Music alumna Kirby Barber rocks her career on bass guitar
Kirby Barber vividly recalls a trip during her first year at MacEwan University to see her instructor John Taylor on bass guitar backing up Canadian country music singer Amanda Wilkinson with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra. “I thought it was so cool to watch my teacher play with her. I was totally inspired and completely amazed.”
Fast-forward eight years and the music alumna can hardly believe that now she’s the one backing up Wilkinson. “It’s funny how life goes—I play with Amanda a lot these days.”
Just five years into her professional music career, Kirby is setting down solid roots in the music industry and making a name for herself playing everything from country and bluegrass to blues and classical. In the last year alone, she’s taken home a British Columbia Country Music Association award (she moved to North Vancouver three years ago), recorded her first album with husband Dave Barber as GB Roots and won an award from the Gospel Music Association of Canada for Blues Song of the Year on that same album.
Making it in the music industry
What’s the secret to her success? Kirby says that, for her, variety is more than just the spice of life—it’s a necessary ingredient to having a successful music career.
“I’ve been playing bass guitar since I was 12 years old and never really thought it could be my full-time job, but even when I was in Edmonton I found myself playing almost every weekend. For me, variety is the key to making a living in music—one weekend I’ll be reading a lot of charts and playing classical music, and then next weekend I’ll be playing a country music gig. I’m very lucky because music is in my heart and something I have to do.”
And Kirby does it well.
During the fall and winter, the music scene is a bit slower, so Kirby supplements her work as a musician with teaching, but come summer, her schedule is jam-packed. From June to August, she’s touring the continent—and beyond. Last summer, she found herself on the other side of world, backing up a country music artist at a music festival in China’s Szechuan Valley.
“I wasn’t sure how the music was going to go over, but the people were really supportive,” she says. “And that experience was fuel for the fire. Now I want to go and travel to more places outside of North America.”
But international travel may have to wait for a while. Kirby is getting ready to record a second GB Roots album with Dave, who is also a MacEwan University music alum. The duo has several songs written and is in the process of deciding which ones to include on their new album.
What’s it like being in a band with your spouse?
“A lot of musicians I play with ask me how I can be married to a musician, but in our case it works really well,” says Kirby. “We have our own project—both writing and singing—and it’s really special to us that we get to do this together.”
Dave plays guitar and banjo, so Kirby says they often get hired into the same band, but there are other times when one or both of them are away for a month or more at a time touring with different artists.
“It’s unpredictable, but it’s really neat because we’re both experiencing the same thing and I think that helps us understand each other.”
Even when they’re on the road apart, they’ll meet up to play a GB Roots show. “It can be interesting to see how we can make it work, but it always does somehow.”
And Kirby says that performing the songs they’ve written together in their living room is something special. “It’s different than backing somebody else up. They’re our own songs and we believe in them. Being able to share the weight of the lead singing and to have those experiences together is so cool. It’s all about making your own way and working hard. If you do that, you really can make a career out of loving music.”
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