After years of struggle and a new band, new opportunities are opening doors for Indigenous performer.
By Paula E. Kirman
The Edmonton Rock Music Festival is not a new experience for Stephanie Harpe. Her band played the main stage a couple of years ago at the two-day event, which is organized by The Rock and Roll Society of Edmonton, a charitable organization that creates opportunities for inner city children to learn how to play and record rock music.
This year, Harpe was back with her new band, The Stephanie Harpe Experience, on the Back Forty Stage. It’s a side stage featuring bands while the main stage is getting set up for the next act. This year included huge names in classic rock like Tom Cochrane, Lee Aaron, Sass Jordan, Chilliwack, and Trooper.
Harpe's charismatic presence and powerful, Joplin-esque vocals knocked it out of the park, her high-energy performance becoming a highlight of the festival.
“Playing Rock Fest was amazing,” she said. “It was incredible how many people were interested and to watch their reactions. It was very rewarding in that sense. The love that I received after the show was immense.”
It was impossible for the audience to tell how the last few years have been a whirlwind for Harpe, who was born in Edmonton, raised partially in Fort McMurray, and whose roots are with the Fort McKay First Nation, where she spent summers as a child with Chief Dorothy McDonald.
Harpe started playing in the band she formed with brother Eddie in 2005, but it took a while for the band to gel in terms of the combinations of musicians.
“There was lots of transitioning,” she says. “I always kept persistent and any time any obstacle came in the way, something great would happen right after. It’s been a wonderful roller coaster ride and I am very happy with what I have today.”
Harpe released her first recording in 2008 as the Stephanie Harpe Band. The album featured Juno Award winning musician and songwriter Bill Bourne. The song “Baby You're the Only One” became Harpe's first #1 single, which remained for two weeks that year on the National Aboriginal Countdown. She was one of only a few Aboriginal artists to be on that charts for more than a week at #1.
In the last year, Harpe also played the Edmonton Music Awards after-party and got an encore. Currently, she is looking into some funding to record with the new band and opening for David Wilcox on Oct. 14 at Century Casino.
She is also doing a fundraiser on Sept.16 with Bobby Cameron at the Newcastle Pub in Edmonton for Blair McEwan, a member of the music community who has done a lot of work with Indigenous artists and who is recovering from a massive stroke.
Harpe also has a small role in a movie being premiered at Cannes Film Festival called Land. She filmed it in Mexico for two weeks with actors Mark Mahoney (Johnny Depp's best friend), Edmonton producer and actress Georgina Lightening, and Wilma Pelly from North of 60.
Most of all, Harpe hopes to reach audience with her big, bold sound.
“People were wondering what was going on, with the crash-bang-boom of the band breaking up. But we came back bigger and stronger and more positive than ever!”
Stephanie Harpe's music is available on iTunes or CDBaby and news and updates are posted on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/StephanieHarpeExperience/