JP Maurice: Part 2

jp 2016 3 JP Maurice performed his first house show at Serenity last week. It had been just over a month since he had been here supporting Jeremy Gray and Benjamin James Caldwell on the stage. Time is an odd thing. Its passage can feel so varied. The past week has felt like an eternity. I have been writing constantly for other people and publications that require me to be more outside of myself than I am here where I draw inward and reflect on the artists and their live performances at these intimate house concerts.

JP Maurice was the last artist I wrote about in 2015 for the venue and he is the first for 2016. A continuation that not only connects years and days, but life’s moments and events.

 

jp 2016Maurice’s appearance back in December helped raise anticipation for his return. The room was full of local teens, Serenity regulars and a handful of newcomers. A great crowd buzzing for what was to be one of the most diverse shows in the house to date.

JP Maurice took to the stage solo for the first few songs to warm up the room. The depth of his charismatic presence was immediately felt. He emotes this effortless cool you can almost touch. Beginning with a few acoustic tunes, he was then accompanied by regular bandmate Connor Tkach on bass and joined for the first time by The River and the Road drummer Cole George. The chemistry between the three of them was beautiful. The cues were impeccable and above all they had fun together on stage, including a front and center baby mask that Tkach sported for the night’s encore (you had to be there).

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Maurice has a diverse anthology of material to draw from and he provided an eclectic array of music to enjoy. Over the years I have read countless reviews about his performances that often mention the variety of genres he navigates throughout a show. Each song is very much his own, but his ability to switch gears and be completely comfortable and in control from start to finish is inspiring. There is an inherent rush that is experienced when witnessing live music; the connection that can occur between the audience and the artist is special, but also, and sometimes even moreso, are the connections observed on stage between the musicians themselves. As far as this show went, the three of them provided an endless supply of voyeuristic fulfillment. When discussing with bassist Connor Tkach the intricacies of Maurice’s abilities to lead on stage he echoed the sentiment by praising him as “a great maestro.” It’s easy to reference Maurice’s good looks, catchy songs, ease with an audience and musical skill. But what both Tkach and George referred to that caught my eye the most in the night’s performance was his leadership, and the more I think about him as an artist, the term resonates deeper and in a more meaningful way.

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Leadership is somewhat of a personal interest of mine, both in my own career and personal endeavors. Searching for its presence in all corners, levels, systems and relationships has become a quest ripe with discovery. As I begin to view JP Maurice through this lens there are many apparent realities that emerge. When you watch him on stage there is a strong sense of attuned communication and connection; he uses curiosity, openness, acceptance and love of his fellow musicians and for the music itself to fuel his decision making throughout a performance. Maurice displays a participatory leadership style in his approach to music both on stage and behind the scenes as he inspires high quality through shared responsibility. He cares deeply about his relationships with those who have become his extended family of musicians around the world and is making a concerted focus on establishing opportunities to engage and motivate collaborative creativity. With qualities such as this, it is no surprise that he has become somewhat of a central figure within Vancouver’s current music scene.

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One can make an assumption that Maurice makes time for his fair share of fun in a city surrounded by friends all searching for the pursuit of happiness through music. He is currently writing towards the future of a new album, however is not placing any timelines or goals attached to the process thanks to having consistent access to his new studio space at Blue Light Studio in Vancouver.

Over the past month his 2013 solo album The Arborist has been on steady rotation. The track I keep coming back to again and again is “Renegade.” The song begins with the lyric, “I used to think I could change the world // lost my morale when I looked around and saw that nothing changes.” Although the indifferent society he refers to throughout the song still exists in a real sense in many ways, his efforts to embrace internal change and impact broader change around him is extremely present and reflected in his more recent songs, most notably “Big Change” which has been central to his media platforms over the past year.

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Maurice has accepted change as a constant force to embrace rather than fear. When re-reading the piece I wrote about him in December, I see threads of this there, although that was much more of a personal account surrounding a painful and life altering time. Anyone who follows JP Maurice regularly will now know that his mother passed away from cancer on New Year’s Day. He candidly shared this via social media which was followed by countless messages of condolence that poured in showing tremendous support for him and his family. Although appreciated, it is the love and relationships of those closest to him that he values the most, noting how odd it was to hear from people he didn’t know or hadn’t spoken to in years, some of whom made insensitive and uninformed comments that made him rethink the machine of social media all together. As Maurice described, “losing a parent is something no one will understand unless they have experienced it themselves.”

In the spirit of connectivity, it wasn’t until after she had passed that I discovered I knew his mother. She did not share his same last name therefore I had never had a reason to make the connection before. The web of intersections left us both somewhat perplexed, yet also at ease in reverence for what little separates people in the grand scheme of things.

When I got home that night and read the personal notes he had written on his album sleeves, one read “We’re all leaves floating in the wind….from one to the next.” It was something he had said in our conversation reflecting on life and its meaning or lack thereof. Although the all encompassing meaning of life will continue to remain allusive to the collective intelligence, it is night’s spent in the company of music and people such as JP Maurice that challenge the view that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts; the parts are pretty great all on their own.

 

JP Maurice performed at Serenity Performing Arts Centre on January 28, 2016.

Photos courtesy of Shirley de Vooght.

http://www.jpthemaurice.com

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JP Maurice: Part 1

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We can try to control the timing of things, but sometimes you just need to let go. Time is a luxury not all of us have on our side, whether we know it or not.

I wasn’t going to write this, at least not yet. JP Maurice was recently at our venue accompanying another artist. The piece I wrote about that performance didn’t focus on him as I knew he was returning in January for his own show, but our conversation that night was one of the most revealing I’ve experienced. In the days that have followed, words surrounding his story have consumed my journal, and now they arrive here.

JP Maurice’s image and notoriety within Vancouver’s music scene communicate someone larger than life. Although there is much widely known and mused about him and his noteworthy career to date (rise of his band ‘Maurice,’ signed by David Foster’s label, dropped, disbanded, released solo album, rise as a Music BC favourite), there is an element of mystery that remains around his persona.

