Shirley de Vooght is Serenity Music

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How do you capture the heart of someone as unique and lovely as Shirley de Vooght. After many attempts to do her justice, I have conceited to accept it is not possible to describe in words the person she is and what she has come to mean to so many. 

As the owner and operator of Serenity Music, a beautiful performing arts centre in the heart of BC’s North Thompson valley, Shirley has carved out a little piece of heaven for touring musicians and a growing community of art and music enthusiasts.

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Like any great accomplishment in life, it began as an idea. After building a stage to host a faith-based music festival coordinated by her sister, Shirley was inspired to continue sharing her property through music after her best friend’s son stopped by with his band to play on the stage. “It was a beautiful September day,” recalls Shirley, “and as I was sitting there listening to David play, I saw everything right there in front of me. I thought, ‘I have to share this, somehow, someway'; that was the original intention, to share what I call home.”

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6 years later, and a lot of learning under her belt, she has hit a groove that has placed Serenity in the sweet spot of the BC music scene; a regular audience, and the artists can’t stop talking it. Getting almost daily calls from musicians across Canada and the US, the buzz is spreading about what people experience at Serenity, and for good reason.

Shirley treats the musicians like family, providing them free accommodation and freshly cooked meals to create a home away from home on the road. This type of hospitality is far from common, and has earned her a highly esteemed reputation among venues across the country. No longer struggling to get through to management companies, managers are now calling her directly to have artists perform here. The venue also now runs a purely house concert format, which means for those she chooses to book, they receive a percentage of each ticket sold at the door. This approach has not dissuaded artists from performing here, but has almost heightened the appeal of the tucked away backwoods venue.

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The people Shirley surrounds herself with have all added to the magic of Serenity. Friends show up to help cook meals for the bands, clean the house, make beds, do the dishes, and act as the welcoming committee for both the artists and the audience. There is a sense of family and community that Shirley has built that truly makes everyone feel at home. Not only does she host the musicians, she simultaneously operates a B&B, and is a friendly face to travellers near and far who stop in for a slice of her world famous cheesecake or to pitch a tent on the property for the night as they are passing through.

shirley sonLocated on 13 acres of the 45 acre property Shirley grew up on, Serenity sits nestled above the North Thompson River with the mountains towering above and a creek that runs directly through the concert grounds. Small bridges dispersed throughout add to the ambiance, with wood fences that hug each corner of the fields. A sprawling horse pasture lies directly beside the main stage and the train tracks line the edge of the river down the bank. It truly is a magnificent place. Aside from the large outdoor covered stage, there is a small garden stage built off of Shirley’s deck, and this past winter an indoor stage was constructed out of her daughter’s old bedroom that faces directly into the sunken living room. Without question, Shirley has dedicated her entire indoor and outdoor living space to the venue.

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This dedication has also lead to a kinship-like spirit of determination she shares with many of the artists that play here, and through all of her hard work, helping others has brought her the most joy. “No matter what happens, It is always about making the world a better place,” says Shirley, “it is about the ripple effect, sending out those lovely little ripples that help people feel better.”

shirley daughterTo describe Serenity is one thing, but to experience it is something else entirely. As I look around at the hand painted sunflower murals adorning exterior walls and furniture, wildflowers growing out of tree stumps, and weathered wood fences surrounding the venue, Shirley’s words echo in my head, “I love sunflowers because they are perfectly imperfect, and that’s what life is, perfectly imperfect; it is up to us to find the flaws and love them anyway.” Those my friends, are words to live by.

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Shirley de Vooght owns and operates Serenity Performing Arts Centre in Birch Island, BC (just north of Clearwater).

If you are ever driving through on Yellowhead Highway 5, look for the yellow guitars and follow them to stop in for a visit. If you’re lucky, there will be a full menu of Shirley’s homemade cheesecakes ready to order and devour on site.

