Ryan McMahon

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Disclaimer: This is not a review, because it would be callously unfair to write a review or even refer to this as a complete piece when I was unable to stay for the entire show. This was a first for me due to the fact that I brought my young children who needed to get home to their beds so I could remain a somewhat responsible (albeit effortlessly cool) mother.

So why write anything at all? Because Ryan McMahon is so fucking dynamic that’s why. Award for “First curse word in a piece” goes to you Ryan.

Seriously though, there is enough entertainment value in 5 minutes watching this guy then I have seen others attempt in an entire night.

To see someone so passionate about their art that it translates to this electrifying, intense, bursting-at-the-seams energy is an experience in itself. It also helps that he has one of the tightest voices you can hear live. His pitch, tone and volume are on point every time and his ability to change everything within one song for emotional effect is incredible.

It is also worth mentioning that Ryan is among those few people who look better the closer you get to them in proximity. I kept thinking, “Isn’t he older than me with more kids than me? Why does he look 10 years younger than me, like seriously, who has skin that perfect?” Perhaps for him, making music is his own fountain of youth (or fantastic genetics, either one).

A warning however. Anyone who is faint of heart or who clearly cannot take a joke at their own expense must be prepared at a Ryan McMahon house concert. He is ruthlessly sarcastic and lives up to his moniker “The Fox” from his highly acclaimed 3 piece band; he is quick, sly and ready to bite at any moment. He creates this chaotic energy that makes you want to punch him or hug him, preferably at the same time. But this is what makes up the entertainment value of his artistry. He puts it all out there. He is ready to embarrass himself just as easily as anyone else, and isn’t afraid to show every facet of human emotion.

His performance calibre aside, Ryan McMahon is a master songwriter. He has the ability to write a chorus that you can sing along to within seconds of hearing it and makes you wonder why it isn’t a chart topping hit. The man is one of BC’s true artistic treasures. I could go on and on about his charity work, family ideals, writing and producing credits and the much anticipated The Lion The Bear The Fox upcoming tour. Without a doubt, as I drove away at the mid-show break, my heart sank knowing I was going to be missing one hell of a second set.

Ryan McMahon performed at Serenity Performing Arts Centre on May 14, 2015.

Visit http://www.ryanmcmahon.com for music, bio, links to social media feeds and more.

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JJ Shiplett: Something To Believe In…

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Two weeks is a long time to wait to write a piece…even for me. There are many reasons why it has taken this long to put words to JJ Shiplett’s most recent visit to this back road venue, but the only one that matters in the context of JJ himself is the trickiest to explain.

You see, JJ Shiplett is a star. He was the moment he arrived on the doorstep of this humble home-turned music venue. After each subsequent show here, this reality has only become clearer and sunken in that much deeper.

Serenity matriarch Shirley de Vooght knew it the moment she heard his voice. His initial producer, mentor, and friend Ryan McAllister has known it for as many years as he has known him. Every fan he has garnered has also come to believe this to be true. The only person who didn’t know it was JJ himself.

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This past visit, I saw something in JJ that I had not seen previously. His talent was always there of course, but his charming Canadian self-deprecation was no act. But this time, he was beaming from within. There was a lightness about him that exposed a sense of hope and wonder that had not been present before. Not that he was ever overly serious, but I always had a sense that he was waiting to succeed at failure. Not now. Maybe it took a certain someone, or even a certain amount of time to see what everyone else has been telling him for so long; that the ‘something to believe in’ he has been belting his heart out about for years is right there in the mirror.

I don’t know what the future holds, none of us do. But as sure as the sun rises and sets, a good sounding voice and some well written songs never goes out of style, and JJ Shiplett has that locked down solid.

Be sure to find yourself at any show you can get to in coming months, and don’t miss his performance at this year’s Calgary Folk Music Festival, July 23-26, 2015.

JJ Shiplett performed at Serenity Performing Arts Centre on April 11, 2015.


