People reveal all kinds of deep, dark secrets to Ontario folk singer Craig Cardiff.
But the one that really took him aback was a murder confession.
The singer-songwriter performs at Duncan’s Islands Folk Festival on Saturday, where he’s set to play songs from his 2013 double album Love Is Louder (Than All This Noise).
The album was inspired by something he calls the Book of Truths. For about seven years, Cardiff has passed around a notebook at concerts and asked audiences to write something truthful in it. It could be a story, a hope, a secret or a confession. Typically, these submissions are anonymous.
Some people tell tales about their romantic lives. Cardiff has heard quite a few stories about couples who dated in high school or college, drifted apart, and then reconnected later in life.
Other stories are more dramatic. One audience member recalled a suicidal period.
And then there was the murder confession.That story was about a family member suffering from what was believed to be a terminal illness.
Others were relieved at this turn of events, as the person in question had abused children in the family.
However, to their surprise, the “dying” person started to recover.
“The person writing [in the Book of Truths] didn’t want to see that happen. So they put an end to them,” said Cardiff, 41, speaking on a headset while driving to a show in North Bay, Ont.
Cardiff talked about the murder story obliquely, perhaps to protect the confessor. He has mentioned the incident to police-officer friends.
However, Cardiff knows too few details to make a followup possible (for one thing, he can’t recall if the entry was made in B.C. or Ontario).
His own response to the submission is complex. While it’s shocking, Cardiff can also “see both sides of the story.” Friends, meanwhile, wondered out loud what it might be like to share such a secret.
“They said: ‘Imagine the weight of that. It must have felt like a whole planet inside of them.’ ”
By now, the Book of Truths takes up several hundred notebooks, which Cardiff keeps in an Ottawa studio. He first got the idea for the Book of Truths after chatting with a couple at one of his concerts. They told him the “sweet story” of how they first met.
Cardiff liked this tale so much, he asked them to write it down in the notebook he carries to record lyrics. However, after jotting it down, the couple passed the notebook along to another audience member.
“There was a misunderstanding. … It made the rounds that night,” he said.
Cardiff was so intrigued by the stories collected that night that he decided to make the Book of Truths a regular feature at his concerts. The seven-year-old tradition will continue Saturday at the Islands Folk Festival.
He believes people are willing to share such stories partly because of the intimate atmosphere of his concerts. “It’s kind of an extension of what the show is,” Cardiff added.
While the murder yarn didn’t make it as a song on Love is Louder (“it just weighs too much”), another confession did.
It’s the story of someone who lived through a rough patch during which he or she had felt suicidal. The person had managed to survive partly by attending concerts, including Cardiff’s.
It made an impression on Cardiff. That particular concert was sparsely attended, which had frustrated Cardiff, an independent artist who does much of his own marketing. But when he read the note, it put everything in perspective.
“It was just like the universe knocking you on the head, saying: ‘Stop being fussy — do your job.’ ”
His fans are aware of the Book of Truths. And to some extent, the project is a victim of its own popularity. Cardiff says when he hands out his notebooks to audiences these days, they don’t always return.
“I’ll pass out five,” he said, “and sometimes I’m lucky if I get one back.”