4 days alone on the Central Coast with my journal and the music of Sam Weber.

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This past week I embarked on many miles on the road, in the air and on the water to discover some of the beautiful and remote communities on the Central Coast of British Columbia. Although physically alone, I brought with me the love of many and the company of music.

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As I experienced this journey, there was one album that was a constant companion, Sam Weber’s ‘Shadows in the Road.’ When sorting through my music collection for this trip, Sam’s album was one of the first I chose if for no other reason than knowing I was going to be seeing him perform live when this week came to an end and I flew in to Kelowna, BC for the Bottega Festival. There is something about Sam’s voice, his writing, and the overall story of this album that took hold of me during these four days.

When away from my children, my home, and everything that is familiar and comforting, there was a part of me that felt lost, and yet another part of me that felt more whole than ever before. To be alone with oneself, to feel how the world feels to be in it, was scary and revealing and thrilling.

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In these moments of isolated uncertainty and adventure, Sam’s music was with me. How strange it is to have music act like a friend. But that is what this album has been to me, a friend to take with me as I chose to see the soul in each face I met, to feel the ocean breeze, the strength of each mountain peak, and the beautiful life lessons in the cultures that have survived in the face of horrific injustice.

From the first time I heard Sam’s music I felt a resonance that was magnetic. When I met him there was this realized feeling that a person can be as good as their music. This is not to hold Sam to a pedestal that is unrealistic of being a human being. When I say good, I don’t mean perfect, which is not achievable or even describable. I mean good as in interesting and complicated and kind and mysterious and full of wonder and hope. His music has had an effect on me that I have cherished. It is fascinating when you hear the lyrics to a song and feel like you have thought those same things in your own head.

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When I listen to his album from start to finish it’s as if I have this sense of relief; my inner self exhales. “All is well,” I think, “there are people out there in the world who think like this and are sharing themselves, connecting, and being free.”

Sam Weber’s songs played as I flew over glacier topped mountains, climbed ocean cliffs, and wrote in my journal about the people I had met. This single lyric from Sam’s song “The Nerves” echoes in my consciousness – “The words that keep my heart afloat are stuck inside my throat.”

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Sometimes our desires are so close to what is possible it hurts. The desire to be ourselves is the greatest one of all, to say what is in our hearts, to be that brave, to be that true. To be searching and making mistakes and being okay with royally fucking things up. Isn’t that the ultimate achievement in life? To be brave enough to try, and if you crash and burn, to keep going, keep learning, keep discovering.

But so many of us will never get there. We will hold it all in, we will play it safe.

We live and we die. This concept haunts us all, whether we choose to come to terms with it or not. It is figuring out how to use the time we are given that is the hardest part. The beginning and end are out of our control, but the life part is all up to us.

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As I look out the window of a small aircraft, flying over some of the most pristine land there is on Earth, I know this. Life is precious and fleeting. I am but a whisper. My imprint is but a grain of sand. But I do not take it for granted or feel any less important. I feel alive. I feel grateful. I marvel in the love that humans extend to one another; it is the only magic I will ever know for sure. Sometimes this love is intimate, complex and everlasting, and at other times it may be an exchange that only lasts a few seconds. In the grand scheme of life, I am not certain one is more important than the other.

I am in love with love. I am in love with my family and friends.  I am in love with those I have not yet met.  I am in love with you.

Sam Weber performs at Bottega Festival in Kelowna on Saturday, July 18, 2015 alongside a great lineup of Canadian artists.  Visit http://www.bottegafestival.com and http://www.samweber.me.

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Robin Walker: An artist emerged from hibernation

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Robin Walker was born in 1963 in Phoenix, Arizona and grew up in Southern California before immigrating to Canada after marrying her husband out of college.  Together, they began an adventurous life studying across Canada and the US and living in Venezuela for many years before returning to Canada 18 years ago.  For the past 11 years, Robin, her husband Tim and their five children have called Clearwater home.