Visit http://www.serenitymusic.ca or search ‘Serenity Music’ on facebook for news on upcoming shows, etc. House concerts now run Oct-June, leading up to a 3 day Harvest Music Festival the second weekend in September. The 1st annual Harvest Music Fest is happening this weekend, September 5-7, 2014. Tickets are still available at 250-676-9456. 

harvest fest poster

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Windborn: What lies beneath

windborn poster

Jeff Pike is one special artist. Performing and recording as Windborn for over five years, he continues to take his sound to new places, experimenting with instruments and techniques, and challenging every rule there is when it comes to creating beautiful sounding music.

To fully appreciate the artist, you need only to learn of the incredible person he is, especially to this venue.

Jeff spent the week leading up to the night’s show building a new roof for Serenity owner Shirley de Vooght. That’s right, he took a break from touring to spend five very hot days dedicating his time (and tapping into his past life as a carpenter) to provide this act of service to a woman that has become family and a venue that has become a home.

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Jeff also provided the idea and development of the Kickstarter campaign for Serenity that exceeded its fundraising goal by over $1000.00 and allowed the roof renovation to happen.

Not only that, but at the end of the job, Jeff chose to perform a free show to celebrate. The generosity and good nature behind this artist is remarkable. Shirley herself speaks of him often and sings his praises to anyone who will listen, he truly has her heart.

Windborn is a regular feature on the Serenity schedule, playing multiple shows here a year. Not only did he win over Shirley many years ago, he has done the same with every Serenity audience member to date. Whether he is playing with accompanying musicians, such as his previous regular tour mate Nils Loewen on cello, or sticking to his roots of playing solo (as he is touring these days), Windborn is more than meets the initial eye.

Through the use of live-looping, an amped guitar, kick drum and creative percussion-based combinations, Windborn provides a show that is multi-dimensional and awe-inspiring.

No word of a lie, for our appreciative crowd, he played for over 2 hours without a break, and if it hadn’t been for the twilight mosquitos causing a stir, he likely would have gone longer.

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With a stage presence that puts everyone at ease, and an ability to make strangers feel like friends, Windborn has an ethereal style that is just magic.

He is an artist who lives for music and has dedicated his entire life to pursuing its creation. With his love, they live on the road in a different place almost every night, exploring the country in their quest to share his music and live simply and gratefully. To look at their lives from the outside is like admiring a beautiful painting, it fills you with wonder and inspiration. Of course, the reality likely comes with its own set of challenges, but for those who live within the walls of steady salaries, mortgages, and retirement savings plans, taking the time to appreciate the few who take risks in order to follow their passion is an important thing to do to put life in perspective.

If you let it, the music of Windborn will invite you into the soul of an artist to hear what makes his heart beat; are you listening?

Windborn performed at Serenity Performing Arts Centre on July 18, 2014.

For music (including free downloads), videos, bio and more, visit http://www.windborn.ca

Windborn is playing at Serenity’s 1st Annual Harvest Music Festival September 5-7, 2014. Early bird festival passes are still available for the weekend (price includes camping on the Serenity acreage)!

Photos courtesy of Steve Mechem and Windborn.

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Prairie Dance Club

prairie dance club official

To dance is to feel alive.

Prairie Dance Club came to us on a warm July night. With the acreage brimming with children, and a full moon rising over the valley, it was a performance filled with an energy that radiated joy among us.

Serenity owner Shirley deVooght had been working on booking the band here for years. This was a long time coming.

Based out of Langley, BC, tonight the band consisted of Jason Davies (vocals, guitars), Jeremy Friesen (bass, background vocals), Dan Kim (guitars) and Ryan Wylie (drums). It was Ryan’s first night playing a show with the band. An old friend of many of the members, Ryan filled in graciously at the last minute to allow this show to happen and he nailed it.