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I don’t know if it is his musical styling, unyielding sex appeal, or the way in which he is courageously candid, but I couldn’t quite find my footing around him. I felt a little out of my element, not quite sure what was real and what was not. This had less to do with him and more to do with my own perceptions and insecurities.

As we sat down for our one to one conversation, I told him I was somewhat nervous for our chat, as he held this enigmatic aura that I couldn’t quite place. We had connected at this past September’s Harvest Music Festival around the bonfire, he had surprised me then with his quiet demeanor and ease to share with a presence that makes it impossible not to take notice. I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone quite like him. When I tried to describe the series of incarnations around my impressions of him, Maurice smiled and said, “A lot of people tell me ‘I thought you were going to be an asshole’ when they first meet me, I don’t know why.” I don’t know why either, as it only takes a few minutes spent in his company to experience a deeply genuine individual.

The obvious topic that arose was his recent 2nd place win in the final year of BC’s Peak Performance Project which saw him taking home $75,000.00. Days before the finale, a public announcement was made that he had become partner at Vancouver’s Blue Light Studio.

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Serenity Performing Arts Centre owner Shirley de Vooght and I had wondered how this news may alter whether he would still be coming to our small, remote venue. We waited to see if he would show up with the rest of the band scheduled to perform. Not only did he come, but he confirmed the date of his own house show in January that he had previously booked back in September. When we talked about it, he admitted that some people would be advising him not to continue playing shows like this, but that it is important to him to be as authentic as possible and stay true to the places and people who support him and his music.

I watched his finale performance at the Commodore Ballroom online through The Peak’s livestream. What struck me (and many others) was how he chose to showcase a multitude of other musicians and friends on stage. It felt like a culmination of not only that one particular season, but the entire franchise of the project. This makes relative sense for anyone who has followed it closely, as JP Maurice has been a constant presence since he first made the top 20 in 2011. Whether a finalist, a band member of a finalist, or a creative contributor, JP Maurice was an integral part of what made the project so magnetic.

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His placement in the top 3 and ultimate 2nd place finish in the final year said a lot about how the Peak Performance Project has guided him as not only an artist, but as a producer and collaborator. I felt like Maurice was making a statement with his performance as if to say, “Thank you, but don’t expect me to take this just for myself and focus all of my energy on being a solo artist.” To be successful with longevity in the music industry you need to develop as much multi-disciplinary skill and talent as possible, which JP Maurice has dedicated himself to achieving over many years. He has proven that he is not afraid to branch out and capitalize on what is working for him at any given moment.

When we talked about where he saw himself over the long term, Maurice said his ultimate dream was to be a “studio rat” living in LA or Nashville, writing all day, with some small tours performing his own material. (Deacon Claybourne eat your heart out – for any of you Nashville Netflix watching junkies out there).

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What I do know is JP Maurice is an artist who is going to be around the block for the long haul. He has embedded himself in every facet of the industry and is surrounded by many influential players in Vancouver’s music scene. When one takes a look at the musical collaborators, supporters and most importantly friends JP Maurice has in his corner, I’d bet on him any day.

For a guy who seemingly has the world at his finger tips, where the conversation turned from here revealed truths that no one can escape, no matter how successful one might become.

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Over a year ago Maurice’s mother was diagnosed with cancer of the tongue. It was devastating and overwhelming as she went through an intensely invasive surgery that had many worse case scenarios as probable outcomes. She came through much better than predicted with a positive attitude, which ultimately pulled their family together.

Recently, a series of test results diagnosed her at stage 4 with the cancer having now spread to multiple areas of her body.

Maurice revealed the complex reality that now exists for his entire family. For himself, he is facing the most significant personal tragedy of his life while experiencing one of the greatest successes of his professional career, a path with no road map to navigate. Not wanting to become too high or too low, he is intentionally attempting to stay as emotionally neutral as possible.

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He spoke of his close relationship to his sister, who has been his constant confidant and supporter, and how even their connection has been impacted by the emotional strain.

Currently, he feels as though his parents are keeping him at an arm’s length because his mother needs rest. I asked if he thought they were trying to protect him and he wasn’t sure. As a mother, the desire to protect your children from any harm is an instinct impossible to describe. When I imagine what would run through a mother’s mind, a probable possibility is wanting to spare your children from seeing you suffer. One may hope this would be outweighed by the desire to be with them as much as possible, but the state of a consciously dying human being is not predictable, and I can only imagine the most accessible feeling to grasp onto is fear.

He mentioned several times that he has come to terms with it in his own way, and that his focus right now is being strong and stable for his family to try and help his mother see that he can handle it and be there for her and his dad and his sister. “It is not that I am not sad, but I don’t want to grieve her before she is gone. I want to celebrate life with her for as long as she is here.”

I told him this intention was noble, which is the truth, although my heart ached as I pictured the man before me as a boy yearning for his mother.

As he spoke, I was quiet. There were many moments of silence that hung between us as he caught his breathe and his words registered and took hold.

Aside from the empathy I felt for him as a person facing his mother’s terminal illness, which in itself is life altering, I kept wondering how he was sharing any of this at all. I kept thinking to myself, “I could never be this brave.”

I still don’t know if he told me these things because he wanted them written down, or if he just started talking about it without even realizing it.

When we said goodbye I told him I would think of him, which I have often. I have his January show circled on the calendar as a visual reminder of the time frame between what I wonder he will say and what he does.

 

People’s lives are unique, delicate treasures. Every chapter of our stories reveal new depths to the human condition and the never-ending learning that life offers through challenges sometimes too great to understand.

Let love be the light in our darkest days and music be the sound to our most silent of nights.

Yesterday is gone.
Tomorrow has not yet come.
We have only today.
Let us begin.
– Mother Teresa

Part 1 of 2. Part 2 will follow JP Maurice’s live performance at Serenity Performing Arts Centre on January 28, 2016.

 

Photos courtesy of Shirley de Vooght, BC Peak Performance Project and JP Maurice.

