By Mike Renzella
The Haldimand Press
HAGERSVILLE—It’s almost time to kick some tires and light some fires as the Hagersville Rocks festival is gearing up for its grand return to the stage this Saturday for the first time since 2019.
One of the performers who will grace the stage this year is Kalsey Kulyk. We spoke to Kalsey about her love of music and what concertgoers can expect from her performance.
“I started singing at the age of three,” said Kulyk, reminiscing on her first-ever live performance at a talent show in her hometown of Hudson’s Bay, Saskatchewan, singing Lorrie Morgan’s ‘What Part of No Don’t You Understand’ to a crowd of 500 people. “I caught the bug then and have been singing ever since.”
Kulyk spent her childhood travelling around to various fairs and singing competitions across Saskatchewan, Manitoba, and Alberta. At around age 13, she added guitar-playing to her repertoire.
As for her influences, “It was all country music…. Everybody in my family listened to country music. I was listening to Dolly Parton, Willie Nelson, my grandpa really wanted me to learn the old country music sound, the storytellers,” said Kulyk. “I grew up in the 90s so I was also listening to Shania Twain, Faith Hill, Martina McBride, and Le Ann Womack, so those were really huge influences in my singing and song-writing style.”
Kulyk faced a major life hurdle in her teenage years, receiving a cancer diagnosis at age 17. Like many great artists, she found herself relying on her art to help pull through.
“When I was diagnosed with cancer, I didn’t really tell anybody how I was feeling emotionally and what I was going through. My family was super supportive, but you don’t want to worry them…. You’d have those days where you were just scared and sad and felt like you didn’t know what would happen. I would pick up my guitar and I would write my feelings out on paper.”
Despite the extensive treatments she was enduring, Kulyk continued to work on her music: “I would still go out to play at coffee shops or songwriter nights, or I would sing at church. I would play these songs about going through cancer and people would tell me ‘I’ve gone through cancer, and I always felt that way, but never knew how to describe it.’”
She continued, “One of my favourite things about songwriting is that it gives a voice to people who don’t necessarily know how to talk about their feelings, or people that want to feel heard by someone else.”
She maintains a good perspective on her cancer experience, saying, “I’m glad I went through it, because it really gave me a whole bunch of perspective. It gave me my ‘why’ as to why I do music.”
Kulyk’s talent has opened some pretty big doors in her professional life. At 18, she got to meet producer Roger Dashut, known for his work with iconic 70s rock band Fleetwood Mac, through a family connection. He was taken with Kulyk’s talent and agreed to work with her in a mentorship role.
“He taught me a lot about producing and songwriting and performance…. I just got a whole bunch of knowledge from him. It felt like the universe telling me ‘This is your path. This is where you’re meant to be.”
Kulyk would go on to be a finalist in Canadian Country Music Association’s (CCMA) Discovery program and won Anthem Entertainment’s ‘On the Spot’ competition. Her musical aspirations eventually led her to move to Nashville.
She says that despite her success, many barriers still exist for women on the country music scene.
“I never really noticed the struggle that women have in country music until I moved to Nashville. I remember going to a bunch of songwriter nights and big showcase nights and thinking, ‘Man, these stages are super male-dominated.’”
She added, “I had to prove, not to men, but to myself, that I could be up on that stage with some of the best songwriters in Nashville. It took me a little while, but I got into a really good group of songwriters that have number ones on the radio, and they respected me and will write with me to this day.”
Kulyk is very excited to take the stage in Hagersville this weekend, noting, “It’ll be a show that a lot of people have never seen me do. I’m really excited about the next chapter of my music.”
Kulyk’s new single, Big Deal, is available now, while a new album is in the works for later this year.
Her cancer has been in remission for the past 10 years, and Kulyk stands today as a symbol of hope and perseverance, inspiring others through her passion and music.
“I realized, what is life unless you’re doing something you love every day? When that huge life change hit me, I decided to just chase after my dreams, because no one is guaranteed a tomorrow and I’d rather be doing what I love.”