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A collaborative concert

Singer Jill Barber is performing at the Yukon Arts Centre on October 15. Photo by Rachel Pick.

By Amy Kenny

Jill Barber needs your help on this tour. It literally can’t happen without you. That’s because every setlist for every show is based on audience requests.

“Some people have amazing stories,” Barber says over the phone from the road, where she’s smack in the middle of her fall tour, Dedicated to You. With a handful of Ontario dates behind her, she’s heading west, and will play the Yukon Arts Centre on Oct. 15.

Just what she’ll play is up to Yukoners though. Barber’s website has a special section so audience members can make their requests in advance of the show. From there, Barber will get in touch to find out a little bit more about the person making the request, the details of their dedication, and the story behind what the song means to them.

So far, Barber says it’s made for the kind of concert experience that can’t be re-created. Not only is the setlist different every night, so are the stories from audience members.

“It was a magical moment the other night, with this particular experience that kind of epitomized for me what I wanted to do on this tour,” she says.

Four couples had requested the same song, “Never Quit Loving You.” Barber wasn’t sure how to handle it at first, but ultimately invited all four to make their dedication over the course of the song. 

The first was a young couple that had only been dating for six months, but the young man dedicated it to his girlfriend because he was wild for her already.

“It was just this gorgeous moment of new love,” says Barber.

The next couple was one that was about to get married. In all their planning, the only thing they could agree on was that their first dance would be to “Never Quit Loving You.” The third couple were in their 60s, and the wife dedicated the song to her husband, who had recently experienced an illness. The fourth was one half of a couple. A man stood up and dedicated the song to his wife. She had died, but he said the song always reminded him of her.

“He made a statement about how love can exist in one heart, you don’t need two people. I’m sure most of the audience was crying,” Barber says. “It really speaks to the power of music. Music has saved me so many times in my life. I can write a song that’s about me and my love story, but the greatest compliment is when a couple says to me ‘this is our song.’”

Sometimes her love songs strike a different chord with people too though. For instance, she wrote a song called “One More Time” about how difficult it was, in the throes of a new relationship, to physically let her partner walk out the door to go to work.

“The other night, in Paris, Ontario, the dedication was from a father who, a few years ago, lost his son, a commercial pilot. And for him the song was about that, walking out the door. I think things like that floor me. Music is powerful and I think the beautiful thing about songs is that they exist, but it’s the experience that we all bring to the music that really makes it meaningful.”

She encourages Yukoners to share those experiences on her website at Those making dedications don’t have to get up onstage, she says, though it’s more fun if they do. It makes the show more interactive, more intimate. More like everyone is hanging out together in her living room, sharing something special.

“There’s a real vulnerability, from the audience and for my band because not every song is completely polished (nine records worth of songs and the last-minute nature of the requests means rehearsals for some songs take place during soundcheck), which isn’t the point. There’s a real spirit of spontaneity, of just going for it. It’s nice to feel like I’m meeting the audience halfway, or they’re meeting me halfway.”

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Photo by Rachel Pick