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Robin has developed a sense of herself as an artist over the course of her life.  As a teenager, it was how she formed her identify, and how she began to look at the world.  Upon graduating high school, she received the Sword and Shield Art Award. However, her life took her on many wonderful journeys with her family, including homeschooling her five children, which did not provide the time necessary to focus and invest in producing art.  It was not until 5 years ago that she began to paint seriously.  “It’s almost like it was in there waiting,” Robin says.  What a testament to her gift to have it be released in such a marvelous and beautiful way.

Her medium of choice is oil and the majority of her subject matter reflects her surroundings.  “I feel like I really have to have a connection with what I’m painting, it can’t just be something out of a magazine, although a few times I have painted pictures that really grabbed me, but I like to paint things that I connect with.”  For example, all of her winter paintings are places along the trails where she cross country skis.  “Most of my paintings are like that, it is a connection I have with something. That’s why it is hard for me to sell my paintings because they are sort of like an autobiography.  If my kids want to know where I have been in life, they can have my paintings because that is telling of where I have been.”

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Along with the subject matter that inspires the paintings themselves, Robin is equally influenced by art created by others. One of her first artist mentors was Colleen Stewart from Fort St. James who inspired her to begin underpainting with colours.  “She never mentored me intentionally, I just admired her work so much.”  She is also influenced by the Impressionists and The Group of Seven. “I look at their work a lot and I have seen a lot of their original work. I try to expand my view.  The more you paint and the more you learn the more you see when you look at a painting.”

In the last year, Robin joined the Federation of Canadian Artists.  She meets with the Kamloops chapter regularly.  She was recently juried into the second level within the Federation which opened up new opportunities to have her paintings be a part of different art shows across Canada.  Two of her paintings were recently shown in Kelowna at the Rotary Centre for the Arts. “This was a big deal for me,” Robin says, “I feel like that was a huge step.”

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As she has blossomed into a full time artist, her family has been incredibly supportive.  When she began to paint and the only space available was their living room floor, her husband custom built her a private studio attached to their home and her 5 children have definitely come around to the idea of identifying their mother as an artist.  “At first some of my kids didn’t appreciate all the time I was spending on my art,” Robin laughs, “but I have seen a change where they honour it now.  They tell their friends ‘My mom is an artist’ and whenever someone comes to our house they bring them to the studio to show them what I am working on.  They are proud of me.”

Robin has been selected as the feature artist for this year’s Clearwater Children’s Art Festival in Clearwater, BC.  Robin’s involvement with the festival is in line with her passion for children and art that runs deep. “Children are so free.  We could learn a lot from how kids approach art. They are not inhibited like adults.” She remembers one day when she had several people come through her studio and it was the children who she appreciated the most.  “I felt like they looked at my art more than anyone else, they were really looking at it, they were seeing something.  Lots of people just walked by and didn’t know what to look at or how to look at it, but children seem to have more natural intuition of just looking and studying and seeing art for what it is which I love.”

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As the feature artist of this year’s Clearwater Children’s Art Festival, children will have a chance to paint with Robin, along with many other artists who will be sharing their talents with children for this event.  Visual art, theatre and music are all included in this year’s festival.  “I am so happy to be involved.  I learn so much from the kids and I enjoy it so much because there are so many unbelievably talented children here that just haven’t developed it yet.  You can see it.  They are seeing things, they are seeing beauty and are seeing perspective. The event is a great way for kids to not feel any pressure, it is free, they can come and go and choose what they want to do and have the freedom and all the supplies provided.  It is very special and a huge asset to our community.  It is a privilege to be involved.”

Robin feels that she is only beginning her journey as an artist.  “I feel like I still have so much in me that hasn’t come out. It’s almost like I can see what I want to do but I am not there yet. There is so much I want to explore in terms of different techniques.  I don’t know what type of style I am going to develop into, but I know when I am inspired by something so I just follow that.  I follow what I feel strongly about; different styles and different subject matter. I am totally open to develop further.”

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Her most recent painting is the Clearwater skyline of Raft Mountain Peak and the Trophy Mountains. “I want to capture what this area is about and I thought of that skyline and thought ‘I have to paint that.’  I want to represent this area. I want it to be painted.”

