Sam Weber LIVE @ Serenity: Fall 2015 Canada Tour


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.


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.


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.


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.



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 (

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 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 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).


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.

12030545_1123927897635444_3717307119762856781_o12019810_10153621315613428_3303426294768497439_n12034297_1123927834302117_5690992533823843389_oAfter a brief dinner break Matt Blais and his band hit the stage to bring their dose of roots & blues rock. The story of them joining the festival bill is one of Shirley’s famous tales; they had played a house show that brought the roof down. In a moment of spontaneity, Shirley looked at the crowd and said, “What do you think, should Matt join us for Harvest Fest?” the crowd erupted and Matt said yes on the spot. It’s no surprise why. Matt and his band rolled in to the acreage in the early morning hours on Saturday after playing a show elsewhere Friday night. They hung out during the day, exploring the river and meeting people. Once up on stage, they brought the funk and lay down some killer tunes. The highlight was Matt on harmonica, who took their groove to a whole other level and led us into the night in style.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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).


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.


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.

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.


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.


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.


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 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 to learn more about this amazing opportunity that you can support and receive some incredible gifts in return and visit to learn more about Doug’s music and himself as an artist.  

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Two Musicians and a Mural: A Weekend of Artistic Awakening with Benny Walker, Jeremy Borschneck and Dylan Ranney

Passion. When you meet those that have it, you can feel it, their passion radiates from within, an electrifying energy that connects with those around them.

This past weekend at Serenity, three individual artists embodied just that.

Kelowna based artist Dylan Ranney arrived Friday night to begin a mural on the exterior wall of the stage. What was originally planned to be a live exhibit during the upcoming Harvest Music Festival in September was moved up to this weekend because Dylan and his wife Liz are expecting their first child in the next month. He shared that this is the last piece of visual art he will produce before his daughter arrives which made his presence even more meaningful. He brought with him a digital template he had created to help guide the piece that he discussed with venue owner Shirley de Vooght before diving in and completing the outline sketch on the first night.

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Over 3 days, Dylan created something that will remain a fixture of the venue for years to come. Visitors came and went over the course of the weekend to watch Dylan paint the mural layer by layer. Everything culminated on Sunday night’s concert featuring the music of Jeremy Borschneck (Willhorse) and Australia’s Benny Walker where Dylan painted throughout the duration of the show, providing a multi-sensory experience for the audience.

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The result is a contextual landscape at sunset, featuring a vibrant colour scheme and stylized point of view. Dylan not only captured the essence of Serenity’s majestic energy, he playfully added components that reflect a few of the artists who have resonated deeply with the venue; his selections were inspired by those who lend themselves to animal representations. In his original concept of the piece, he had planned to include people in a dance-like state, however as he got further into the image, he decidedly chose to refrain from incorporating people at all. A surprising choice from an artist known for his signature portraits and depictions of people in his art. When he spoke of this particular decision, Dylan shared his own realization that he had not painted animals ever before in his work. The only other time he had painted an animal was when he had been here last as a musician (playing drums for Devon Coyote), and painted a coyote on the wall of the artist bunkhouse. He went on to say that for this piece, “people would complicate and ruin it, as they do most things” he mused. He expanded on this thought by saying “Out here, people are animals, they are wild and free, so for all intents and purposes, the animals in this piece are people.” There is no doubt the mural will be the subject of conversation at all future concerts, including the Harvest Music Festival on September 11-13. Dylan’s presence further expanded the potential for the venue to be a place for visual artists to create and produce art, something to build on and broaden in the future.

the call                                                                                “The Call” by Dylan Ranney. Latex on plywood. 10×16.

As mentioned, the weekend’s highlight was on Sunday when the venue was bustling with people who had come to watch Dylan paint and listen to Jeremy Borschneck and Benny Walker perform.

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Willhorse frontman Jeremy Borschneck had been added to the night’s show only the day prior. Benny’s original tourmate Tom Richardson had to cancel due to a personal family matter, so when Benny and Jeremy reconnected at the Golden Sound Festival, the opportunity for them to tour together presented itself and worked out seamlessly.