Barefoot on stage, the guys played their hearts out to a crowd who ate it all up. This audience was ready to dance and the band gave them what they came for.

prairie dance club

Their most recent EP “Pretty Things” (2013) is one of the tightest collections of tracks I have heard in a while and the 5 songs were standouts from the night’s show. The album also has the reputation as being one of the last recordings at the historic Hipposonic (Mushroom) Studios on West 6th Avenue in Vancouver before it closed its doors last March.

From “Thunder Rd. 2,” a great anthem-like tune that was beyond fitting for our backroad venue with a chorus that echoes Take me out into the mountains and set me free; to “Hold Me to the Fire,” an emotionally weighted song that they delivered in one of their strongest performances of the night.

Their finale was a cover of Neil Young’s “Cinnamon Girl.” They killed it. Shirley’s lifelong friend and Serenity mainstay Lizzy Hopson Cline personally thanked the band afterwards for playing her favourite Neil Young song saying “No one ever plays Cinnamon Girl and does it well, and you did!”

Unfortunately for us, the band had to pack up immediately following the show to drive home, but this is their reality of having other careers and families waiting for them; touring doesn’t come with the same ease as it once did. At this stage in the game, their music is not their full time focus, but has needed to share a seat with their secure day jobs that are necessary for their growing families, with guitarist Dan Kim becoming a dad for the third time just a few weeks ago.

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Listening to their perspectives as fathers and husbands was enlightening. Admitting this show had forced them to come out of relative hibernation, they are starting to realize how their priorities have changed, even as it relates to the music they want to create. “Jason and I have been doing a lot of talking,” said Jeremy, “we just aren’t sure about where the future of this band is headed right now.” Furthermore, he explains, “It’s almost like we are feeling a strong need to play harder rock. There is this indie-pop sound that is everywhere right now; it seems to be the only thing that is booking, atleast in Vancouver. We don’t want to do that, we want to play harder, we just want to rebel against everything.” I joked whether this need was being fuelled by their day to day lives of changing diapers and driving kids to soccer practice, which they chuckled at but interestingly enough didn’t refute. Not that I blame them. As a mother of 2 children under 6, I can relate.

As for their writing process, Jason is the primary songwriter, with Jeremy helping to develop the musical elements along with the rest of the band. In terms of current inspirations, Jason has a 6 year old daughter who he mentioned many times throughout the night, likely because the 20 plus children dancing back and forth in front of the stage acted as a constant reminder.

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A standout moment of the night was when he cued up their song “City in the Country,” a track Jason wrote about not knowing how to explain to his daughter why all the trees where they played down the street were cut down to build new condominiums. Ironically, they had been reading Dr. Seuss’ “The Lorax” at the time (if you don’t know it, it’s worth the read, especially for all you environmentalists out there). As we stood there looking out over an endless scene of horse pasture, forest, mountains and river, it was difficult to relate to the environment he described, yet there was empathy among us for those who do not have the opportunity to be constantly surrounded by such natural beauty.

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All in all, Prairie Dance Club are a group of extremely talented, kind hearted men who haven’t given up on their dream and passion for creating music, even when the demands of life may stand in their way. Whether it be with this band, or an entirely new path in music for each of them, we wish them luck finding their way.

Prairie Dance Club performed at Serenity Performing Arts Centre on July 12, 2014.

Visit their website for links to music downloads, their bio and more at http://www.prairiedanceclub.com

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Helen Knight: An artist and woman to celebrate

 

I have admired Helen Knight at a distance for a long time.  She served as a Director on the Board where I work for many years and her art is featured in every room of my office building, a gift she provided when we opened our facility.  Most recently I have had the opportunity of getting to know Helen personally, including spending time at her home and enjoying in her company.  Her youthful spirit, passion for life and creative energy is contagious. I know this is a diversion from my focus on artists and their music at Serenity, but I couldn’t help but share the story of this beautiful woman and her art.  This is for Helen. 