When you are in the presence of Robin’s paintings, you are in the presence of beauty; the beauty that is revealed in every hidden corner of this Earth, in the water, the sky, the ground, and in people.  “Beauty is so hopeful,” claims Robin, “It is evidence that there is something good, that it is not all bad.  The beauty we find around us is continual evidence that there is something good at the heart of it all.”

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Along with the many art experiences available throughout the day, a selection of Robin’s paintings will be on display at the Clearwater Children’s Art Festival happening on Wednesday August 5, 2015, 10am-3pm at the Dutch Lake Community Centre field.

Robin’s paintings are for sale in Clearwater at the Red Umbrella Gallery.  You can also view her work on her website at www.iam-art.ca and contact her directly to inquire about purchasing individual pieces.

Robin Walker paints out of her home studio in Clearwater, BC.

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Greg Drummond: Drive

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Greg Drummond released his second full length album Drive last week and embarked on a month long tour of Western Canada.

Drive is a solid representation of the various strengths of Greg Drummond and his band. It has its fair share of folk-n-roll upbeat tunes that defined his first album, but the true standouts are some of the emotionally weighted tracks that have significant depth both lyrically and in their musical arrangements. The arrangements on the whole are stronger and leave a lasting impact while the songs are primed to connect with the listener in a personal and individual way.

Having spent many hours in the company of this album over the last week, it is safe to say that my connection with the songs has solidified. Music can be cathartic and revealing, but it can also be pure entertainment, simply something to distract you from the daily grind of life. Greg Drummond’s album Drive achieves a myriad of connections throughout its 11 tracks. There are songs that will relax you, inspire, spark a certain memory, take you to an imagined reality, get you dancing, work well in the background of a get-together with friends, or to put on repeat during a long car ride when you need to think on something important. For an album to have elements that make a personal impact in a variety of ways is an achievement to be celebrated.

There is something for everyone within the 11 tracks; here is a selection of my personal choice pics:

The Jasper – This instrumental has that Coldplay-esque quality to it that digs deep and carries you away; Man On The Hill – The guitar riff that opens this track and reappears throughout gets me every time, and the song’s lyrical story provides a mystery to get lost in; Against The Sun – Everything about this song grabs me, the harmonica intro and interludes, tempo choice, lyrics, the specific tone of Drummond’s voice, female vocal accompaniment, I could go on and on; Worse For Wear – It builds to provide the most beautiful climax to not only the song itself but the entire album, exquisite arrangement and perfect placement; Terminal Street – In the last few days I have been drawn more and more to this track, like many others the arrangement is pulling me in to the point where I can’t let go.

Greg Drummond has developed a signature sound that continues to mature. Drive achieves a broad universal appeal, with songs that have the ability to reach audiences on a large scale. The high quality production value of the album incorporates the wide array of instrumental choices in a format that is accessible and appealing. At the heart of the album is Greg Drummond himself, whose voice is one that you want to take with you, as it provides a sense of comforting strength that we can all use once in awhile.

For links to music, tour dates, social media feeds and more visit http://www.gregdrummond.com.

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Photo credit: Creative Copper Images.

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Damn Fools: LIVE at the Serenity acreage with a reason to celebrate

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Having your expectations met is a great feeling. Especially when those expectations were rather lofty, maybe even somewhat fantastical.

When Damn Fools agreed to perform here with only two weeks notice we all had to pinch ourselves. The band that had been originally booked for the date was not able to make it, and canceling the show was not an option. This night was intended to be a celebration concert for venue owner Shirley de Vooght officially being in remission after completing five months of chemotherapy following her leukemia diagnosis this past December. She never dreamed one of her favourite bands who are on the lineup for the Harvest Music Festival in September would come all this way for one show. But they did, and they did with an enormous amount of respect, heart and humility. It was no small feat to arrange their various schedules in such a short amount of time, but they pulled it off and gave Shirley the night she deserved.