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Warm hearts thaw the chill: Benjamin James Caldwell & Jeremy Borschneck sing us into winter

Cold. That is what it feels like these days, winter setting in, temperatures dropping, snow freezing into ice. There is also a coldness in the air in a metaphorical sense; a division of thought, values and basic human rights that has cast a shadow on our world.

Art. In these times of uncertainty, what could be greater to indulge in, to stoke the embers glowing within the hearts of those that are courageous enough to choose creativity as their life’s path.

As always, my soul seeks comfort in the warmth that Serenity creates, a home for those from near and far. The fire lit a blaze, a hot drink upon my lips, arms that embrace, music to take refuge in.

So much of what is ever spoken in this place never makes it to the page. It is the essence of the conversations that remain, the raw humanness beared that I attempt to honour in some way. To try and capture what is gifted, to remember.

Here I write about four men who shared their songs, skills, and stories, all distinctly unique, yet connected.

The plan for this particular night’s show underwent a few alterations before arriving at what came to be. Benjamin James Caldwell and Sam Buckingham had meant to carry the night as part of their Canadian “Reckless With Love” EP Release Tour. When Sam took ill after their first few dates unable to recover from a virus she had previously contracted, Benjamin continued the tour on his own. Even before Sam had left, Jeremy Borschneck had been in touch to request they share the night’s bill in order to fit in a date at Serenity on his winter tour with his friends JP Maurice and Nick Petrowich. Having them all together was as if it was intended to be this way from the start.

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Benjamin James Caldwell opened the evening with a set shrouded with his effervescent charm. Although his accent gives him away, Caldwell is as much Canadian as he is Australian, or any other nationality for that matter. His music, spirit, and ability to see and speak to things about the human condition is far reaching, beyond borders and partisan lines, inviting people to relate to him on a level they identify with. A long-haired bearded country folk singer who surfs and snowboards…he is as malleable as the wind. Your own perspective of the world will place him in whatever context, genre, or mould you see fit. His songwriting is clever, but it doesn’t pigeonhole him to one way of thinking. I had a sense that anyone in the room could be perceiving him in an entirely different way than me.

Whether he is singing about the love of a cigarette, or the love of a woman, his lyrical imagery entertains in its own right. Add his melodies, elements of southern twang, and a persona that has you transfixed, well, this guy is just all the right stuff in my books. He performed a beautiful rendition of Scott Cook’s song “Broke, And So Far From Home.” We discussed our mutal admiration for Scott Cook as a songwriter afterwards, and I told him that besides Cook himself, I had never laughed out loud to song lyrics the way I did during his performance of his song written about a past girlfriend of strong faith who “kept the good book between them.”

On a more serious note, a song of Caldwell’s I have held dear for sometime is “Sweet Redemption,” but it wasn’t until this night that I had heard him introduce it in such a personal way. He shared a simple, yet ultimately effective strategy he’d used to pull himself out of a dark time – he began to say positive things to himself whenever he looked in the mirror. There were 6 local teenagers in the audience as part of our Youth & the Arts outreach initiative. The impact of those few sentences I hoped were internalized, as they were with me, for those struggling to find themselves, find a place where they belong, feel safe, and feel loved. The journey to love oneself can be rife with barriers, but there is not a road more worthy to travel.

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With nothing but a guitar in hand, Caldwell serenaded the crowd and spoke with humour and truth.  JP Maurice mused later in the evening that he felt there is always a hint of sarcasm in everything Ben says and Nick Petrowich jokingly added, “His tongue is always lodged in his cheek.”

I smiled, but to myself I knew this was not true in the purest sense. Sarcastic is not a word I would use to describe the lighthearted spirit of Benjamin James Caldwell. Mockery, ridicule, contempt, scorn, resentment…these are terms that go hand in hand with the true meaning of sarcasm. Playful wit, yes, but there is truth in the eyes and words of this man akin to that of a child. His thoughts flow freely, he is uncensored in a way that is not foolish or irresponsible, but relaxed, welcoming, pleasant. Caldwell has made a life of finding a home in any corner of the world with any person in the room. Such a gift is coveted by many, ultimately those who desire to influence and accumulate power. But when these attributes belong to a human being who has made it his life’s endeavor to create and share, the beauty in this is beyond what can be described.

Jeremy Borschneck’s return to Serenity was an addition welcomed and celebrated. His voice has been cherished since he first took to this stage 2 years ago with his band Willhorse. Forging ahead to carve a new path for himself, although not all in their same roles, the men of Willhorse continue to be in his corner in one way or another.

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Jeremy’s voice has a deep resonance, a guttural tone that communicates much of his dark horse character. Beyond his musical chops, Jeremy Borschneck has eyes that tell a story. They light up when speaking of something that is joyful, and at other times are as black as night, revealing the pain and struggle of an uncertain future we all hold. Words that are not spoken are revealed by a simple gaze.

His prairie roots as a burgeoning young musician took him to Golden BC where he met his future bandmates and lifelong friends that ultimately became Willhorse. Those years writing, recording, and touring together were truly “golden” in many ways. Now he balances his desire to write and perform in a city that will support him creatively, with a yearning to see his son more often and a need to earn a living. At a time when the answers are not clear as to which road to take, he is writing constantly and producing more music than he has in years. With plans to record a solo EP in early 2016, Jeremy Borschneck is going all in, putting his own name on the music and trying to look ahead instead of behind him.

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But he won’t be doing it alone. Although Willhorse may not be the moniker used moving forward, he has built a musical family around him that unquestionably includes these men. He is managed by former Willhorse bassist/manager Todd Menzies and for this tour was joined on stage by long time friend and Willhorse drummer Nick Petrowich. Nick has become sought out by more than a few BC bands, creating quite the juggling act when it comes to rehearsals, gigs and touring. He is everyone’s “number one” choice for a reason. You’ll be hard pressed to find a guy more likeable than Nick. He’s the entire package; kind, fun, talented, reliable, passionate, humble, hardworking. Not to mention he has written a few songs that were standouts as Jeremy’s voice gave life to stories worth telling.

