Rock star spoken-word artist Shane Koyczan brings his grief and humour to the High Performance Rodeo for some communal healing

Shane Koyczan gives you his heart, his soul, his words and inspiration.

You give him … a bad cold.

He laughs.

“It’s one of the unfortunate things about touring,” he says, laughing again through a voice deepened by a duffed up dose, “you shake a lot of hands, you work on a lot of microphones, you take a lot of airplanes — you’re bound to get sick …

“You’re out there trying to spread love and you get diseases in return.”

The spoken-word artist, poet and author is just coming off a tour of the States, which provided him with his current infection. Hopefully he’ll have shaken it by the time he hits town for his High Performance Rodeo headlining set, Tuesday, Jan. 22 at the Jack Singer Concert Hall as part of his extensive Canadian tour.

He’ll be bringing to town his brilliant brand of brave, honest, naked and personally universal experiences that have made him a rock star in the word world.

What to expect should you attend, well, he is one of the few poets who has to play the hits — and has hits to play. There is, of course, his empowering To This Day, that has brought his experiences with bullying to more than 23 million people via an animated YouTube video. Then there’s his piece We Are More, which vaulted him to stardom when he performed it at the opening ceremonies of the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver.

You may hear those. That said, also be prepared for some of the new singles.

“I’ve got a really good audience — I’m always writing new stuff as well,” he says. “And 2018 was a pretty heavy year for a lot of people, so I’m going to talk a lot about that, and I faced a lot of loss in 2018, so I’ll deal with that. I’ll do all of that mixed in with funny stories about this, that and the other.”

His biggest loss last year came with the death of his grandmother, who raised him in Penticton and who was, he admits, his “compass” for most of his life.

She provided him with all of the tools he needed to navigate this world, including the sense of humour with which, in his work and performances, he has dealt with many of the things — bullying, racism, depression — that he’s faced over the years.

He sums that up with an oft-cited Charlie Chaplin quote: “Humour (heightens) our sense of survival and preserves our sanity.”

She was also the first one to give him a journal with the instructions: If you have no one to talk to, talk to this.

So, yes, you can expect she will be front-and-centre when he takes the stage, even six months after she left this Earth.

“The grieving process is just so strange,” Koyczan says. “You look of some it in hindsight and it’s, like, ah it’s funny, but it’s also difficult. Grief is like this terrible landlord who gets to arbitrarily decide when the rent is due and you don’t have say, you have to pay it.

“So I’ve just had to navigate those waters, but it’s hard to do without the compass. You’re really having to set yourself to different constellations to guide yourself around, so that’s the process I’ve been in.”

Thankfully, he says, the artist has that outlet where he can share his grief with others who’ve experienced it or who are there for his communal catharsis sessions. He admits that the stage has always been part therapy for him, and the evenings of “we’re all in this together,” have helped him navigate the choppy waters he now finds himself in.

“In that way it’s really great,” he says. “I get to go up and tell stories that I adore about people that I really love, so that’s really helpful because when an audience laughs along with you then you feel that, and it’s comforting. It helps stave off some of the loneliness and some of the other feelings that come along with grieving …”

Koyczan continues. “For me, I get a lot from the sharing process, and telling and putting out very personal things that I’ve gone through, but the connection you get from it from strangers helps fill that loneliness or that feeling that, ‘Oh, I’m alone in this.’ That, for my mental health, is very important because I tend to feel like when you’re grieving or when you’re angry or any of those things (the tendency) is to isolate yourself and cocoon yourself. But I think that’s the wrong instinct, when you’re going through something like grief you need to bring more people in to help it spread out and dissipate it a little bit.”

Which is why he after Tuesday’s show — or any show, for that matter — you’ll find him in the lobby of the venue. Koyczan is always available to his fans, be it on Facebook or in person when he performs. Sometimes, he admits, it’s to his own psychic detriment, being there to listen to these stories, being an ear that can only do so much and will always wonder if it’s enough.

“It weighs on you because you reach out but you don’t always hear back from that you either and so all that does is leave you with this vacuum of — imagination is a great thing but it’s also a terrible thing.”

But still, he will be there. Because although he never set out to become poet/performer/therapist/voice of comfort, it’s now part of his resume, part of the job description, and one that he admits he considers a bond, a form of trust between he and his audience.

“I think I’ve always taken it seriously,” he says, noting that people have suggested he charge for meet-and-greets after shows, but that he never will because of the personal responsibility he feels. “If somebody’s coming to a show and I’m putting them in an emotional state it’s my responsibility to take them to that place so I take that seriously. So I’m always sticking around after shows to make sure that people are OK. If they have something to say and they feel like I’m the person they need to say it to, then I’m there.

“And it makes for really long nights. After a show all you want to do is kick off your heels and Netflix and chill with yourself, but you need to stick around.”

But, perhaps if you do and you have the sniffles, think about a couple of pumps of Purell on your hands. For him.

Shane Koyczan performs Tuesday, Jan. 22 at the Jack Singer Concert Hall as part of this year’s High Performance Rodeo. For tickets please go to