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For the Serenity audience, the surprise return of Jeremy was notably special. Willhorse performed here almost two years ago at an indoor house concert in mid-December. They won everyone over with their pure rock sound and remain one of those talked-about bands by Shirley and the Serenity team. When word spread that Willhorse was taking a hiatus, we wondered if we would ever see them perform here again. In a twist of fate, over the past two years, Willhorse members Todd Menzies and Nick Petrowich have returned playing for other bands, and hopes for a Willhorse reunion never ceased. With Jeremy at the venue singing the songs so many of us have come to love, talks revved up around a collective desire to see this band reunite.  Willhorse has a buzz that has not diminished over time, but only continues to amplify. The band continues to appear in countless references in the facebook and twitter feeds that I follow around the current music scene. What became increasingly clear as I listened to Jeremy talk about the status of the band is how passionate he is about not only their music but the bond of brotherhood between them. There were moments that became undoubtedly emotional as he spoke about how proud he is of the most recent music they recorded and how hard it is to be so far apart from them. Although the rest of the band is touring and busy with other projects, they are all based out of Vancouver except for Jeremy who lives in Edmonton to be closer to his son who lives half of the time with his mother in Saskatchewan. Sacrifice is something all parents know too well. For Jeremy, the sacrifice to not be closer to his friends and bandmates is something that he continues to face, but the way his face lights up when he talks about his son says it all. The most encouraging fact is that Jeremy is not giving up on music. Seeing him perform solo only confirmed that he is meant to be on stage.  His natural charisma, ability to connect with an audience, and a voice with an edge all add up to an artist who people want to see.  He continues to tour and perform on his own, keeping the music of Willhorse alive on stage, with all of them continuing to write songs that they share with each other in hopes to finish recording a new album. There is no question we will be keeping the dream alive as an audience.

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Benny Walker’s return to Serenity was a long time coming. It had been two years almost to the day since he was last in Canada and made his way to the venue. His previous show here had included a backing band and full on rock sound. This time, it was Benny and his acoustic guitar in a raw, personal, vulnerable performance. His latest album ‘Through The Forest’ is a reflection of a challenging time in his life where he faced insecurities and anxieties as not only an artist, but as a person. Songwriting became his saving grace to aid him through coming to terms and coping with his experience, a realization he does not take for granted. To see how he has developed over the past two years both lyrically and technically was inspiring.  Benny’s commitment to continue to challenge himself and never do the same thing twice is evident in every aspect of his artistry.  He tours and plays live as much as possible, a testament to his skill which shows in his performance.  His guitar riffs were exceptional, his voice smooth and the synergy he created between the audience and his songs was perfectly on point.

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Having an international artist like Benny Walker return time and time again is a testament to the draw of the venue and the people who make Serenity possible, primarily venue owner/operator Shirley de Vooght. Benny has always held strong to Shirley being his ‘Canadian mom’ with Serenity feeling like his home away from home (a familiar sentiment shared with a multitude of artists who have graced this stage). The connection felt by countless artists and this place runs deep. Benny described the undeniable comfort in knowing that when you finish the show there is nowhere else you need to be or get to, that you can walk off the stage and be completely relaxed with food to eat, a bed to sleep in, and the real bonus for a touring musician, you can even do your laundry. What makes it extra special is the company that awaits, a familial atmosphere of people who genuinely care about your music and your overall well being as a person.

The laughs and conversation shared with these artists and members of our ‘Serenity family’ are memories that will be cherished. Each show brings its own unique energy and experience, but it’s safe to say that this night was up there with the best of them.

For information on his music (including his 5 albums to date) and the current tour, visit To check out the music of Willhorse, visit

To learn more about artist Dylan Ranney, visit his website

Jeremy Borschneck and Benny Walker performed at Serenity Performing Arts Centre on August 23, 2015.

Dylan Ranney created his original mural at Serenity August 21-24, 2015.

Photos courtesy of Steve Mechem and Shirley de Vooght. 

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The Folk Road Show with special guest JP Maurice

folk road show photo jp maurice 2

The vision I had for how this particular night was going to play out is not even worth mentioning because what I expected to see or feel or experience doesn’t matter. What matters is what did happen which was sweet and lovely and unique.

I arrived to the Serenity acreage with my two children plus one in tow. My daughter and her friend took off immediately to play among the trees, bridges and hideaways that they know so well for the duration of the night, while my 4 year old son remained by my side, ending up nearly asleep in my arms. It was the first show I have brought my children to for quite sometime. It is worth mentioning this because having them there did mean the night was different than what it could have been. When you are with your children, every experience is coupled with the ever present reality that their needs trump everything else. My son’s need to ask me questions about the music or tell me that he was hungry or thirsty or tired were all real moments that I needed to address in the midst of taking in the show. Even more significantly, my typical routine to stick around afterwards to chat with the artists was put off by my children’s need to go to bed. I was able to return later in the evening, but it left me with much less time.