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The multi-faceted JP Maurice played bass for the set, a long time collaborator who produced the Willhorse album and is set to produce Jeremy’s solo EP in the coming months at his new studio in Vancouver. Coming off his big night with the Peak Performance Project Finale at the Commodore Ballroom a few weeks ago, there was plenty to discuss with JP who always seems to have his hand in multiple projects and will be returning to the venue to play a show of his own in January.  I’ll wait until then to focus intently on JP Maurice, a person not easily shaken from one’s consciousness. But what is important to share here is his genuine eagerness to support Jeremy’s endeavor as a solo artist. His chameleon ability to turn off his front man persona and support Jeremy on stage was something to behold. Aside from the pure enjoyment I get from watching Nick Petrowich play drums, I was glued to Jeremy, I watched the way his face changed as he belted out each note and lyric, while JP Maurice put himself in the background. I had watched JP do the same for Rolla Olak this past September at Harvest Fest, as I know he does for countless other artists. What does this say about a man? A whole hell of a lot if you ask me.

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Once the audience had gone home, Benjamin James Caldwell set the stage in the house to film a ‘Moon Mountain Sessions’ music video featuring Jeremy singing one of his new songs, “Caught On Fire.” I didn’t watch the filming, but instead will view it like every other fan, and take in Caldwell’s artistic mind’s eye and the way Jeremy’s voice resonates through the screen.

American scholar and author Brené Brown wrote “You can’t get to courage without walking through vulnerability.”  These men personify this statement and I have carried their courageousness with me ever since. 

Benjamin James Caldwell and Jeremy Borschneck performed at Serenity Performing Arts Centre on December 10, 2015.

 

Photos courtesy of Shirley de Vooght and each of the artist’s image portfolios. 

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Sam Weber LIVE @ Serenity: Fall 2015 Canada Tour

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Last week myself and a few members of the Serenity team arranged for a bus load of high school students to attend Sam Weber’s show at Serenity as part of our youth & the arts outreach initiative. Thanks to our community sponsors, the seats were filled by local teens (and a handful of adults) who were given the experience to escape into the mind and music that is Sam Weber.

There are multiple layers to what this night meant. The first being that Sam was not an obvious choice for our local youth, apart from the similar age demographic.  When he started to play some of the adult chaperones had looks of worry on their faces that his music was not the genre that the youth were “into.” Although at face value this may have been true, it made the importance of them being there even more poignant. For young people growing up in a rural community of 2500 people almost 2 hours from the closest urban centre, this was exposure to authentic arts & culture unlike many of them had ever experienced. Sure the odd kid goofed off during parts of the show, but for the vast majority, they listened with intent, crowded around Sam and the band afterwards asking questions, getting autographs, and acting like they had been given a taste of what is beyond the mountainous tree lines of our small town limits. Even the more introverted of the group who huddled in corners whispering about the night blushed when sharing with me what it had meant to be there, while one of the well known young male athletes in the crowd approached each guy after the show to offer a handshake and a hug.  Without any prompting, Sam gifted each student with a CD, a treasure that will likely pay dividends as they delve into not only his music, but are inspired to discover additional local artists across BC and Canada.

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Sam’s performance was not showy, he didn’t climb out into the crowd or pull anyone onto the stage. There was not a rehearsed factor that dazzled or wowed. For all but a handful of songs, he had his eyes closed when he was singing. Through all of this you might ask, how did the music resonate? How did he connect with the audience? But to truly understand the answers to these questions is the quest to understand Sam Weber and embrace how he approaches music.

The entire night felt like we were voyeurs into a series of intimate moments, as if we were watching Sam and the band play together in their own home, immersing themselves in each song, internalizing every note. All four of the band members have an intense calming presence, where playing music becomes somewhat of a meditative state. To say the night was entertaining doesn’t quite define what it was. But watching how each of their bodies moved, how their faces reacted to the sounds, the tones, the harmonies…it was captivating. They gave everyone the opportunity to go wherever the music took us. We could be there, yet not there, lost to the daydreams and fantasies of our own minds. Yet between each song, Sam was effortlessly present, kind, generous and vulnerable with the audience. He shared his personal feelings and stories that gave everyone a taste of his personality off the stage which is all together sensitive and endearing.

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The few times I have had the privilege of being in Sam’s presence, there is an indescribable feeling of contentment. I have never met someone with an energy that is equal parts innocent and wise. The dichotomy of this plural nature to him as an artist is what sets him apart and defines his uniqueness. He isn’t trying to be an artistic martyr for the masses of his generation, neither is he attempting to divorce himself from the stereotypes of 20-something musicians playing in their parent’s basements. The beauty of Sam Weber is his unequivocal submission to music. Within minutes of seeing him perform you know that no one becomes that talented as a musician without yielding to its every demand. Countless hours of practicing, listening, studying, reading, learning, experimenting, creating, immersing, obsessing, sharing, performing, collaborating, and the list goes on that all continue to repeat themselves as one does when they have dedicated their life to the pursuit of music as art.

Surrounding Sam is his band of equally accomplished musicians who stand shoulder to shoulder with him in his vision. Multi-instrumentalists in their own right, each bring their individual abilities yet above all their devoted friendship to one another.  Hugh Mackie stuck mainly to his impeccable skills on the keys this night, but showcased some of his guitar work and provided the night’s vocal highlights with his beautiful tone that came and went as passing gifts. Bassist Esme John grooved and harmonized while Marshall Wildman on drums provided just enough percussion to satisfy and the most fantastic facial expressions that kept me glued to his corner of the stage. Each and every one of them seemed to be having these distinct experiences while seamlessly connecting with each other.

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Of course at the forefront was Sam himself who for anyone who has read his extensive biography knows that you will be hard pressed to find someone who plays guitar quite like this. Those of us on the Serenity team have all come to acknowledge that Sam doesn’t just play music, he becomes it, they are one in the same. Although somewhat undefinable by genre, he is immediately identifiable as an artist. Serenity owner/operator Shirley de Vooght marvels that Sam has a voice that is distinct, “The moment I hear it I know it’s him. He has his own brand of sound that you can’t manufacture.”

