of five kids and became a teacher very early in life at 17. He had a goofy sense of humour, loved early mornings and walking and wrote insightful, funny, and poignant songs. As a teacher he affected so many lives by going the extra mile to help a child learn and is often mentioned as a favourite of those who were taught by him. He had a deep well of creativity and a zen way of approaching life. Never one to fuss over trends and preferred a simple way of living. As a father and family man he was very patient and encouraging. Never was too vocal in terms of his feelings - was more of a silent hero that did more than he said.
24: At what point did the walking project begin?
MA: It officially began on July 1st, 2013 just outside Charlottetown, PEI. The idea for it was planted soon after my dad passed away in 2011. I wrote a blog about a photograph I found of him from 1957 as a tribute that I titled, “Play Your Heart Out.” It was suggested I should write a tune about it so I did. I started thinking it would be rewarding to explore his musical past, and realized I had a collection of songs inspired by him. Later in February 2012, I woke up one morning with a tune in my head that turned into the theme of that album called “I’d Rather Walk.” The line that kept coming up for me was “I’d rather walk 3000 miles...” and followed with various experience examples that come as benefits from walking - something I learned from my Dad. When I researched that number a bit, it turned out to be the approximate distance across Canada, and in that moment, everything clicked for me. I thought, “This is what I’m supposed to do next and this is how I’m going to do it.” Months later, as luck would have it I met a fellow musician in an Edmonton Irish Pub who was connected to my Dad’s brief recording history with CBC in the Yukon in the 70’s. He put me in touch with two men who recorded my father, and within a couple of days, I was sent a whole pile of recordings they still had, photos, an interview of him explaining his songs and outlook on life and a variety of other treasures. All this gave major fuel to the fire and I set forth with the idea of sharing his songs and stories, interlaced with mine, throughout the country.
24: What was the original goal and where are you at with it now?
MA: The original goal was three-fold:
1. To understand who Canada is, and learn more about the history of each region.
2. To walk the equivalent distance of the country, discover the natural gems and beauties that physically represent Canada, and invite others to join in the journey.
3. To encourage conversation about wellness, life, and loss/death.
Losing a close family member made me realize that death is quite an awkward topic to talk about in our country and perhaps this project could help alleviate and improve ease of dialogue about it. On the other side of that, I try to help those I meet achieve and attain what they want to see in their lives whenever and where ever I can. Usually it is as simple as believing in them.
I have learned so much about the country and am fascinated with the intricacies of Canada’s story. The landscapes of regions I have seen so far have deeply imprinted on my memories and every place is gorgeous in its own special way. Where this project has really evolved is in the dialogue about life, wellness, and relationships and how that is so strongly linked to a sense of community belonging. This is where my next project, “All We Ever Need,” (due out Spring 2017), is going. I just finished a campaign to raise support and awareness for it, but contributions can still be made and are most welcome here - http://fnd.us/allweeverneed
24: What has been the reaction on your journey?
MA: The reactions have been very positive, emotionally heartfelt and deeply touching in many ways. The kindness, hospitality, and support I have received from random strangers and those I connect with is inspiring and motivates me to be a better person. I’ve been welcomed into community centres, schools, festivals, walking groups, garden clubs and radio stations to speak about this project. Big highlights for me are getting emails from people I’ve met saying that our encounters have improved their family relationships/communication or have inspired them to go do the specials things they’ve put off for years. That’s the ultimate result for me - knowing people feel healthier, more connected and happier in their skin and within their communities.
24: Is this project a one-and-done or can you see it developing in other areas?
MA: The walk project has already unveiled many new possible directions to explore in terms of public speaking and educational instructing opportunities, writing opportunities, special community project initiatives, and I am always open to collaborating with like minds who connect with what I am doing. ‘All We Ever Need’ is an effort to focus down on and enhance meaningful conversation about relationships around the country. To me, that is where the heart of happiness lives. I see many new directions to go from this and it’s where I believe I can have the most positive impact with my music.
24: Have you had any cool experiences on the journey?
MA: Every day! I have been able to perform my way across the country with VIA Rail’s Artist’s Onboard program several times, which is a very cool experience in itself. It’s what has helped me start my regional walks all over the country. I recently met a very talented young artist (Autumn Ducharme) who - after a performance and talk about life - drew an incredible picture as a gift with a message on the back that sums up what I am trying to do – “Thanks to one conversation and a couple of songs, you’re sending me home with a healthier heart than I left with.” That kind of feedback makes my day, and reaffirms that what I am doing is working. I share cool experiences and stories like this at http://michaelaverill.com, and kindly welcome anyone to follow along on the journey.