Vancouver Folk Music Fest 2019: Desirée Dawson crosses over, from yoga studio to EDM

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      The debate’s been going on for years: does competition benefit the arts?

      So far, no comprehensive answer has been found, but Desirée Dawson knows one thing for sure: CBC Radio’s Searchlight talent contest is a competition with a difference, and winning it makes a difference, too.

      “I recommend it to every artist I know, because it’s been super, super helpful for all that I’m up to right now,” the local singer-songwriter reports in a telephone interview from her home. Dawson won the 2016 edition of the contest, and since then her career has been trending steadily upwards—as shown by the million Spotify plays her digital single “Hide” has received.

      “The cool thing about Searchlight is that with a lot of other contests, they kind of own the rights to your stuff,” she explains. “But Searchlight was literally, like, a platform, and then they were like, ‘Here’s a bunch of prizes! Here’s how we can support you the best! Now go out into the world and use these things and grow and be great.’ That’s really the vibe that I got from the whole process.

      “I also feel like I got a really nice connection with a lot of people at CBC, and now my music is constantly playing,” she continues. “I’m very grateful for that.”

      Of course, Dawson wouldn’t have won the contest if she hadn’t been able to mobilize the support of her fans, and in that regard she has the benefit of two separate but compatible musical directions: solo, ukulele-strumming folksinger, and electro-soul chanteuse with producers such as Pegboard Nerds and Kicks N Licks.

      “For a while, it was a little bit difficult for me to leave my ukulele and voice, that being my main thing. But I ended up releasing stuff with some pretty well-known producers in the EDM world, and the response I was getting back was the same as when I’m playing at a yoga studio, cross-legged on the floor with my ukulele,” the 28-year-old musician and yoga teacher says with a laugh. “I realized that as long as I feel good with it, people will respond to it in a beautiful way. And so genre is something I don’t really attach myself to anymore, because it’s not really the point.

      “I’m going to mix up whatever I want,” Dawson adds, “because I’m a mix of so many things. And, really, we all are.”

      The Desirée Dawson Trio plays the Vancouver Folk Music Festival’s Stage 5 at 5:10 p.m. on Friday (July 19). For more information, visit