The crowd was small and the stage was big. A formula that can be challenging for the artist and the audience. But with the acreage brimming with families camping and children running throughout the grounds, the choice to have the show outside instead of in the house was made earlier in the day.

JP Maurice took to the stage first as a three piece band. He was added to the night only recently as he had been with The Folk Road Show at ArtsWells in the days prior and it worked out for them all to play here on the same night as they continued on with their respective tours.

JP serenity

JP Maurice continues to hold a certain level of mystery for me. The fact that the night’s timing didn’t allow for us to sit down and have a chat only continues to fuel this enigmatic perspective I have about him. I wrote a piece on a show I saw him perform at last winter in Kelowna and so many of those same sentiments continue to ring in my head. This show was laced with some of his earlier work like “Mistake” to his more recent releases such as “Poison Heart.” I was pleasantly surprised to hear the song “Pennies” that I was not sure he would play. I have been haunted by the song ever since the first time I heard it performed by David Newberry a few years ago at the Railway Club in Vancouver.  He gave JP all the credit of course. Seeing JP perform the song live was inherently special, including the melodic changes he made in the live performance which often happens after an artist develops a deep familiarity with a song and how it feels to sing it. There were moments throughout the show that the songs had almost a Paul Simon circa Graceland era vibe to them, and then would sound entirely fresh in the next breath. There is no doubt JP Maurice has a future anthology of music and unending charisma that will continue to intrigue and interest audiences for years to come. I know I’ll be listening.

Jp serenity 2

For over a week I have been pondering over how to write about The Folk Road Show. Having taken in their performance and then spoken to each of them privately later that evening, I have felt a certain amount of pressure to produce something meaningful. Sometimes the words come immediately, but this time they did not. I have spent the last week at a lake house in the Cariboo, never quite fully sober, with an unending stream of house guests leading to not much sleep at all only to awaken and begin writing this. My memories of that night and these men chased me from my dreams.

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Four singer-songwriters, all with their own careers of relative success and notoriety, all with their own personalities and styles, decided to tour as a collective and perform eachother’s songs together on stage. It’s not a new concept, it’s rather nostalgic really, but it felt original and sounded beautiful.

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Combining the talents of Dominique Fricot, Benjamin James Caldwell, Olaf Caarls and Pieter van Vliet was a bold and brave concept thought up by Caldwell a few years ago that came to fruition this past winter in Europe. Like many artistic endeavors, they didn’t know how it was going to turn out, but their first go at it on their European tour proved that they had chemistry on and off the stage that connected with audiences. What started out as an idea worked well enough on their first try to plan on doing it again in Canada. Beginning in June, The Folk Road Show performed 40 shows over 46 days between BC and Ontario and solidified what has become a brotherhood of music, adventure, people, and discovery.

folk road show

Their show at Serenity was one of the last on their Canadian tour. They arrived on our doorstep straight off their weekend at the ArtsWells Festival. Going from thousands of people to a dozen was quite the change of pace. Not only were we a small crowd on a rainy Tuesday night, the show was moved to the outdoor acreage stage which brought with it a vast amount of space to what was an intimate performance. The physical space between the stage and the audience created this chasm of emptiness for them on stage, so much so that when it became dark, the artists couldn’t see any of us and felt as though they were playing to an empty field. What occurred was a dual experience of sorts. Although strange, it forced them to focus more inwardly, strengthening the connection with each other on stage as they performed. As an audience, it was their connection that we felt. There was a sweetness and tenderness that is rare to feel when watching a group of men perform together. The mutual respect they have for one another was clearly evident as they performed new found arrangements of their music, almost re-creating the songs before our eyes.