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Damn Fools is a rock band based out of Vancouver, and I don’t use the term ‘rock band’ loosely. Imagine a 60’s-70’s era garage band right before they become platinum record selling headliners. With talent burgeoning from every angle, and dreamy looks that make audiences swoon, this 6 piece band is aimed at making their mark in Canadian rock and roll; an impressive feat in the present state of the popular music scene. Not that I would ever be an extremist and remotely hint at rock and roll being dead, but at times it can be harder to find in the sense of experiencing it.  After the show a few of us were talking about the loss of real connection in society in general and how this particular venue’s philosophy is to have people connect in person through experiencing live music. Watching Damn Fools lay it out on the stage like they did was like a punch in the gut to say, “Do you feel that?” I did feel it, along with the company of others, and then we were all given the space to talk about music and anything else that came to mind under a sky full of stars around a glowing fire to our hearts content. What a concept.

One of my barometers of a great rock band are guitar riffs that get under your skin, you know when your body almost tenses up because you dig it so much? In my opinion riffs can do more for how a song connects than lyrics; they can be everything from sad to sexy. Lead guitarists Andrew Twining and Alex Gordon-Firing were mesmerizing in how their individual solos and understated chord progressions balanced out over the course of the night. They have this intense focus and energy that is completely in sync although they are on opposite ends of the stage and rarely look at each other. It was impressive.

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Lead singer Mike Twining has both the voice and look to take this band as far as it dares. By the second set when the band had really found its groove, Mike let loose and brought the house down by the end of the night. When a singer can really give ‘er and hit those notes while looking like he’s on the cover of Rolling Stone, it’s fairly clear they are headed in the right direction.

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The baselines performed by Chris Ball were some of the most memorable to date at the venue. Sometimes bass players get lost in the shuffle. They are there to support and define the harmonic motion of the song, not to get noticed. But when a bass player is as good as Chris, they are hard to ignore. He also has really cool coloured eyes – kind of a smokey grey/green/gold in case you were wondering.

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Drummer Jovan Vujatovic nailed it. He’s a rock star plain and simple. He also has this natural way of making people feel at ease which is appreciated and memorable.

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Mike Turner on keys was unfortunately unable to join the band for this show, which makes the anticipation for their return here in September that much greater.

I spent the majority of time chatting with Andrew and Mike Twining after the show, the songwriters and brothers who are very much at the core of how this band came to be in 2012 and what has kept them together.

As it turns out five out of the six band members have known each other since childhood, with some of them playing together previously on a different music project before it dissolved and Mike and Andrew began to write music that was inspired by the sounds their father raised them on.  Their parents even made the trip for this show from their home near Penticton. It is always special when artists bring family or friends along with them to the venue. It provides another level of connection and creates a context for who they are and where they come from.

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Mike and Andrew’s mother is from Peru, which they have visited often throughout their lives, including spending a year there as a family when they were younger to immerse themselves in the culture and develop deeper relationships with their extended family. Although not raised by classically trained musicians, their parents always had music playing in the house and their father had an epic vinyl collection that set the foundation for their love and appreciation for classic live off the floor recordings. Their mother described them as being very athletic from a young age, which influenced her decision to not introduce formalized music lessons as an option until she felt they could be responsible for practicing and were ready to give up some time playing sports. They were instant naturals and music has been what ultimately bonded them as brothers.

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From my brief time shared with them, I went away musing how their different personalities are beautifully reflected in their roles within the band. Mike, the expressive and dynamic older brother who wants to take the time to get it right and Andrew, the easy going younger brother who has a deep passion for music in general with a gentle, accessible quality that is nothing short of endearing.

One of my favourite things about seeing a band perform live for the first time when I am already somewhat familiar with their music is how their songs come alive on the album when I listen to it again after the show. Known as a band to see live, their album is as close to an auditory replica of their live show as you are going to get.

Choice tracks from their debut album “Off The Floor:” I’ve Been Waiting – a fun party song that will get people pouring drinks, dancing and having a great time; On Your Own – a feel good track to sing along to and get you through whatever your day has in store; Commotion – continues to build and build and makes you want to lose all inhibition about 2/3 of the way through; Miss Saigon – has a little of everything from killer lyrics to just the right amount of kick – it’s just cool; Storm – this is the song you put on while cooking dinner which eventually leads to you dancing with that special someone and you both end up forgetting all about the food…remember how I said guitar riffs can be sexy? Yep.