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Scott Cook & The Second Chances

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What is there to say about Scott Cook which has likely not already been said? For an artist who has circled the globe more than once touring and performing his music steadily over the past 7 years, it seems a tremendous feat to put words to what he has accomplished as an independent artist and be somewhat original.  I can speak to what I experienced as an audience member here at Serenity Performing Arts Centre, one of the countless shows he has performed to a multitude of venues and crowds.

Scott Cook gives the impression of a man who has gotten to know himself quite well and is suited to who he is just fine. He is casually charming and confident without a hint of bravado. Serenity’s venue owner Shirley deVooght judges the character of the artists she books almost as highly as their musical talent, and Scott Cook’s name has come up often in both categories since he last played here 3 years ago.


Joined by his acoustic band mates The Second Chances consisting of Bramwell Park on banjo, guitar and harmony vocals, and Melissa Walker on upright bass and harmonies, Scott Cook serenaded the room with songs that told tales with intricacy and wit, while the trio delivered fluent musicianship with exquisite timing.

A touch of whimsical nature lies within the heart of this vegabond songwriter. There is an undeniable twinkle in his eye that tells of adventures had and lessons learned. If one was to do the math his age is easily placed, but he possesses a sly youthful gaze that omits a Peter Pan-like energy which is dazzling and interesting to say the least. But one should expect nothing less from a man whose voice can breeze right through you like a warm summer wind and beckon down into the depths of the most hardened of hearts. With hands as strong as oak, they brushed over his guitar with the softness and quickness of a hummingbird’s wings. I delighted in the show from start to finish.

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When you can sit back in the comfort of a venue that treats both its performers and audience with the warmest of hospitality and kindness, every show becomes its own unique experience and beautiful memory. Reflecting on Scott Cook’s performance, it was the details in the stories of his songs that he delivered with both sincere intention and a healthy dose of fun that truly stood out.

He mentioned the network of house concert opportunities he has had the pleasure of connecting himself with over the years and how these shows have kept him afloat in the sea of bars and less-than-appealing “gigs” he has had to endure in order to keep himself employed as a full time musician. It is the connection that house concerts breed that I imagine is a desirable and gratifying experience for any artist, but not all can win over a room with as much ease and talent as Scott Cook.

From the looks of his website, Scott Cook never stops. After only being back in Canada for a few weeks following his 3 month tour in Australia, Scott Cook is globe trotting yet again as he embarks on a UK tour running from April 24 – June 14, 2015. When he returns he will head right into a North American tour with his full electric band The Long Weekends for their album release “Scott Cook & The Long Weekends Go Long.”

Fellow Canadian artist and touring musician Jeff Pike from Windborn was here on a mid-tour stop with his family to take in Scott Cook’s show and said, “I’ve never come across a musician who has lyrically nailed the musician’s life so perfectly.” It’s no surprise that Scott has an unending number of musicians that rally to his side in each corner of the world (including his home-away-from-home Taiwan) to accompany him on stage. From a constant touring schedule, to designing his own album art, to writing personal essays to share with his fans, this Edmonton-based artist is one of a kind.

Choice highlights: “When We’re Back Around” – the tender-hearted lyrics coupled with the melodies of the band sparked something special; “The Bus Song” – it is a safe assumption that this tune is enjoyed by most as a quick witted tale with a Johnny Cash flare; “The Lord Giveth (and the Landlord Taketh Away)” – because who doesn’t dig a song about sticking it to “the man.”

Scott Cook & The Second Chances performed at Serenity Performing Arts Centre on April 9, 2015.

Visit http://www.scottcook.net for news, tour dates, music downloads and more.

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Ryan McAllister: Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue…

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Ryan McAllister, what a treat. Truly, he is an artist to be reckoned with. The once front man of a high profile Canadian rock band on the rise, his resolve to lead a life centered around family, faith and music is something to behold. As only he could attest, choices that ultimately forced a life of fame and fortune out of reach in turn provided him with opportunities to carve a path that has brought him tremendous fulfillment. Although he jokes about what could have been, he does so with an air of understanding of what it would have meant if it had.