On this night as we listened and watched him experiment, improvise, and invoke new intonations of his songs before our eyes, my heart whispered a repetitive plea, “Never change Sam, never change.” Not in the sense of never evolving creatively of course, but in the spirit of remaining authentic, uncompromising, and free.

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Sam and the band have just wrapped their two month cross-Canada tour, with the focus now on completing the new album to be released Spring 2016. Having heard much of their upcoming material live, I can attest that the themes, expressions and arrangements are primed to take hold of new and established audiences alike.

To get a sense of Sam Weber’s musical styling and personality, click on the link below to check out his 4 part video series “Something Old, Something New, Something Borrowed, Something Blue” and accompanying interviews that were featured this past March by the magnetic bloggers and music enthusiasts Betty and Kora (www.bettyandkora.com).

http://bettyandkora.com/2015/03/11/sam-weber-four-part-video-series-episode-1-something-old/

Here is Part 2 of the video series showcasing a song I hope to see on the new album, ‘I Wander Around in the Dark.’

 

Visit http://www.samweber.me for links to music downloads, social media feeds and more.

Sam Weber performed at Serenity Performing Arts Centre on November 18, 2015.

Photos courtesy of Shirley de Vooght.

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Towers and Trees: “The West Coast” Album Release Tour

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I haven’t written anything in months. Life has been filled with responsibilities that fall beyond the ability to make time to get lost in music.

But that changed a few weeks ago when I was sent the new Towers and Trees album “The West Coast.” I waited a few days before playing it and when I did it ended up becoming my constant companion on a work trip to Bowen Island. I am constantly amazed how certain music arrives in my life at the right time. I know this happens for people all over the world who are attune to listen for it. Somehow whatever we are feeling or going through becomes reflected in certain songs that find us when we need them most.

This was the case with Towers and Trees. Never once have I spoken with a band ahead of their live show out here at the Serenity venue. Until now. I had already explained to their PR company that I didn’t do phone interviews, that I preferred to meet the artists in person. But the more I listened to the album I emailed their rep to say I’d changed my mind.

In the Vancouver airport in front of a majestic totem pole and sky high floor to ceiling windows I spoke to Towers and Trees front man and songwriter Adrian Chalifour from his home in Victoria. In the interest of making sure I caught my flight home, the conversation was brief, but left enough time to express how the album had become somewhat of a friend to me during my time on the coast. The songs challenged me, rattled me and moved me. I always thank artists and express my sincere appreciation for their music. I truly feel that music is a gift to receive and be grateful for; acknowledging what others create is important.

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I only asked Adrian a few questions, but he spoke with such vulnerability and openness. He talked about the journey he had gone through in writing the album which centered around the dissolution of his marriage. I asked him about the relationship between personal and professional growth, and the risks it took to write the album. “I think that as a songwriter as far as what draws me to music is that it is about creating a place to let my guard down,” said Adrian, “I don’t actively think about the risks that I am taking when I am doing it. When we were making this album together, we knew what we were doing was working and that the vulnerability was there. It’s not that there weren’t moments when the band would turn to me and say, “Are you sure you want to say that? Are you sure you actually want to say that person’s name in the chorus?” But the more we came back to it, the personal became universal, the songs that are so personal to me are not just my story now, it is our story, it is anyone’s story.” I appreciated that and felt even more responsibility to be as present as possible for their live show in the coming week.

Singer-songwriter Adrian Chalifour had all but given up on the dream of music. Some of his most intense songs were written during a time when he did not believe that he would ever play music professionally. Yet somehow from despair came hope and possibility. A debut EP that saw national radio play and placing in the 2013 BC Peak Performance Project gave the band some immediate exposure and solid foundation to build off of.

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Flash forward 3 years and Towers and Trees has evolved like all bands do. Following the recording of the album, many of the members moved on to other things and paths in life. But Adrian Chalifour, Dave Zellinsky (guitar) and Jesse Boland (drums, vocals) remained and were determined to rebuild, which included adding James Liira (keys, vocals) and Dave Arter (bass).

Considering the current 5 members have only been playing together for under a year, their collective arrangements and fluidity were breathtaking. Not to mention having not one, not two, but three outstanding vocalists that produce harmonies that knock your socks off.

The 5 men who make up the current compliment are a perfect blend of strong and sweet. Many of the band members got their start playing music in church, a place where they learned that music is not just about making something that sounds nice, it is about communicating, connecting, and invoking feeling. “I was able to be exposed to contemporary music making and also learn how it could be a really spiritual experience and a conduit for a shared experience where you can be vulnerable and real,” Adrian explained. “As I got older, the residue of that remained when it came to creating music, but it was in different places and spaces like bars and clubs.” James Liira echoed the importance of how playing music in church continues to help shape his relationship to music, evenmorso in the wake of graduating from the Victoria Conservatory of Music where he was consumed with theory and the rigors of becoming a professionally trained musician.

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No matter one’s personal belief system, there can be no denying that music speaks to our innermost selves, the souls of who we are as human beings. The songs that move us to tears or get us dancing with joy connect us to the purest sense of who we are.

Without question Towers and Trees are achieving what they have set out to do; connect with people through music.

Their album “The West Coast” has quickly become a mainstay on my stereo. Choice tracks include: West Coast, a true breath of fresh air that creates a sonic landscape and beautiful imagery; Bad Heart, watching them perform this live was an incredible experience. The song showcases Adrian’s impeccable vocal range and emotional depth while stretching the musicianship and breadth of sound this band is capable of; Hearts On Fire, the last track on the album ends things off in a heartfelt way, with a sense of hope and embracing what could be.

 

Towers and Trees are currently touring BC and Alberta until Saturday. November 21, 2015. Check http://www.towersandtreesmusic.com for links to their tour dates, music, social media feeds and more.

