Calgary folk fest: Lucy Dacus following the golden road her beguiling debut No Burden sent her down

American indie artist confident in her voice, winning audiences over with her personal and strong yet vulnerable songs.

American indie rock darling Lucy Dacus and her band are in the middle of Kansas when she’s reached by phone.

There’s probably a metaphor here. One that someone with a brain could come up with.

If only …

But on its face, where she is at this time is indicative of the whole new world she’s been blown into since the dropping of her perfect stunner of a debut No Burden in early 2016.

“It’s been cool being able to travel this much,” the 21-year-old says from the midst of the corn belt. “I’ve only been in Kansas one other time. Everyone says the landscape is really boring, but it’s actually pretty cool if you aren’t living in it, you’re just a visitor passing through.”

Calgarians will get the opportunity to host the Virginia native for the first time when she follows the road to town this weekend as a guest of the Calgary Folk Music Festival, showcasing Sunday late afternoon and workshopping Saturday and Sunday.

Any opportunity to catch her is one that should be taken — she will undoubtedly be a fave find for anyone who’s yet to be beguiled by Dacus, her songs, her story.

Attending film school while making music on the side, her friend, guitarist Jacob Blizard, took her into a studio to record an album for his own school project. Those tracks would eventually become No Burden, which was then released by a small regional label in February of last year.

Not surprising to anyone who’s heard it, that path would eventually lead to taste-making Matador Records, who re-released the record in September, with high-profile festival, television and radio appearances following.

Now, 10 months later, she’s still touring on the back of that release, still playing that material on a nightly basis for new audiences, still more than happy to be doing so.

“The songs are still relevant, luckily, so I don’t feel sick of any of the content yet,” Dacus says. “And I think that’s a blessing because I know a lot of people who refuse to play their songs after they play them for a year or the shows start to get boring, but I don’t get bored easily.”

How could anyone get bored with that voice — an astounding mix of dusk-imbued knowing and sweet, sly innocence — and a quietly, cracklingly powerful backdrop? For context see Bettie Serveert, Sharon Van Etten, Mo Kenney or, on a more local level, Samantha Savage Smith’s own jawdropping debut Tough Cookie.

The songs? Written originally as tracks she could perform solo, they have a core that is entirely Dacus — so personal and so confident and so smart, with turns of phrases that disarm with their simplicity, their honesty, their beauty.

From the wishful, wonderful opener I Don’t Wanna Be Funny Anymore to the thumping Troublemaker, Doppelgänger (“You’re daddy told you to stay indoors/And I can understand how a girl gets bored/Too old to play and too young to mess around”) it’s all so casually astute in its storytelling and life-observation.


And if there has been a more devastatingly vulnerable song recorded in the past decade than Dacus’s Map on a Wall, chances are it has been suppressed by the authorities — suppressed in order to stop the spate of literal heartbreak in anyone who hears it.

For Dacus’s song comes as close as possible at taking that ache to the next, lethal level, when she opens with her wrenching plea: “Oh please, don’t make fun of me/Of my crooked smile and my crowded teeth/Of my pigeon feet, of my knobby knees/Well, I got more problems than not.”

What stops the seams from splitting, the heart from shattering, though, is how Dacus follows it up, turning that vulnerability into empowerment: “But I feel fine and I made up my mind/To live happily, feeling beautiful beneath the trees/Above a ground that’s solid at the core.”

Dacus admits that was one of her earliest efforts and, yes, is her at her most vulnerable as an artist and a human being.

“It’s one that I’m really happy to see people singing along to at shows because I think it’s probably my most personal song on the record,” she says. I’m glad that it resonates with people.”

So, too, is she glad to see that audiences are already gravitating to the couple of new songs in the set list, pleased that after shows when people come up and speak with her, they’re “more interested in the new material than the old material, which is a good sign, I think.”

It bodes well for what she has in store for us and our hearts with her sophomore recording, which is, she reveals, ready to go.

“It’s done, it’s totally done as of last month,” she says, noting that she’s hoping to release some singles before the end of the year, and the album, itself, will likely be out February or March of 2018.

“It’s — I don’t want to say so much better, but I like it more, I feel more proud of it, it was more intentional and it’s a more cohesive album.”

Once again it finds her teamed up with the same crew that made No Burden — Blizard and Collin Pastore — albeit with the unit having now, in Dacus’s view, grown to be “better at what we do, and I think it’s pretty clear in the next record.”

It actually follows an aborted second recording with Adam Thompson of Thao & the Get Down Stay Down in a studio in the Pacific Northwest — perhaps the only misstep on this journey the artist has been on over the past year and a half.

“We had a false start where we went to Portland and tried to make a record and basically every aspect of it was going horribly, including us, we just weren’t playing well,” she says. “It takes a lot to start over but it’s what we had to do and it came out really well — I don’t regret that at all.”

Which truly says a great deal about Dacus and her belief in herself and her art.

There are few musicians twice her age who would be confident enough in their craft and their career — golden as it already is — to take that step back and head down a different road.

It speaks to the fact that one album in, she’s already confident in her voice, in that voice, and what and how she wants to say with it.

“Yeah I guess I just was raised knowing that I already had a voice,” she says, giving credit to her parents, who went along with and encouraged her in any interest she expressed. “The idea of finding a voice wasn’t really a concept, it was just listening to what your voice already was and trusting it.

“That’s kind of how I feel, everybody does have a voice it’s just whether you’re willing to listen to it and live into it or not.”

Lucy Dacus performs Saturday, July 29 and Sunday, July 30 at the Calgary Folk Music Festival on Prince’s Island Park. For tickets and info please click here.

Mike Bell has been covering the Calgary music scene for the past 25 years with publications such as VOX, Fast Forward, the Calgary Sun and, most recently, the Calgary Herald. He is currently the music writer and content editor for Follow him on Twitter/@mrbell_23 or email him at