On a hand crafted stage in the heart of a home bursting with love and friendship, Ryan proved that music lives. It lives in the stories he so effortlessly shared through his songs and words with the audience. It lives in the notes of his multiple guitars he switched over through the course of the night. It lives in the way we took in every word, every note, every tone, to get lost in the web he weaved. Ryan McAllister is beloved by this venue and his presence only solidified the force this place has created among music enthusiasts. His genius songwriting and quick wit has earned him a place in the hearts of all who have come to call Serenity home. As he embarks on the development of a new album, along with a much anticipated visit to Africa to record with a village of children in efforts to raise awareness and funds to build infrastructure to support their future, Ryan McAllister has embraced a life of endless possibilities coupled with a healthy dose of uncertainty and self-doubt. He is honest, humble, hilarious, and most importantly, has really great hair. What more can you ask for?


His debut independent album is entitled “Music For a Rainy Town,” and the following are a few of my choice tracks: “Bell Tower”: Hauntingly beautiful, this song reminds me of lost love and a darkness of the heart that is hard to shake; “This Black Heart”: A pop-like tune with a chorus that is catchy and resonates instantly; “I Believe”: This feel-good track written for his wife lifts the spirit in hopes of what love can feel like.

Ryan McAllister performed at Serenity Performing Arts Centre on March 6, 2015.

Visit http://www.ryanmcallister.com for links to his social media feeds, music downloads and more. Check out Ryan’s other music project, his critically acclaimed band North Country Gentlemen at http://www.northcountrygentlemen.com

To learn more about Ryan’s world as a music producer, visit his Five Acres studio in Abbotsford, BC. http://fiveacresmusic.tumblr.com/

Ryan’s bandmate and good friend Jeremy Friesen is an incredible musician and person who has been dealt a mighty obstacle and it would mean a lot to Ryan and the entire Serenity team for you to provide your support. http://www.youcaring.com/medical-fundraiser/help-the-friesen-family/309568

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Cory Woodward: “Bear”

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Two weeks ago my aunt went into the hospital. She was suffering with the advanced stages of liver disease. We thought we had lost her, but after four days in a coma she woke up and hope was renewed.

I attended Cory’s show during those days of miracles.  I remember his music filled my swelling heart. His voice was like an answer to prayer, and his stories of love and redemption seemed like signs of what could be.  He was a testament to the power of love and how it transforms. Like people witness to their faith, Cory witnesses to love, pure and simple.  He has wonderful stories, and if you get yourself to a show you will be sure to hear them. But I am not going to share them here. I know I should, because that is what I am supposed to write about, him as an artist and his performance. But I can’t. Because he is not who I thought about when I listened to his songs tonight, the first time I have allowed myself to truly “listen” to music in almost a week.

The day after his show I found out the doctors had given my aunt 3-10 days to live. Everything we had started to believe in was shattered. All interventions were stopped and she was moved to palliative care.

Cory’s show haunted me. I did not want to listen to the music that had filled me with hope, and I feared what it may force me to face now, or more accurately, to feel.

I spoke to my aunt last night. I heard her voice and saw her face. She even smiled and laughed a little. I received an email this morning from her husband, my uncle. It was only a few lines, thanking me for some words I had written about her that my mother had forwarded on to him and my cousins. They have been reading them aloud to her over the past few days. In his last line he wrote, “I was so very lucky to have met and married her. She means everything to me.” His words hung in the air like a weight I couldn’t move.

I went to my music library, opened Cory’s album “Bear” and pressed play. The tears came instantly as I knew they would. I hadn’t cried until that very moment. Each song seemed to tell the story of my aunt’s life. The songs and his voice held me and my fears of letting her go.

Tonight I forced myself to try and write about the show, but what I wrote were the first lines in this piece.

I can’t remember the details of Cory’s performance, the stories behind his music or our conversation that night. His songs are no longer his, they are hers.