Towers and Trees performed at Serenity Performing Arts Centre on November 14, 2015.

Photos courtesy of Shirley de Vooght and Steve Mechem.

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Harvest Music Festival 2015

Meaningful (adjective): Expressing an emotion or idea without words; having real importance or value (Merriam-Webster Dictionary).

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Upon reflection of the second annual Harvest Music Festival, what needs to be shared is that the entire event was meaningful in its vision, preparations and experience. You see, this festival has meaning beyond having fun, promoting music or making money (heaven forbid). What is at the heart of this venue and the festival is an intention to create a space where people can come, be unburdened, feel accepted, and immerse themselves in music that will help nurture their soul. From this perspective, people who crave and appreciate this way of thinking have been drawn to be here, musicians that play here come back again and again, and in time we are slowly building not just an audience, but a community.

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Harvest Fest is the culmination of a year of humble house concerts with artists playing to a room of anywhere from 5-40 people that builds towards a weekend of hundreds camping on the acreage and being together in music.

There were thoughts that hung in the air wondering whether the second year could recreate the magic of the first. But nothing is ever recreated, it is always something new, something fresh. This year, there were different bands and more people, many of which were first time visitors to the venue.

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When asked to describe Serenity, time and time again most say something along the lines of “it feels like home.” This is simply because it is a home. To have a music venue such as this built on private property and continually improved and expanded with the care that Shirley de Vooght provides is remarkable.

Of course, among the picturesque surroundings of the river, mountains, creek, and acreage grounds, at the end of the day people come for the music.

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Friday night was kicked off by road warrior Windborn (aka one man band Jeff Pike). Previously based out of Kelowna and then the Kootenays, Windborn is barely in one place for long. Constantly touring and creating a stir wherever he lands, there was little question Windborn would open the festival considering his close ties to Serenity and his role in the creation of the event itself. Since last year’s festival Windborn has released a new live-off-the-floor album entitled ‘Calm in Chaos’ that is a fantastic piece of work that emulates his live show to a tee, which for someone like Windborn is huge feat and a gift to his entrenched fan base across many of BC and Alberta’s small town pockets where he tours regularly. Thanks goes to Windborn for starting things off in his eclectic, powerful and mesmerizing style.

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Rolla Olak was up next with his 4 piece rock band compiled of some of Vancouver’s most sought out musicians – Nick Petrowich (drums), Andrew Rasmussen (keys) and JP Maurice (bass/guitar). Rolla is a hands down favourite of many of the venue’s regulars and his set was definitely one that had a fair amount of hype surrounding it. The key to Rolla’s sound and presence is that it is both nostalgic and fresh. He connects with those who have a heart for classic rock, but relates to new generations seeking music that resonates to your core. Rolla’s entire vibe is intoxicating, he has this way of putting everyone he meets at ease and making you feel instantly relaxed and chill. Even though he is playing full board rock’n’roll, he still maintains that ability to connect and remain authentic to himself on stage. This is a gift. Rolla and his band brought the rock and a healthy amount of sex appeal to the first night which, let’s be honest, what’s a music festival without either.

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Cod Gone Wild closed out Friday night in their high energy, wild, audience rousing style. My goodness does this band know how to get people on their feet. What struck me instantly about Cod’s set was how they have solidified their live performance; it was seamless from start to finish. They move from song to song with such grace and power, yanking at heartstrings while amping it up for dance numbers. Live shows are well-crafted and practiced art forms that Cod Gone Wild has mastered. Not to mention that the band almost played two full sets; they were on fire.  The biggest surprise for many Cod fans was that long standing fiddle player Anjuli Otter recently left the band to get married and move to Saskatchewan. Although this changed the dynamic of their on stage show (most notably her constant banter with lead singer Andrew Mercer), newly acquired Sue Aylard blew our socks off with her impeccable talent and massive solos that had everyone cheering. The fact that they have not even had a full practice together since Sue joined the band is a testament to her abilities. The traditional elements and celtic folk stompin’ beats brought by Cod Gone Wild confirmed that this festival is one hell of party.

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Saturday arrived with early morning dense fog and a chill in the air. The weather was perfect by the way. Hot days to lay in the sun on a blanket and cool nights to cozy around the bonfire and then snuggle up in your campsite with loved ones. Yoga was offered on the field by audience member and trained instructor Stefanie Hendrickson from Williams Lake. The Children’s Art Garden sponsored by Success By 6 provided activities including chalk art, playdough, wand/dance ribbon making, face painting and drawing. People “recovered” from the night before by relaxing in their camp sites or taking in the beauty of the concert grounds. New friends were made and old friends re-connected, it was a day to relax and prepare for what the late afternoon and evening had in store.

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The Lion The Bear The Fox kick-started Saturday’s line-up which was a genius albeit questioned choice for venue owner/operator Shirley de Vooght. The fact is this band is near and dear to the venue. They are hands down local favourites and have a personal connection with Shirley and the team that rivals most. Their placement in the day-time lineup surprised a few people, including themselves as Ryan McMahon chose to joke about on stage. But it was the perfect choice. The intention behind them opening Saturday’s lineup was simple; they are the band that will get things started, bring people out of their campsites, and get the day goers here on time; no one wants to miss The Lion The Bear The Fox. And rightfully so. These guys kill it every time. The energy, chemistry, harmonies, songwriting, and plain hilarity on stage between Christopher Arruda (keys/vocals), Cory Woodward (guitar/vocals), and Ryan McMahon (acoustic guitar/vocals) made them an instant festival favourite. You just can’t not love these guys. I hope they felt that their set time made sense in the end, and that they experienced a connection with the audience that was most definitely felt, because there continues to be no one like them and they set the bar high for the rest of the day.

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Prairie Dance Club is full of heart. These guys haven’t played many shows in the past year due to bandmate Jeremy Friesen dealing with some serious health issues, but thankfully things have turned a positive corner and he was looking incredible this weekend. We have been thinking of him and his family a lot and were overjoyed to see him and the band together bringing their roots rock sound to the festival. They have been one of venue owner Shirley de Vooght’s favourites since she first heard them play a few years ago. Their set was one of the only times Shirley took a break all weekend; she indulged in the show and danced on the grass with friends. If that isn’t a solid endorsement I don’t know what is.