Helen Knight photo

Raised in the Peace River country of Northern Alberta in the small town of La Glace during the Depression, Helen Knight was raised among 7 siblings by her Russian Mennonite immigrant parents.  Learning to live off the land from her homesteading parents, Helen had an immediate connection with the Earth and its gifts from birth.  “I know that when I grew up I was aware of the Earth and life on Earth; the creatures and the plants, the flowers and everything like that. We always gardened, we grew all our own food, that’s how I grew up.”

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Helen spent over 30 years as a teacher, including working as a special needs educator.  During her time working at an institution on the lower mainland, she met her husband Art Knight, a psychiatric nurse.  Helen retired from teaching when her husband became ill in order to care for him full time.  Following the loss of her husband in 1986, Helen turned to her love of nature and made a career change.  She followed her passion to the North Thompson valley where she was hired as a Naturalist for Wells Gray Park in 1988.  Between 1988-2000, Helen worked for Wells Gray Park in a variety of roles, including as an educator and writer for the Park Rangers.  Her time living and working in Wells Gray Park allowed her to extensively pursue her interests including birding and hiking, and her appreciation for nature grew to new depths. “I have always been a naturalist with a love of the outdoors,” Helen explains, “even as a young child I knew where all the bird’s nests were, when the first robin appeared and the when first crocus bloomed.  Nature has always been in my heart.”

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Throughout her life, Helen had a love of art inside of her.  During her career as a teacher, she was very creative and spent a lot time in photography and embroidery work, “That’s how I got my creative juices going,” she recalls.  However, it was not until her friend and eventual mentor Joan Moffat came for a visit and brought paints, paper and brushes with her that Helen discovered her passion and talent for painting. 

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At the age of 64, Helen Knight became an artist.  It took her two years to begin publicly showing her paintings to others.  Almost 20 years later, her home is now her gallery, with her work displayed in every room. 

Her medium of choice is acrylic, however, she has also dabbled in water colour and oil pastels in the past.  For Helen, she feels acrylic paint suits her personality as she explains, “Acrylic works for me because it’s so fast. I am a really fast painter. I may spend a long time wondering what I’m going to do and working up a painting in my mind, and then all of a sudden (when she begins painting), half an hour later it’s done!”  Admitting it is in her nature to be fast and not have to plan ahead or wait for paint to dry, working with acrylic paint definitely suits her needs as an artist. 

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Helen is inspired by her immediate natural surroundings.  “My subject matter has followed a natural history theme.  I am also very connected to the seasons,” she says.  Her garden and riverside property provide endless amounts of subject matter to pull from for her art.  Poppies are her true love (you would understand why if you take a visit to her backyard garden), and she is in the process of thinking about starting a poppy series that will surely be something to marvel.  Currently, she is leaning more towards impressionism in her style.  “I don’t want a picture perfect poppy, I want an impressionist one.”   She also makes scrapbooks where she collects images of art that speak to her. “I feel like they informally inform my own art,” she muses.

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When asked what advice she would give to children wanting to purse painting, Helen clearly recalls the best quote she ever read about creating art, “Paint what you love.”  She also remembers the initial advice she received from her friend and mentor Joan, “She told me that by the time we saw each other again I needed to draw or sketch one hundred items. It didn’t matter what they were or how complicated they were or what I used, I just had to get out a sketchbook.  By the end of that time I knew I could draw.” Upon reflection, Helen has come to realize that since she has become more public with her art, she is also inspired by the people who like and enjoy her paintings, “It’s kind of like an exchange of love.  It’s a gift.”

You can view Helen’s art in Clearwater BC at her personal home gallery; Yellowhead Community Services (612 Park Drive); and Forest House Wellness Centre (717 Clearwater Village Road).  She continues to paint regularly in her home-based studio.

Helen Knight’s art is available.  She welcomes anyone who has an emotional interest in her work to contact her directly. 

