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Soul singer readies for live shows this month at Coquitlam's Evergreen Cultural Centre

Dawn Pemberton returns to the Coquitlam venue on Aug. 21 for two shows with guitarist Gavin Youngash.

When the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown came into effect last spring, Dawn Pemberton didn’t follow the crowd.

That is to say, the Vancouver soul singer-songwriter didn’t sign up for online classes or try to find a way to fill the void.

Instead, her reaction was to be quiet and “not do anything.”

“I didn’t write. I removed the pressure or the expectations from myself to do that. I really just tried to simplify things.”

Before the sudden break, Pemberton was on the road often to perform jazz, R&B, soul and funk standards as well as her original compositions.

Then, “I was at home, and having the chance to attend to my home.”

It wasn’t all reflecting, though.

Pemberton hired a new vocal coach and began to dig deep into technique — something she “wouldn’t have had the time or luxury to think about before…. It was kind of a gift.”

In between the COVID-19 waves, she saw her bookings come and go as the physical distancing rules waxed and waned.

But among the venues that kept her close for future performances was Coquitlam’s Evergreen Cultural Centre, which listed — and then unlisted — her concerts a few times during the global health crisis.

On Aug. 21, Pemberton is due to return to the City Centre facility for two 60-minute shows with guitarist Gavin Youngash as part of Evergreen’s Speakeasy Sessions.

The audience, which is capped at 50 people (with tables for two or four guests), will hear classics such as Bill Withers’ Just the Two of Us, Let’s Stay Together by Al Green and Aretha Franklin tunes, plus some of Pemberton’s songs.

Pemberton likes that the show will be pared down to her and Youngash, a fellow Capilano University music graduate, as “it leaves more space for musical conversation,” she said. 

“There are more things that are implied because there are no drums, no bass, no keys.”

Still, it won’t be her first live show this year.

Last month, she played to a sold-out crowd of 75 people at Performance Works on Granville Island for the Vancouver International Jazz Festival, which was also live-streamed.

Two weeks later, she was at another in-person event: the 42nd annual Harrison Festival of the Arts.

Asked what it’s like to perform for a crowd hungry for live music and connection after so many months apart, Pemberton said she likens it to a party where she’s the host.

“I really try to engage with the audience in a way that also gives them instructions on what to do,” she said. 

“I find that with a lot of Canadian audiences, we’re very polite. I tell them, ‘Say this, if the music gets you excited’ or try doing a dance move. I’m really priming them to be a part of the fun and reminding them that this is how you can be now and you’re allowed to participate.”

Pemberton adds she’s grateful to Evergreen for keeping her in its schedule during the pandemic. 

“We got bumped so many times that when it came to August, we thought, ‘Is this the little show that did?’ We have our fingers crossed it will finally happen now.”

• For tickets to see Dawn Pemberton’s concert – scheduled for Aug. 21 at 3:30 and 7:30 p.m. – you can visit the Evergreen Cultural Centre’s website.