It is rare to meet a man of few words these days, especially one with surreal talents. Maybe it’s that JD Crosstown’s songwriting speaks for itself. This local musician is both humble and skilful, but before he broke into the music scene and has since gone “full steam ahead” as he puts it, he was first just a kid playing guitar by the fire.
Crosstown grew up in Neyaashiinigmiing, the Chippewas of Nawash Unceded First Nation, and has family up north, giving him both Cree and Ojibwe heritage. His dad and uncle played guitar in his younger years, inspiring him to start as early as nine years old. Their old folk tunes stuck with a young JD, often playing classics like The Band and Bob Dylan, both of whom are still big influences.
Originally he was drawn to the piano, but guitar came more naturally, finding himself strumming along to Metallica, Guns N’ Roses, and just about anything a teenage boy would gravitate towards. Guitar was just a hobby throughout most of his adolescence. “I didn’t have the drive or confidence to perform,” he says.
But that’s since changed.
Not without its trials and tribulations, though. For example, when he finally did gain the confidence and reached the age to hit the bar scene, it was mid-pandemic, and live music was written off. A road bump on his path for sure. But, when things opened up again, Crosstown knew it was time to get on that stage.
He started playing at Heartwood Concert Hall’s open mics after freshly turning eighteen. He often covered traditional folk songs and played one of his originals, Sweet Margarita, a murder ballad he wrote influenced by Dylan’s cover of Lily of the West.
Crosstown has always gravitated towards folk music, for its ability to connect with the audience, and describes his own music as traditional folk, country, and blues. There are several people to thank for helping to shape his sound and advance his musical career. One of which is local guitar legend, Pete Devlin. Many advised JD to connect with Devlin, and when they finally crossed paths, Devlin helped to connect Crosstown with other musicians in the area, like Morgan Barrie, a Summerfolk Youth Discoveries judge, who urged Crosstown to apply, anticipating the young man would be the perfect fit for a coveted festival spot. Crosstown played on the grand ol’ Summerfolk stage the following year, and the crowd loved him.
During this time, JD was introduced to Amber May, another talented and driven local musician who was looking for a lead guitarist. “She was lightyears ahead of me at the time, performing and playing, and had several originals,” he says. “I thought it would be smart to back someone up and see how it all works.”
Playing the Summerfolk stage and joining the Amber May Band were some huge stepping stones in Crosstown’s career, along with his collaborations with Matt Epp.
JD had his first official show opening for Epp, which led to even more opportunities. Adam Ferri from Big Bay Sound reached out and started recording some of JD’s originals including Dime in Mind and Down Down Down. Ferri also added live video recordings that are available on his Youtube channel and at Crosstown’s website, jdcrosstown.com.
These days, JD is traveling to Toronto often to immerse himself in bigger musical circles and not just make connections, but make friends. He’s an easy guy to like – that humble and skilful combo is an attractive one in any artist. He’s played both the Dakota Tavern and the Cameron House and has even opened for Digging Roots and The Sadies. Not bad for a kid who was just playing around the fire a couple years ago. A recent milestone in his musical career was a trip to Vancouver Island Music Fest, where he performed solo on the same stage as headliner Sarah McLachlan.
During our interview, it’s clear he still hasn’t realized how real his career has become, and the future that lies ahead for this talented dude – the big dream is coming to fruition for this Cape Croker kid. Make sure to keep an eye on where his guitar takes him in the coming months, including a month-long tour in Germany this winter.
Music has brought nothing but opportunity for Crosstown. In closing, I ask him what music means to him, and he says: “It gives everyone a safe place – if you’re angry, sad, or even if you’re having a good time, it’s something you can lean back on always.”
His tunes have drawn many folks in, and our community is behind this humble and skillful young man who is showing the world a safe place to lean back on.
Words and photos by Ashley Winters