Special note: Helen has been selected as the feature artist at this year’s Clearwater Children’s Art Festival on August 6, 2014, 10am-3pm at the Dutch Lake Community Centre. A selection of her work will be displayed and she will be on hand to meet families and answer questions.  Multiple local artists will be providing art experiences for children of all ages throughout the day.                                                             

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Rolla Olak & Friends: Rocky Mountain High Tour

When Rolla Olak, Andy Bishop (White Ash Falls), Todd Menzies and Nick Petrowich (Willhorse) show up, be ready to have your expectations met.

These guys are the real deal in more ways than one.  White Ash Falls opened the show with a primarily solo-acoustic set that took the audience by surprise, as many had come expecting Rolla with a full band right out of the gates.  But it was a pleasant shock, as he mellowed the crowd sitting on the grass basking in the evening sun. His gentle soul serenaded us with his folk tunes that are so clearly close to his heart.  Andy is quite the musical chameleon and has achieved much success in multiple bands over the last decade (Yukon Blonde; Red Cedar; Twin Rivers – as well as guest appearances in many others); however embarking on his collaborative project White Ash Falls a few years ago has allowed him to showcase his maturity and individuality as a songwriter.  When the guys joined him for his last few songs to amp things up, his ability to switch gears on a dime and rock it out was impressive, and it was obvious we were in store for quite the night.

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The man of the hour was indeed Rolla Olak.  His timeless sound is not only a throwback to the early Dylan/Young era, it easily resonates in the here and now.  Rolla has this specific air about him that creates nostalgia for what was, and a longing for what could be.

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Joined by Bishop on guitar and harmonica, Todd Menzies on bass and Nick Petrowich on drums, this foursome tore it up as they dug deep into Rolla’s repertoire of both hard-hitting tunes and soft-hearted melodies.

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It was a welcomed return for Rolla, Todd and Nick who played here for the first time on their Winter Wolfpack Tour back in December with the rest of Willhorse.  There was no question that we were going to see them again.  The moment they stepped foot on the property it was as if a part of them belonged here, an instinct I’d had about them when we first started insisting they find their way to us down a lonely dirt road.

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There are all types of artists and musicians that visit the venue and we, the audience, are thankful to be witness to each of their unique talents and qualities. But once in awhile you happen upon a soul or two who inhabit something that aligns closely with the energy and dream that venue owner Shirley deVooght has worked so hard to cultivate and protect. These guys got it and embraced it instantly, and have been incredible advocates for Shirley and the venue ever since.

It was Andy’s first visit to the acreage, and he fit in like an old hat. Rolla and Andy have known each other for many years as songwriters on the west coast, so to have them share in each other’s music and friendship in this setting was a gift to be a part of.  It remains staggering that Rolla and Willhorse only met a year ago through the Peak Performance Project. With that experience tucked away in the rear view mirror, their relationship is rock solid, with a chemistry that presents as if they have been playing and touring together since day one.

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The thing that stands out about every one of these long-haired, ripped-jean-wearing men who inhabit a natural swagger most would kill for is that they are completely unaware of how appealing they are. Each of them are truly unaffected by the relative success they have achieved thus far in their careers, and genuinely care about making quality, honest music that echoes the same vibe they carry off the stage.  They have this instant chill that reverberates to everyone around them, including honest moments of humour and joy that highlight their mutual adoration and respect for one another, both in creating music and simply in shared conversation.

When I first met Todd Menzies, he made a comment about Rolla that went something like this, “I’ve known a lot of great musicians over the years, but Rolla is one of the few true artists out there.” He was right, but he fell short of including himself. Each of these men exudes an artistic bone that is not all together as common as you may think.  It is incredibly challenging in this day and age to be genuine. With social media taunting their every move and a fan base that is itching for instant gratification, the artist is no longer answering to “the man,” they now have to answer to the masses.  Certain personalities can weather this better than others, and have the ability to stay cocooned within their own motivations and inspirations for the creative process. These few give the impression that they stick to their guns amid mounting pressures in an ever changing industry that seems to throw a new iron in the fire to chase after at every turn.