I don’t know if I should be apologizing for this, it is hardly a “review” in any certain   terms.  But this is all I have to give, and it might be the most I ever will.

mary lou 2 Dedicated to my beloved aunt, Mary Lou Smith. 

To hear and download Cory Woodward’s new EP “Bear” visit http://www.corywoodward.com

To stay up to date on his tour dates and other music news, “like” his Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/cory.woodward

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Jon Bryant: A year later…


Expectation. It can teach you a lot about yourself. What we expect of ourselves, and what we expect from others are reminders of what we seek and desire, but can also bring us to a place of acceptance of what we can and cannot control.

Last weekend, Jon Bryant returned to Serenity one year after his first show at the venue. His previous show had been high energy. Jon had been met with a lively crowd, he fed off this, brought people up on stage, and the night ended up feeling like one big party.

On this night, I entered the house to find a quiet crowd, all nestled in their seats, or sinking into them for that matter. It was a relatively small group, but considering the venue hosts house concerts, this is par for the course.

Jon took to the stage, sat down and greeted the audience with a soft and gentle presence. Immediately, the expectation I had in my mind was challenged and I had to switch gears instantly. Fortunately, I responded to the subdued nature of the show, as it had been one of those nights I could have stayed home curled up in my pajamas. Jon later told me he felt the same way. I had made a commitment to be there, and I always take something away from a show. For Jon, it was much the same, he had made a commitment to us and was here to honour that.

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What we often forget as an audience is what it takes both physically and emotionally for an artist to get up on stage and perform, even on the days they feel 100%, but much more so on the days when they do not.

Jon Bryant had spent the last week in the studio, recording tracks for his next album. He hadn’t planned any shows other than ours around this time because he knew he would be exhausted and drained from his time in the studio. He literally walked out of the studio and drove 5 hours to perform for a handful of people in a living room.

After the show I pulled him aside to catch up. Much to the surprise of many artists, I don’t prepare any questions and I never write anything down. My approach to these pieces is simple. I experience the show, and then I attempt to engage in a natural conversation with the artist. Sometimes that conversation flows instantly and can last for hours, other times it doesn’t and is more of a brief chat. Either way, it is authentic, because I want it to be reflective of real life.

For Jon on this night, it was clear that the days leading up to his trip here had taken their toll. He was tired, but there was something else; disappointment, uncertainty, I couldn’t tell, and I didn’t pry. If the energy had been different there were a lot of questions I would have asked that crossed my mind but the moment just didn’t seem right. I trust my instincts with this now. Sometimes the artists are ready to dig deep into anything, sometimes they aren’t.

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Here’s what I will say. Jon came to us at a time of transition. He has just come through an intense artist development competition (BC’s Peak Performance Project), is starting to record a new album, is in a new relationship, and is relocating to a new city. He is an artist with a big heart, and I could feel all of these things weighing on it. Not necessarily in a bad way, there is an element of excitement and anticipation attached to change, but as we all know it also comes with a healthy dose of anxiousness and unpredictability.

When I returned home after the show, I felt a strong pull to go back to his early recordings.  For the past week I have been listening to Jon’s debut album, “Two Coasts For Comfort.” Interestingly, I didn’t respond to it following the first time seeing him perform, whereas his 2012 release “What Takes You” has been on steady rotation in my home ever since. However, I have a new found reverence for his early material amid a time when he is looking to move forward. “Deaf” is one of the most beautiful songs that I have emotionally connected to in a long time. I keep going back to it day after day. There is something about it that breaks my heart but also fills me with hope. “Texas Tea” has this killer intro and a chorus that has me singing along to every word.

I have been reflecting on how songs begin to take on new meanings for artists after years of sharing them with an audience and experiencing new things in life. A love song that was so personal at one time can turn into something else entirely. Comparing how he performed certain songs a year later in terms of tempo, volume, and intensity of their delivery completely changed how they were received and interpreted as an audience. There were a few songs I barely recognized even though I know he performed them last year and I have listened to them countless times on his record. These moments reminded me of the true artistry of singer/songwriters, who continue to experiment with music they create in order to discover new layers and express themselves in different ways.