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The band is currently focusing on writing and we had the chance to hear some of their new songs performed live. Two standouts were “Struggling” and “All My Love” – hopefully they will end up on the new album when recording time comes around.

A huge thank you to Damn Fools for making the effort to be here and for completely rocking it out for our appreciative crowd. A truly memorable night.

If you want to see this band up close and personal (which you do, believe me you do), join us for the Harvest Music Festival September 11-13, 2015 here at Serenity. Damn Fools are on the lineup and they will be camping out on the acreage.  You don’t want to miss it! http://www.serenitymusic.ca/harvest-music-festival

Damn Fools performed at Serenity Performing Arts Centre on June 13, 2015.

Visit http://www.damnfoolsmusic.com for links to music, tour updates, social media feeds and more.

Photos courtesy of Steve Mechem @ Serenity Performing Arts Centre, June 13, 2015.

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The Lion The Bear The Fox 3.0

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I still don’t have a formula for how these pieces come to be. I can write something the night of the show, within a week, or if life is really busy, it can stretch over two. For what it is worth, I continue to use this online space as more of a public journal, to reflect on how a show made me feel, and what the artist has come to represent in my mind and my heart.

Last Sunday night, I packed up my truck with a blanket, met some friends and headed out to experience the first outdoor show of the year on the expansive grounds of Serenity Performing Arts Centre along the North Thompson River.

The band gracing the stage was The Lion The Bear The Fox (Christopher Arruda, Cory Woodward and Ryan McMahon). It was their third time performing here together.

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The lives of these three men have become harmonious with one another over the past three years as they have grown together as a band from that of solo artists.

What they have is something special, they are not just in a band together, they are best friends, they are brothers. It is this kinship to one other that has elevated the quality and heart of their music.

I tend to refer to the live shows out at Serenity as an experience. You don’t just listen to the music, you feel it, you breathe it, you live it.

For the band and the audience on this night, it felt as though we were getting to know one another among the vastness of open space surrounding us. The transition from house concerts in a tightly confined space to 45 acres of open sky can take time to adjust to. As an audience, the beauty of the surroundings always enhances the music, but the physical space creates a different energy from the intimacy of the house concert experience.

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As the night went on, people became attuned to the fresh air, how loud we needed to cheer to have it resonate with the band, and to the messages that each of these men conveyed.

What was immensely clear is the respect each of them have for one another, the music they create, the people they perform it for, and being able to perform in the first place.

At the mid-break set they dispersed among the crowd, catching up with those they had met before, meeting those they had not, and enjoying the relaxed atmosphere of the venue.

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The highlight of the entire night was when Ryan made the call to move the show down to the bonfire for an acoustic performance of their last three songs. This was a genius move as not only did it give people a chance to warm up around the fire, it solidified a connection between the band and the audience.

Christopher, Cory and Ryan all have their unique qualities – from the tones of their voices, to the lyrics in their songs, each brings something different that provides a balancing quality to their three-piece ensemble.

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It was incredibly interesting to have seen Ryan play solo only a week before. His energy was completely different this time around with the band. His antics and emotional intensity was tempered, he was balanced. This is what they bring to one another, balance.

As I write this, Cory has left their current tour for the best possible reason – to be at his wife’s side for the birth of their first child. Cory was bursting with anticipation, the love for his wife just hanging there, waiting to return where it belonged. But he still gave his time and attention to the audience, listened to their stories, delighted in their company and performed in a heartfelt way.

As it turns out, Cory only left the tour for a few shows and was back in the fold last night, with his beautiful family in tow!

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Maya Angelou once said, “ I have learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

Thank you to The Lion The Bear The Fox for inspiring feelings of hope, love, loss and redemption.

The band is currently on tour. Check out http://www.thelionthebearthefox.com for details. They have a special live EP available for purchase on this tour with some audience favourites. Choice tracks: “All I Ever Do,” a political, yet heartfelt tune with a timeless message and melody; “Above,” one of the most touching, beautiful songs I have heard in awhile (written on behalf of their friend for his children before he passed away).

With peace and love I dedicate this to Cory, his wife Sarah and their newborn daughter Willow.

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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.

http://www.jjshiplettmusic.com

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