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Amid their ideals, there will always be the temptation of writing that elusive song that hits the pulse of popular culture to set them up for life. As the guys themselves explained, touring on the independent circuit can be grueling and not all together rewarding. Venues like Serenity are few and far between where they get home cooked meals, individual beds, and are welcomed in to a home to call their own where there is a deep respect and appreciation for not only their music, but for each individual who has created it.

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Through these trials, they each display an authenticity that shines through.  What we experienced with them was the perfect marriage between music and venue, where the audience was given the space to just be, and time slowed down to the point where you could forget about it all together. 

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After the official show had ended, the bonfire was lit and the four of them played into the night under a near full moon.  As the fire crackled in the background, people of all ages came together amid the stars; some danced, some sat back and took it all in.  Somehow, the music and surroundings collided as minutes became hours and time melted away.  We can only await their return until we can erase time once again.

Rolla Olak and friends performed at Serenity Performing Arts Centre on July 10, 2014.

Rolla’s Rocky Mountain High Tour continues all summer long across BC and Alberta.  Visit his website at www.rollaolak.com for tour dates and locations, as well as links to music and more.

rocky mountain high

Visit White Ash Falls’ website at www.whiteashfalls.com for music, bio and more.

Fingers crossed the guys make it back here in September to celebrate the 1st Annual Harvest Music Festival, Sept. 5-7, 2014. Rolla Olak is already booked as a headliner for 2015!

Photos courtesy of Google Images and Serenity Music. 

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Greg Drummond on the big stage

Singing in the rain, just singing in the rain, what a glorious feelin’, I’m happy again. ~ Gene Kelly

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When Greg Drummond booked his outdoor show here back in the fall, all hopes were for a sunny day. But the weather does what it will, and on this night it was willed to rain. People rallied, snuggled together under tarps and Greg and the band took to the stage like pros. Thankfully, the children were the ones who taught all the adults how not to sweat the small stuff. Watching the little ones dance in the rain to Greg’s infectious sound brought a sense of joy that caught on like wild fire. By the end of the first set, most were up on their feet, and when Greg and the band returned to the stage after the mid-break, the field was alive with a sense of youthfulness as people kicked off their shoes to feel the wet grass beneath their feet.

Greg himself came off the covered stage multiple times to immerse himself (and his guitar) in the evening showers. A humble stage man, he possesses a warmth that earns him love from new audiences everywhere. His music crosses multiple genres and in doing so appeals to all demographics. Whether you are 17 or 70, Greg’s songs have something for everyone. He opened the show with “Walking Man,” the title track off his debut album that has gotten him many accolades and exposure in his young career. The song is incredibly catchy and tells the story of leaving the financial security and comforts of a stable career to follow his passion as a musician. I find myself humming or singing it often around the house, it’s a song that easily finds its way into your head. Of the many local teenagers in the audience, a few mentioned to me how the song made them think about the decisions they were facing as they approached high school graduation. Interestingly enough, my dad who has been retired for years was also at the show, and the next morning he spoke to me about how much that particular song stuck with him.

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This show was the third time Greg Drummond has played at Serenity. As he has been evolving as an artist, so too has the venue. His first show here a few years ago occurred with a small crowd in Shirley’s living room. This past fall he returned to the house and carried the concert on into the night with a full out jam with the band that a lucky few had the benefit of baring witness to. This time, Greg and the band played the big stage out on the acreage. Considering it was pouring rain at an outdoor concert on the outskirts of a small rural community, it is safe to say the show was a success. The truth is whether you have 50 people or 500 at a concert, it is the energy of those that show up that makes it, and the Serenity audience is always ready to take in the music and translate it into a true experience. Thankfully, the music of Greg Drummond makes that rather easy.

The folk essence and east-meets-west coast elements to his sound provides a nice variety; enchanting when it slows down and full of fun when he kicks it up inspiring you to get out of your seat and move. The smooth yet gritty quality to his vocals is intoxicating, helping to fulfill his duty of capturing and holding the attention of an audience with ease. The musicians he surrounds himself don’t hurt his cause either.

