It took six decades, but Bob Chartier finally found his voice, and Calgary's musical community is much better for it
The following article appeared on the Alberta Senior website April 4, 2016.
Bob Chartier’s story can teach a lesson of perseverance, staying true to yourself and believing in yourself. As a youngster growing up in Saskatchewan, Chartier loved to sing. He sang at church. He sang at school. But he was told by family members, teachers and others, that he couldn’t carry a tune. “What happened – and the term is self-fulfilling prophecy – is that I couldn’t sing and it literally became true and I was a horrible singer,” says Chartier. “I just stopped singing over the years.”
Fast forward to just over seven years ago. Chartier, then in his early 60s and living in Calgary’s primary music community (Inglewood), attended a Foothills Acoustic Music Institute camp. At the time, Chartier wasn’t a serious musician. He loved music, enjoyed hanging out with musicians, played a little bit of bass. That all changed at camp. “They have a band scramble,” says Chartier. “So you put five strangers together and they form a band and you have 20 minutes to come up with a song and perform it in front of 120 people. I’m playing the (upright bass) by this time. I’m just hiding behind my bass and this woman Sandy says ‘you know, Bob, you’re going to sing the third verse.’ I said, ‘I don’t sing’."
“But I thought, these are friends and no one is going to die here. The third verse came along, I took a big deep breath and out came a voice that nobody had ever heard before, including me. It was a really emotional thing at age 61 to find your voice." Chartier, now 69, has since become a fixture of the Inglewood community. He and Meg Van Rosendaal, an Inglewood booster and arts producer, were instrumental in kick-starting Music Mile, which is Calgary’s music district. It runs on 9th Avenue from the Blues Can in Inglewood to Studio Bell (which will be home to the National Music Centre) in East Village. Music Mile includes a number of great spots to catch a live show in the city: Ironwood Stage & Grill, 500 Cucina and Fort Calgary. Chartier has also become an accomplished songwriter. He has written over 100 songs, and runs the songwriter sessions at the Gravity café. "Music is my life,” he says.
He has entered numerous contests, including Calgary's annual Ship and Anchor competition. The 2016 event opened in early March and runs through April 22. Last year, Chartier’s song “Sasakamoose” received special mention in a category called Beaver Tales. The song tells the story of the first Cree man to make the National Hockey League in 1956; Fred Sasakamoose was Chartier’s first hockey hero. “It’s a modest little song. But there was a place for it. There was a section for it. You get to meet other songwriters. It’s a great afternoon where there’s a lot of energy and just seeing how your song does in the real world.” Chartier retired from a long and established career in the public sector about two years ago. The next day, Chartier hopped in his convertible and hit the road for what he calls “an old man’s music trip.” Chartier spent time in Nashville, he recorded a song at the infamous Sun Studio in Memphis where Elvis recorded, and Chartier even performed during open mic nights in New Orleans. “When I came back, I realized, gosh, what makes those cities unique is their music districts,” he says. “I said ‘I live in one of those districts but we don’t call it a district’.”
Chartier and others started meeting with others in Inglewood – doing what he calls old-fashioned citizen engagement – and the idea for Music Mile was borne. Today, Chartier is busy recording the second edition of Music Mile Radio Hour, a podcast he started earlier this year. The podcast is the official voice of Music Mile and touches on different themes, from the recent Block Heater winter music festival to the upcoming jazz month and, later, the ever-popular Calgary Folk Music Festival. Chartier seems to be just as busy in retirement as he was working, and he wouldn’t have it any other way. “It is a unique story,” he says. “I like to use the phrase ‘finding my voice in my 60s’.”