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Damn Fools. My goodness these guys are smoldering. Their set was one of the most memorable of the weekend. During their performance the weather was deciding whether it was going to deliver a massive thunder storm, it eventually held off, but during their show the wind blew and a few rain drops began to fall. You couldn’t have planned it, but for their finale they played their song “Storm” with a climatic ending that echoes “There’s a storm that’s coming” and at that exact moment the wind blew in massive gusts, blowing the curtains every which way on the stage; it was an epic, goosebumps inducing moment. The guitar riffs from Andrew Twining and Alex Gordon-Firing were insane as usual. They just nailed it. Lead singer Mike Twining did what he does best and completely owned the stage. He gives everything he has up there, and performs his heart out for each song. These guys will always have our hearts here at the venue for re-arranging their schedules at the last minute to be here this past spring to perform as a celebration for venue owner Shirley de Vooght’s end of cancer treatment. You will be hard pressed to find another group of rock’n’roll heart throbs as down to earth and kind-hearted than Damn Fools.

11781654_10153612964228428_9202266160577566469_n12017670_1123927697635464_4263670791380048323_o12032793_838215576298625_1796650741286991151_oGreg Drummond. So much to say, so little space. To try and place what Greg and his band have come to mean to this venue is challenging to do in a few sentences, but I will say this, without question they have become like family. They have reached a status with venue owner Shirley de Vooght that they know they can play here anytime. She jokes they will have a gig here until they are too big to play here anymore. It was a special night for the band as it was drummer Alanna Pearce’s return show after traveling the past few months in South America and we couldn’t have been more thrilled that she made it back just in time. Multi-instrumentalist Michael Lothian was ever the master on stage, with major kudos going to him pulling an accordion save when the audio for his keyboard failed for the song “Heaven or Hell,” where he holds an important instrumental melody. They brought with them yet another guest bassist (the running joke is every time they come they bring a different bass player), but Alex was lovely and fit in seamlessly. Finally, Mike Meroniuk continues to dazzle with his guitar and mandolin solos that literally leave me in a trance every time. He is so damn good. Having them close out the night was special on many levels. For one thing, a large portion of the crowd were hard and fast fans who were singing along to most of Greg’s songs which always adds to a performance. But what set Greg apart was the ease in which he went with the flow of the night. He joked with the crowd, made personal anecdotes, and brought people into the performance in a way that is so inviting and makes you feel like you know him even if you don’t. A highlight of the entire festival was the moment he invited artist Cassandra Dolen on stage. She had begun to belt out her angelic voice from the audience, and he didn’t hesitate to bring her up and showcase her talent for the crowd. Cassandra generously donates her original paintings to the festival’s silent auction and last year she became a fireside legend from her soulful tones and incredible range. Greg honoured her and us with this spontaneous duet. Following his set, Greg kick started an all artist jam on stage where they knocked out some killer blues and closed out the night in full celebratory fashion.

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After a late night around the bonfire for many listening to the jams of a crew of talented musicians, Sunday started out with This Old Ghost Town from Kelowna consisting of Billy Harrison (vocals/guitar), Daryl Haugan (drums/vocals), and Dan Jones (bass guitar). They were spry with the energy of a new band. Haughan spoke to the audience throughout their set with flare. Their sound had a unique folk quality. It will be interesting to see where they take the band in the coming year.

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The best surprise of the festival for me was special guest Joal Kamps and his wife Lauren. Their appearance Sunday morning was a breath of fresh air. Joal is such a seasoned performer and knows exactly how to connect with an audience. The new development of playing a few duets with Lauren was a sweet dose to the morning lineup. They have a beautiful presence together and Joal’s lyrics had the perfect blend of touching and insightful. My friend beside me and I were moved to tears more than once, the tune“Be Gentle” had this tender edge that got me hook, line and sinker.

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Doug Koyama, oh Dough Koyama. There is so much to say about this man. He not only took on the gate all weekend, but he helped in any way he could. I saw him perform a few weeks prior in Kelowna which had reminded me what a special artist he is. Creating completely improvised songs using a loop pedal, it is easy to become mesmerized by his abilities. He has made brave choices in both his art and his life. I have a great deal of respect and reverence for the journey he has chosen, which is by no means easy. I hope that Doug will remain a mainstay of the festival, it is hard to imagine it without him.

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The morning carried on with a series of jams from both the artists and the audience. Highlights included the combination of Windborn (kick drum/guitar/vocals), Daryl Haugan (kick drum/vocal), Nils Loewen on cello, Dan Loewen (guitar/vocals) and Mike Meroniuk on mandolin. A standout was audience member Trista Algar, the teen and great niece of artist Cassandra Dolen. Trista got up there like a pro with her guitar in hand and blew the socks off the crowd with her soft voice that hit every note with ease as she sang some beauties like “Blackbird” by The Beatles (her cover was right up there with Sarah McLachlan’s version).

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After the music was said and done and people packed up their campsites and made their rounds to say goodbye, there was a feeling left in the air that this is just the beginning, the beginning of a special tradition of sorts, that only a few hundred people each year are ever going to get to experience. Shirley has made the conscious choice to cap tickets at 400. She intentionally wants to preserve the intimate, safe, family-friendly and home-like feel to the festival. It has been two weeks and already over 100 tickets are sold for next year. You better believe she has started something, so if you want to be part of it, or if you are even a little bit curious what could be so special about a place that motivates someone like me to devote hours in the middle of the night to write about it, then I hope you get on the list quick, because it will soon be too late.

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On the Monday morning following the festival I shared a moment with a friend after dropping our kids off at school. As our conversation unfolded, she began to thank me for introducing her and our tight knit circle to this “magical” place, she said “I never want to stop going to Serenity. When I am there, sitting on a blanket with my kids listening to the music, I feel like the person I want to be; relaxed and free of anxiety and worry.” In the words of Shirley, “that is quite simply the Serenity intention.” And so it is, so it is indeed.