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Playing with Michael Lothian, Mike Meroniuk, Alanna Pearce and Marshall Hunt for a few years, they have developed a great friendship and support for Greg’s vision. Marshall recently left on a hiatus with hopes to return, but in the meantime Greg recently found another stand up bass player whose name also starts with M (shout out to Marcus, wish you could have been here) and the word on the street is he is Marshall’s doppelganger. Weirder things have happened.

Through continued hard work and dedication, Greg has been achieving an increasing amount of success as of late. He was recently awarded a $21,000 grant from FACTOR (The Foundation Assisting Canadian Talent on Recordings), providing him with funds to record, produce, promote and distribute his second full length album. The album will be partly recorded at Monarch Studios in Vancouver, with plans to complete the recordings at a home-based studio on Gambier Island in Greg’s family cabin. Talk about creative inspiration.

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One thing is for sure, with songs that have you singing along within seconds, and a smile that can make your heart skip a beat, Greg Drummond easily appeals to today’s youth while simultaneously making a fan out of mom and dad.

Highlights:
Heaven or Hell: Personal favourite track off the album that translated beautifully in the picturesque surroundings. Kudos to Michael on keys.
The Sweet Sound: Fun tune that instantly got the crowd off their feet dancing.
Stand: Perfect song to close out the show, with Greg down off the stage standing on a chair and leading the crowd in a full blown sing-a-long; a memory I will hold dear with each subsequent listen of his album.

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Greg Drummond performed at Serenity Performing Arts Centre on Saturday, June 14, 2014.

Stay tuned for his sophomore album due late Fall 2014.

For show dates, music downloads, links to his facebook page and more, visit his website at http://www.gregdrummond.com

Greg Drummond and his band are playing Serenity’s 1st Annual Harvest Music Fest, September 5-7, 2014.

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Cod Gone Wild release new album “Battered & Fried”

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It has been two weeks since I sat in the audience at Serenity Performing Arts Centre to watch Cod Gone Wild perform their newly released album “Battered & Fried.” This piece has been delayed due to technical difficulties, but although time has passed since their show, the impression left by these four musicians and their dynamic talent has remained.

It was my second time seeing Cod Gone Wild perform at Serenity. They have played here multiple times and are an integral part of the growing music family that venue owner Shirley de Vooght has nurtured over the past 6 years.

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For a Celtic band focused on giving traditional music a modern edge, Cod Gone Wild is succeeding in spades. Booked months in advance for everything from weddings to festivals and house concerts to sports tournaments, their music and stage performance is diverse and adaptable to any size or type of audience.

Their wide appeal may be because their sound is nostalgic for some, yet entirely new to others. It is surely because they work extremely hard, have branded themselves perfectly and deliver a performance that has earned them solid reviews and referrals. What must also be remembered is at the end of the day they are four talented musicians who are the best of friends and full of heart.

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Their house concert here was packed to the gills (fitting expression).  It was the first time the band has been back since the new house stage was built which allows for a larger indoor audience. On this night, we experienced just how many people you can cram into that living room. 52 to be exact. Anjuli broke into laughter midway through the first set simply because she couldn’t believe how many people had fit in the space. “Look behind you,” she mused to the people in the front row, “it’s hilarious!” Andrew commented it was like watching an airplane load, person after person filing in minutes leading up to the show’s start. The band was thrilled to see the growing audience and so many new faces at the venue, proving how the magic of this place has finally caught on.