Ironically, as I was sensing this overwhelming time of change, Jon shared it was his birthday the day before. Interesting. In the spirit of new beginnings, here’s to a year filled with inspirations that fuel the spirit of this artist whose songs speak truths that are felt near and far. Happy (belated) Birthday Jon.

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Jon Bryant performed at Serenity Performing Arts Centre on January 24, 2015 (no, he did not perform in our venue’s custom built igloo, although something to consider for a future show.).



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How do you describe a feeling or experience? Okay, well obviously with words. But words just don’t cut it sometimes. This might be why corporations have made up slogans like “Generation Image” because we now rely so heavily on visual time capsules to immortalize each and every moment for us to relive over and over again.

With this blog, my attempt to find the words to place what I experience at live music shows is done to help solidly imprint them into the most precious vault there is, my mind.

Don’t get me wrong, I love photos, and, big surprise, I keep an avid journal, but I see these things as the necessary tools for keeping my visual memory in top form, because second to the experience itself, nothing beats closing your eyes and remembering it.

People often ask what prompted me to start writing about the shows I attend at Serenity Performing Arts Centre. To be honest, it just sort of happened. I write about a lot of things that I observe, experience or feel, and the shows just started to become a part of that narrative. But unlike the majority of my writing that I do strictly for my own therapeutic purposes, I started to see that there may be value in sharing my reflections on what was happening at Serenity, primarily to raise awareness about the uniqueness of the venue and also to showcase the caliber of artists performing there.

As for my opinions about the music, I have said it before and I will say it again, I consistently approach each show with the intention to enjoy myself and respect and appreciate what is being shared and communicated by the artist in that moment. I have my favourites of course, but I tend to keep that fairly close to my chest. And there is no question that my familiarity with a band can add to their appeal. The more I see them perform, listen to their albums, and in my lucky case, get to know them off the stage, the more personal their performance becomes.  But isn’t that what every artist wants to achieve? To find a way for their music to become personal to an audience? Because this is what builds a career after all.

I was speaking to Greg Drummond after his show last week about the plans for releasing his new album, the marketing approach he is taking and how he is branding the new sound.  I “talk shop” with many of the artists and find this side of their careers interesting, and there is no doubt those who are in this industry for the long haul are now required to have savvy business skills. But I also told Greg that I don’t want to think of him or anyone else as a product. I want to get lost in his show because I have made a conscious decision about liking him and his music. As much as artists need to take control of their careers, we as listeners need to take control much the same. We need to ask ourselves, “Are we just buying what they are selling?” or are we making a choice based on what we are connecting to on a real level with their music and persona. I think it is important to become more educated about artists and what they stand for, what they represent, and what they are choosing to spend their time writing about, and ask yourself “Do I relate to that?” It’s one thing to like a beat you hear on the radio, it’s another to spend your hard earned money to travel to their shows, buy their albums and merchandise, promote them to your friends and family and spend the spare time you don’t have writing about their music. That’s the difference. That’s what true connection is all about. It doesn’t matter how small of a fan base they start out with, every band starts out with a few fans, it’s nurturing the connection they have with those few that can turn a spark into a fire. How large that fire becomes is dependent on so many variables, including relentless hard work, that elusive hit song, and let’s not forget, a little bit of luck.

I hope these pieces help even a few people feel closer to the artists they have chosen to connect to and whose music has made a significant impression on their lives. We should never underestimate what music can do, from expanding our hearts to influencing our innermost selves. It truly is a beautiful gift.

adamsons fall 2014 005Photo courtesy of Greenscapes Photography (That’s my son by the way, he is 4 years old. To say he has a passion for music is the understatement of the year.  Since infancy he has connected with music in a way that has given him a foundation of self that I am still striving to find as an adult.  Talk about a gift.).

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