The 2nd annual Harvest Music Festival happened on September 11-13 at Serenity Performing Arts Centre. Tickets are on sale and going fast for next year.

Click on the links below to check out the homepages of this year’s incredible lineup of artists.

http://www.gregdrummond.com

http://www.damnfoolsmusic.com

http://www.mattblaismusic.com

http://www.prairiedanceclub.com

http://www.thelionthebearthefox.com

http://www.codgonewild.com

http://www.rollaolak.com

http://www.windborn.ca

http://www.thisoldghosttown.com

http://www.joalkamps.com

http://www.koyama.bc.ca

http://www.facebook.com/Cassandradolen.ca

Festival photos courtesy of Steve Mechem, Cassandra Dolen, Shirley de Vooght and Judy Tidball.

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Woodhaven Concert Series in Kelowna: Scott Cook and Doug Koyama

It has been over a week since I saw Doug Koyama and Scott Cook perform in Kelowna. It was a show announcement that pleasantly caught me off guard leading up to my planned visit to the area over the course of that week. They performed on the grounds of the Woodhaven Eco-Culture Centre on the Woodhaven Nature Conservancy, a unique Eco-Art partnership formed by the Regional District of the Central Okanagan and the University of British Columbia (UBC-Okanagan) Faculty of Creative and Critical Studies.  It was part of a week long concert series that was a pilot project led by local artists who are working to expand the use of the space for artistic offerings in the community.

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The night was surprisingly special, not only because I attended the show with both one of my oldest and closest friends and a brand new one, but because the space was completely inspired. I love the possibility that this place holds for music.

I made a point to be there because of who was performing. I try to see artists who have played at my local venue (Serenity Performing Arts Centre) elsewhere when I can.  Both Doug Koyama and Scott Cook have ties to Serenity that venue owner Shirley de Vooght has every intention to continue strengthening.

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I met Doug Koyama last year at Serenity’s first annual Harvest Music Festival. Doug had been invited by one of the headlining artists and he ended up fitting in immediately with our cozy crowd. Besides his helpful nature, Doug famously led many of the bonfire sing-alongs and gave a memorable performance on the festival’s last day on the stage during the all-bands jam sessions. The timing of this show was perfect because Doug is set to return to Serenity for our second annual festival in just a few days.

I came without a preconceived idea of what to expect from Doug’s set, although fully knowing that is part of the point when it comes to his improvisational performance style. I was immediately reminded about how special this man is, both in talent and in soul. What kept going through my head while he was performing was, “This is really brave.” In so many ways I feel that Doug’s music is a genuine reflection of how he lives his life; spontaneous, colourful, present, surprising, unpredictable, inspired, and fun. I couldn’t stop smiling throughout his set, taking in the joy he was experiencing while creating and sharing with us, and feeling happy to know that he was going to return to my neck of the woods very soon.

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The night had an extra dose of sentimentality learning that Doug Koyama and Scott Cook are good friends who have known each other from being on the road attending many of the same music festivals over the years. Scott Cook remarked that Doug has been somewhat of a mentor to him which was touching and kind.

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Scott Cook and his band the Second Chances played a night of music that made me feel as if I had been transported to the Louisiana bayou on a warm summer’s night. His catchy melodies, smooth deep voice, and master storytelling combine to provide an overall experience that is pure enjoyment. Scott had his mainstay banjo player Bramwell Park by his side, whose talent is immense and brings both a crisp yet gentle and lovely sound to the music.  Lindsay Woolgar was on the upright bass after only meeting Scott 4 days prior (kudos to Lindsay for doing a fine job indeed filling in for Melissa Walker who was participating in the Peak Performance Project with her other band Two Bears North). Lindsay added much heart to Scott’s existing charm.

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Watching Scott Cook perform is just plain fun. He has this timeless appeal and quality to his style; incredibly accessible and humble, while establishing an on stage persona that doesn’t miss a beat. He is a polished performer who knows how to engage an audience and brings you in as much as possible. Scott does not shy away from politics, judgments, or opinions in his songs. A true globetrotting musician, his vast knowledge of the world and ability to manage himself within the context of his ideals equates to a thought provoking folk singer/songwriter. As I melted into my chair and became more and more drawn in to the tales he was spinning through his music, the songs from the frogs and the crickets became the backdrop as the night went on. It was beautiful.

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I picked up his new album at the end of the show. Some people might say that an album cover and inside jacket might not mean anything, but when Scott Cook releases a record blanketed by a personal photo album of him and his friends at a park playing ‘Beersbie’ complete with the game instructions inside, you better know you’ve found someone special.

Choice tracks from ‘Scott Cook and the Long Weekends Go Long’: “Will the Circle Be Unbroken?”: a hilarious take on the after-show sing-a-long music festival experience of a seasoned artist; “I Live Down Here”: co-written with Raghu Lokanathan with a well-crafted political message at its core (ignited by the Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline), this song has a melody that is hard to beat; “While the Party’s Still Going”: a sweet folk tune that gives you a glimpse into the heart and mind of this balladeer.

Scott Cook and Doug Koyama performed as part of the Woodhaven concert series at the Woodhaven Eco-Culture Centre in Kelowna, BC on August 27, 2015.

Scott Cook is currently on a North American tour.  Visit http://www.scottcook.net for tour dates, links to music, social media feeds and more.

Doug Koyama can next be seen at the Serenity Harvest Music Festival in Birch Island just outside Clearwater BC on September 11-13.  He currently has a ‘gofundme’ campaign to assist him in joining Vancouver painter Paula Nishikawara in Berlin to participate in an event that combines music and art in a co-creative format.   Visit http://www.gofundme.com/ThenwetakeBerlin to learn more about this amazing opportunity that you can support and receive some incredible gifts in return and visit http://www.koyama.bc.ca to learn more about Doug’s music and himself as an artist.  

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