Speaking of magic, Cod Gone Wild have an energy that is unparalleled to many based on the simple fact that when you have a world class fiddler front and center in your band there is an intensity and momentum that is constantly at play. The band’s vibe is unquestionable on stage, and for this particular concert they had come to showcase their new album “Battered & Fried”, which they performed in its entirety for the audience (and that was just the first set).

cod gone wild may 2014

The album is true to the band’s modern Celtic niche proudly resurrecting many traditional tunes as well as highlighting their own songwriting talents in originals interspersed throughout the 13 track album. Beginning the recording process in January, Cod Gone Wild finished the album under the wire just in time for their pre-scheduled release party in March. Thankfully the challenging time frame paid off, forcing them to pull together and go from pre-production to recording to producing the tracks for mastering in just over 2 months. The album’s audio recordings took place in Vernon BC in a space they have affectionately named “The Codshack,” a rented house they have converted into a home-based studio where they all live together (except for Anjuli who says that touring with these three men is great fun, but living with them full time is where she draws the line, which also included a tease or two claiming that “boys smell bad”).

cod gone wild 7

After hearing the album performed live, the hands down favourites are the original songs, and this stays true when listening to the recordings. Again and again, no matter how well a band covers a song or puts their own spin on a traditional tune, there is nothing like listening to an artist perform their own music. Vocalist and guitarist Andrew Mercer has two songs on the album which demonstrate yet again how he is at the core of the band’s creative soul and vision. He wrote “Never Know” only the day before heading into the studio.  It is a harrowing tune about honouring heritage, both of one’s family and community at large, in order to be mindful of the past before taking steps towards the future; a fitting message in our current times of environmental unrest. “I Remember” was written by Mercer a number of years ago in Newfoundland when he was performing with a different band. He figured it was time to bring the song back to share with a new audience, and he was right. The moving ballad of a boy mourning the loss of his father at sea touched the audience’s heart, especially those struggling with their own stories of grief.

andrew cond gone wildAndrew Mercer

Welcomed additions to the sophomore album are two original songs by Chad “Rhino” Carter, the band’s larger than life drummer and vocalist. Rhino’s physical presence is unmistakable on stage, but his big heart is the true show stopper. His song “Half Wagon Men/Half Wagon Reel” is an ode to his newfound Métis heritage and adds a fitting folk element to the album. In the same breadth, “Back Roads,” a song about his grandfather’s love of driving in the back country is the perfect end track to bring the album full circle in a compilation of stories shared with the listener. Cod Gone Wild has always had the gift of weaving a story together for their audience on stage, which they have also achieved with this album.

rhino 2Chad “Rhino” Carter

Although both Rhino and Andrew’s original songs are the true standouts, the success of the band’s music is due to each member and their unique talents and strengths. Anjuli Otter can easily be named the “star” on the stage; the attractive fiddler’s beauty and talent captivate you instantly while her no-holds-bar character and quick mouth can make your jaw hit the floor and insides ache from laughter. Her thumbprint is clearly heard in each song on the album, proving that the fiddle in many respects is the foundational element to Cod Gone Wild’s sound and appeal.

anjuli goc gone wildAnjuli Otter

Finally, Roy Kawano, the ever humble bass player who remains relatively behind the scenes, is essentially what gives the band its true edge; sometimes the most understated of elements make the largest impact.

roy 3Roy Kawano

Overall, “Battered & Fried” is a well shaped sophomore album that will not only please long time Cod fans, but has the ability to draw in folk fans across multiple genres. Without question, it deserves one hell of an east coast “Sociable!”

cod gone wild 3 may 2014

Standout Traditional track: “Canadiana Medley” – features exceptional performances by each band member including up-tempo guitar from Andrew, Rhino on spoons (spoons!), an overdose of Anjuli on the fiddle, and even a bass riff solo from Roy…need I say more?

Cod Gone Wild performed at Serenity Performing Arts Centre on Saturday, May 3, 2014.

Their new album “Battered & Fried” is available through their website at www.codgonewild.ca.

Get your Serenity Harvest Music Festival tickets through www.serenitymusic.ca to see Cod Gone Wild perform live and provide lights and sound for the entire 3 day festival here on the acreage, September 5-7, 2014.

Photos courtesy of Steve Mechem.

 

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