When it came time to choose a university, former farm boy Finnan was drawn to Concordia.
“What I liked about Concordia was that it had spunk. It was a deconstructed experience of university. It wasn’t a precious campus —you had to navigate the city,” he said.
“Concordia was instantly cosmopolitan… There was immediately intersection across ages and language and cultures. It felt like people were coming into the university from very different angles.
“It struck me that in that space, the breadth and depth of demographics was real. It felt international as a result. So it made me look outside of my experience. It was impossible to stay in your bubble. I think that kind of provocation at that age is important.”
The folk-music business: an oxymoron?
Even after five years as executive director of the Folk Alliance, Finnan hasn't forgotten a road musician’s often tough, lonely life — he spent a decade touring, sometimes sleeping in the back of his van with only his guitar for company.
His experience helped him shape the three priorities the Alliance needs to tackle: diversity, inclusiveness and internationalism; mental health and addiction in the music industry; and equity, with a goal of 50/50 gender parity.
His own deftly played music ranges from Celtic-sounding laments for lost love, to twangy trucker songs straight out of middle America, along with some unabashedly Canadian ballads that could have sprung from the pen of poet Robert Service.
When he’s asked whether the “business of folk music” sounds like an oxymoron, he has some ready answers.
“As custodians of a community, we collectively need to ensure that there is a healthy ecology, that artists who are choosing not to work in other fields, and not to have access to the retirement plans and the opportunities that come with a more traditional, salary-based economy … that there is a structure and a way for them to be able to do what they are best at, to do what they love, to inspire people in communities and have the means to support their family and one day retire, proud of their careers as professionals.
“I feel there’s a way that we can support artist entrepreneurs to help them flourish.”