Short Story:

Hugh MacDonald: “you can’t always get what you want”

Featured in the Nov/Dec issue of Profile Halifax Magazine this weeks recipe for success is Hugh Mac Donald. With no more than a guitar, a harmonica, and a bag of clothes 27 year old singer/songwriter Hugh Alex Mac Donald came to Halifax determined to start pursuing music. MacDonald isn’t trying to be the next American Idol; he wants to play his own music with his own sound: “I don’t do a lot of covers, I mostly play stuff I’ve written myself” — he explains.

Living your dream doesn’t necessarily always mean “living the dream” as some might say. MacDonald came to the city without any apartment leads, so he frequented his friends’ couches from time to time. MacDonald may or may not have spent a few long nights sleeping in his buddy’s jeep, and for this young man, standing at 6 feet 7 inches this is a less than ideal experience, but “well worth it”.

He didn’t waste anytime signing himself up for as many “Open Mic Nights” around the city as possible. This guy truly loves to perform, but trying to get answers out of this cat is like trying to make sense of Subterranean Homesick Blues. MacDonald purposely leads me awry when answering questions; responding in some topsy turvy manner while absently rubbing his cheeks, and scratching his head. There’s a nervous energy coursing through him, as he constantly fidgeting and adjusting, but the words that come out are more eloquent than awkward. When I ask him how old he is he answers —“47”, now this is not his real age, however, he frequently jokes about being from the nineteen hundreds. The heart inside MacDonald is chronologically much older than himself; Like his heart Hugh is wise beyond his years, and attributes this to having strong values that his parents instilled in him as a child.

When I was a kid and I wanted something, my parents didn’t just go get it for me; I had to work for it. They had the money, but they wanted me to work for it, so that I would appreciate it, and I’m grateful for it” —says Mac Donald.

Hugh Alex used to play basketball when he was younger, and remembers: “I had to try out for the team, make it, and then show that I was serious about playing before I could get the cool shoes. I remember the first day I got my shoes; I slept with them at the end of my bed”. Mac Donald realizes that “you can’t always get what you want”, as rock icons of the past suggest. Hugh knows that one has to work hard, to get what they want, “nothing is just handed to you”, and if it was he wouldn’t take it.

Constantly scribbling down songs on whatever paper he can find at the time; he keeps them nestled away in his back pocket. MacDonald is surprisingly shy when you meet him, but when he gets on stage that is when he comes alive. His voice is honest and his presence strong; the lyrics and his words are real and relatable, but not unoriginal.

This guy has all the loyalty of small town, but the edge to survive in the city. Growing up in a small town Mac Donald tells me that he saw a lot of poverty, and responds with sincerity: “I don’t want to sound arrogant, but I always felt like there’s gotta be something more”. Having his head in the right place translates into his song writing; like many folk musicians of the past Mac Donald’s music is not artificial or manufactured. You know that he’s not trying to sell you something he’s just offering you an experience. MacDonald keeps on keepin’ on, and you can catch him filling up people’s ears with his sound around the city at many different venues offering up an open microphone.


miss kayla

You can find a print copy of this article in Profile Halifax Magazine at most coffee shops in and around the city.

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