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Things coming together for city musician

Cathy Dobson Getting exposure as a solo singer-songwriter in Sarnia can be tough, but John Pilat’s persistence is starting to pay off.
John Pilat, who plays Paddy’s on Friday, doesn’t like to be pigeonholed musically. Submitted Photo

Cathy Dobson

Getting exposure as a solo singer-songwriter in Sarnia can be tough, but John Pilat’s persistence is starting to pay off.

“I feel like things are coming together now,” says Pilat who opened for Robb Sharp & Lit’l Chicago at The Imperial Oil Theatre last weekend. This Friday he performs at Paddy Flaherty’s.

Pilat, 30, takes his music seriously.

As a kid growing up in Sarnia he studied piano, competing regularly and often placing first in events like the Lambton County Music Festival.

“My focus back then was playing mostly classical music on the piano. But I was drawn to the guitar.”

At age 11, he picked up his mom’s guitar and began teaching himself chords and notes.

“I really wanted to learn Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit and I just kept playing until I figured it out,” he said. “I might have taken one lesson to learn to tune it, but otherwise I’m self taught.”

Early influences included Bryan Adams, Leonard Cohen, and Simon and Garfunkel.

At university in Windsor, while earning a political science degree, Pilat played guitar and sang lead vocals for two bands, The Rheostats and Waker Glass.

“That was a lot of fun. I wrote all the songs and we opened for some good bands,” he said.

Pilat writes prolifically, tending toward indie rock, folk and bluesy styles on the acoustic guitar. He doesn’t like being pigeonholed in a single musical genre and says he mixes live shows up with an electric guitar and amp, offering rock covers as well as his own songs.

Being in a band in Windsor didn’t pay the bills, so Pilat returned home to Sarnia after graduation and has worked in restaurants and retail to make ends meet. He’s been playing private parties, corporate events and the odd bar gig the past four years. He’s also released two solo EPs, Friends in New York and Useless Machine.

Pilat’s music can be found at ReverbNation and Bandcamp on the Internet. He is also working on a third project of songs inspired by living near Lake Huron.

“It’s about living in Sarnia without mentioning Sarnia,” he explained. “I just moved to Bright’s Grove and it’s paradise to me.

“I’d like to stay.”

Other local musicians are starting to notice his work, he said. Notably, Robb Sharp from Lit’l Chicago recommended Pilat to the owners of Paddy Flaherty’s.


WHAT: Singer-songwriter John Pilat performs solo.

WHERE: Paddy Flaherty’s Irish Pub. 130 Seaway Rd.

WHEN: Friday March 18; 10 p.m.


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