A rising star with the voice to amaze audiences and the spirit to honour his home and family.
The first time I saw Cale Crowe perform, I was dazzled. It was in February 2018, and I was mesmerized by this big, sweet kid onstage at Cobourg’s historic Victoria Hall, opening for the likes of revered Canadian singer/songwriter Ron Sexmith. It was a rather weighty gig for a twenty-something-year-old talent who’d grown up in Alderville First Nation. But Cale blew us all away with his passionate performance, sensitive lyrics and innovative musicianship, expertly using a three-track loop station pedal, which allowed him to create his own accompaniment on the spot. “Who is this kid?!” I wondered, unaware at the time that he hailed from Northumberland County. By the time intermission rolled around, I’d discovered Cale’s ardent fan club sitting a few rows over, and soon found myself chatting with his mom, sister and charming grandmother – I was heartened to learn that Cale was a real “family guy.” When I finally got to meet the young musician backstage, I couldn’t stop myself from gushing. I’m not sure he believed me when I told him how great I thought he was. You see, that’s yet another reason you can’t help but love Cale Crowe: Like many true artists I’ve had the privilege of interviewing over the years, he’s incredibly humble. I went home that night and searched out more of Cale’s soulful, introspective and infectious music, impressed that I’d found this level of musicianship in my own backyard.
“I’ve always been a deep fan of music,” says Cale, who currently resides in Cobourg and cites Ed Sheeran and Neil Young as two of his influences. “But before the age of 11 or 12, you wouldn’t have been able to catch me dead performing in front of a crowd. I used to be a super, super anxious kid.” While Cale’s grandmother has been known to tell his fans now that “no one could have seen this coming,” her grandson did start to emerge from his shell by the age of 13. “My grandparents bought me guitar lessons in about 2006, and a school friend of mine convinced me to audition for a talent show,” Cale reminisces.
While Cale’s performance in the show didn’t earn him a prize, he did get some valuable support. “I was told for the rest of the week after that show that I really should have placed. So that was pretty much it: me getting that positive feedback from people who definitely didn’t have to respond positively,” Cale explains. Still, to this day Cale claims he gets really bad imposter syndrome. For example, he was incredulous that he ever got the gig opening for Ron Sexsmith. Perhaps it was the fact that he was raised in such a small community – he says there are no more than 500 people actually living on reserve at any given point – that’s helped keep him grounded. “I was raised away from larger crowds of people and larger towns, so I was never really brought up in that same urban culture,” he muses. He attributes his early love of music to the fact that his dad was a big music fan. “When I was growing up, my dad used to put on old tapes of The Rolling Stones, Mötley Crüe, Aerosmith – things like that – while my sister and I rolled around without seatbelts in the back of his Ford Bronco,” he fondly recalls.
Times have been tough this year for even the most accomplished musicians, and Cale has certainly been toughing it out. Because he also has a strong business sense – he’s a graduate of the Music Business Management program at Oshawa’s Durham College – Cale’s been able to subsidize his professional musical earnings in the past with income from other sorts of projects. But it’s his passion for music that relentlessly drives him, and keeps him hanging in. “I think everybody has something in their life, and there’s no other justification for it other than the fact that it’s the only thing in your mind that makes sense,” he says.
“There’s a lot of inspiration in this county… I don’t think I could have gotten that experience of ‘community’ from anywhere else.” Cale Crowe
What’s kept him living in Northumberland County, when so many aspiring musicians would have taken off for bigger music hubs, like L.A. or Nashville? “My family is here, for one,” says Cale. “I also don’t mind driving, if I ever have to get to a gig in, say, Toronto. I don’t mind going out to seek other opportunities while still living here.” Cale also believes that increasingly, some of the most meteoric rises in the arts come from unexpected locations. “The arts industries are looking to little backwater towns that no one really thinks of,” he observes. “They filmed the Stephen King movies out here a couple of years ago, and the Town Hall is always getting filmed for Murdoch Mysteries. I don’t think there’s anywhere on the planet these days that you can’t make a go of it.” Cale feels fortunate to call this neck of the woods his home. “I’m a fan of the fact that people are more spread out here. And I also think there’s a lot of inspiration in this county. So I’m in love with the idea of potentially starting a family here. I don’t think I could have gotten that experience of ‘community’ from anywhere else,” Cale reflects.
The Crowe family name is a big one to live up to – they have so much history in the area. I asked Cale what he thought of his family’s legacy. “There’s never been a weirder, funnier time to be in this particular family tree,” says Cale. “Around here, it seems the Crowe family is either where people get their gas or their cigarettes or their marijuana from right now. But there’s so much family history. My grandfather was a very avid drag racer who won all kinds of trophies.”
Cale realizes these are turbulent times for Indigenous people in this country, and he feels a growing responsibility to make his voice heard in more poignant and powerful ways. “I feel a great sense of pride and a sense of connectedness to my Indigenous community, and I plan to incorporate those elements of my life more into my art going forward,” says Cale. “I love the songs that I’ve put out so far, but I also want to not just reach out to the world, but really bring myself along.” Cale’s plan is also to start learning his Anishinaabe language, get involved in practices, and in the next two years, move into his own space on reserve. “I think in doing that,” says Cale, “I’ll be able to connect and give back. My goal is to start to teach younger kids as a side occupation to making my own music. My cousin Dave Mowat is the current Chief of Alderville, and I grew up seeing him play concerts, and I played music with his son, Jordan. Just being home makes me feel more in tune with those things – more connected to what I’m doing, and having what I’m doing feel more connected to me. “
Cale Crowe is currently working on a new collection of songs that he hopes to release next spring. Many were inspired by long walks he took along the waterfront in Cobourg, during the golden evening hours or an early morning fog. He says that despite being an audio-based artist, he’s very inspired by visual scenery. “Just being able to look out over the water and that vast expanse – it’s sublime,” says Cale. “The swath of colours that you can see. I just sit out on one of the benches at the boardwalk and think about moments in time, about my life. There really isn’t a place in the province – let alone the country – that’s quite like this, with so many happy, positive people. I wouldn’t trade the time that I’ve had here for anything, because I get treated better here than just about anywhere. My only hope is that I’m able to give back what I’m given in terms of energy and inspiration.”