Observing the roles each of them play on stage and how this continues in their personal relationships was something that took hold. Their collective founder for all intensive purposes is Benjamin James Caldwell, who omits a leadership vibe, speaking to the audience, introducing everyone, telling stories of their travels. In talking to him, you get the sense that this is no longer just a fun idea for him; it is important, it means a great deal, and he is invested in seeing it continue. Benjamin has an ease about him that is intoxicating. It is no surprise that he has befriended countless musicians and people around the world through his travels. Hailing from Australia, he moved to Canada to work at a ski hill only to become a musician. Performing as a duo for years in Broken Down Suitcase with longtime friend Eric Larocque, Caldwell has had his fair share of learning how to compromise and collaborate which has likely served him well in this project. As a man whose home is no more defined than the next town he plays, Benjamin James Caldwell exemplifies what it means to be ‘of the world,’ a drifter among not only cities but entire countries and continents. He belongs to no one and yet everyone, an achievement for an artist to embed oneself in the hearts of many. I for one will not soon forget how his eyes shone in the moonlight as he spoke of his friends, their music, and what dreams may come.


Dominique Fricot was the artist I was most familiar with in terms of his music. Based out of Vancouver BC, this tour was his chance to show off his country to his friends, while in the end he discovered new places and people through being with them. From his spiritual experience on Grand Beach in Winnipeg (“How have they been hiding that place?” gushed Fricot), to living rooms of those opening their homes to the foursome, everything about this tour was new and special. As a solo singer-songwriter, Fricot admitted writing and touring can be lonely, but this experience has been the opposite. The towering tall, dark and handsome Fricot is an undeniable presence on stage. His voice is immediately identifiable with its rich tones and ability to carry as far as it needs to. The performance of his songs “Haunted By Love” and “What’s A Man” were standouts, likely because of my existing familiarity and appreciation for how they had been re-created into something even more stunning than the original versions. Dominique was the wild card in the group who Benjamin invited into the collective mix without him ever meeting either Olaf Caarls or Pieter van Vliet. To get on a plane to Europe with plans to tour and play the following day with some guys you have never met was both brave and trusting of his friend Caldwell. It obviously worked out.


Olaf Caarls from the Netherlands is a subtle yet endearing component. He floats effortlessly in and out of each song, stepping in to enhance a particular piece, and laying low when it is doing just fine. You get the sense that he has a steadfast and even keel type of personality. He isn’t the type to pull the wool over your eyes, but will tell it how it is and be able to move on without much fanfare. In the same breath, he omits a certain softness, almost gentle quality. He is the wallflower with wit, the unassuming artist who can say so much without saying anything at all. To say he sparked my interest is putting it lightly.


The last of the four I spoke with after the show was Pieter van Vliet. Upon reflection, it is likely the brief time spent in conversation with him that has delayed my ability to feel that I could justify any of my experience in writing. Sometimes you come across people who challenge every thought you have, who push you to question and analyze yourself and the world around you. When on stage, both Pieter’s voice and trombone solos were mesmerizing. The depth to his songwriting was evident in the few Port of Call (his recording alias) songs that they performed. When we had what ended up being a 1am conversation, I was drawn in to his thoughtful perspective of their tour, music, and life. As the only artist of the group who had a home and a love waiting for him an ocean away, Pieter was the one with everything to lose and so much to gain. As much as he was awaiting his homecoming with anticipation, he was devouring every moment of being away, soaking up every second and cataloging it in his visual memory and growing photography collection. There is a question that has hung with me since we spoke, “You seem to be really interested in people,” he commented. “How do you feel about humans?” he asked, “What do you think a human’s purpose is?” After a long silence I responded, “I have no idea. I suppose that is what I am trying to figure out.” I suppose it is. Humans are endlessly fascinating in both their uniqueness and similarities. Why I have chosen to invest such effort into the lives of countless touring musicians is linked to the fact that they tend to be human souls that provide an open window for voyeurs like myself to look inside. The four men of The Folk Road Show provided an opportunity to not only see inside their world, but to also reflect upon mine, and for that I am humbled and grateful.

The Folk Road Show’s Canadian Tour has come to an end. After a brief hiatus, the foursome will be reunited once again for their second European Tour beginning on August 27th. Check their facebook page for updates at

JP Maurice can be seen next at Longwoodstock in Nanaimo, BC on Saturday, August 15, 2015. He is also a BC finalist in this year’s Peak Performance Project which is gearing up for its epic annual Bootcamp out at RockRidge Canyon Resort in Princeton, BC on August 27-September 3, 2015. Keep up to date on all of the PPP news at and be sure to like JP’s facebook page to hear about upcoming shows and music releases at

JP Maurice and The Folk Road Show performed at Serenity Performing Arts Centre on August 4, 2015.

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


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.


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.”


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.


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 and

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