Sam Weber

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This past Saturday night I experienced the live solo performance of singer-songwriter Sam Weber. An experience it was indeed.

Sam Weber’s music has been on my playlist for the last year. I caught wind of his sound through some of his friends and fellow artists who have played up this way and name him among their top recommendations.

Upon the re-release of his debut album “Shadows In The Road,” word came through that he was booked to play our local venue as part of his fall tour and my anticipation has been building ever since. I was intrigued to say the least at what his live performance would reveal, but I was also a bit nervous. His sound has this honest quality to it that I was immediately drawn to, but his artistic brand is often marketed in a way that suggests a certain intensity. I was completely prepared to face a somewhat guarded, brooding individual, but any inclinations of him being at all withdrawn immediately dissolved as he greeted me with a friendly boyish smile and a sincere warmth of heart in the quaint home setting of Serenity Performing Arts Centre. This is why live music is so important; to feel the energy of an artist in the flesh is something you cannot recreate on an album, in a video, photo shoot or written article. You can see, hear and feel glimpses, but there is nothing comparable to the real thing.

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The evening’s torrential rain and dense fog influenced the relatively small crowd at our remote venue tucked away down an unlit dirt road. However, everyone in the audience was genuinely interested in the music that Sam had come to share. Within the first few seconds of his opening song, there was no question we were in for something incredibly special.

Not that this came as much of a surprise. His mounting accolades include a scholarship to the Berklee College of Music, a feature in Guitar Player magazine, an honourable mention in the 2013 International Songwriting Competition, and being signed to Cordova Bay Records…just to name a few. Sam Weber has also been producing a steady stream of up and coming independent artists who are turning to him for his impeccable ear to help them develop their own sound and unique quality, a feat he has been able to achieve for himself.

After the show I told Sam I had never seen someone perform their music in such a kinesthetic way. It was captivating. To see an artist be so completely in his music where the expressions on his face and every movement in his body communicated nuances in each song was mesmerizing to behold. It was emotional and moving and at times jarring. There was no disconnect between him and his music. It was one of the realest performances I have ever seen; real as in there wasn’t any performance at all, just pure communication and connection. Amid his intricately crafted songs, Sam shared his light-hearted spirit with the audience, showcasing his sweet personality through brief anecdotes and stories that created a perfect balance of energy on stage.

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Born in the early 90’s, Sam is part of the latter Generation Y who bring a perspective our world has yet to experience; the first young adults of our time who have spent their entire existence immersed in the information highway, with answers to anything at the click of a button, and whose youth is synonymous with a rapid acceleration of technological devices that connect them (or disconnect them depending on how you look at it) with others in a myriad of ways. Having spent time with a growing number of artists from this demographic, I can tell you despite what mass media tragically chooses to highlight, the future is promising. Not only does Sam represent a growing number of socially conscious young minds, but he is also someone who is able to rationalize and dissect the difference between what is real and what is not when it comes to the smoke and mirrors of the music industry. At 22 years old, he is savvy, bright, intuitive, endearing, and genuine. As part of this first wave era his perspective is highly evolved when it comes to his approach to making music. Sam simply relates that because there is the ability to easily edit anything and everything at their fingertips, many in his generation are starting to reject the very technology they have been raised to epitomize. How’s that for perfect irony among today’s youth. A philosophy of integrity, honesty and exercising a meaningful artistic voice is reflective in every aspect of Sam’s work, including his songwriting, musicianship and performance style.

Citing his major musical influences as Joni Mitchell and Bruce Springsteen, it is highly apparent that he has a strong commitment to creating authenticity in his music that he can represent on stage.

Putting his own stamp on boldly chosen covers including Fleetwood Mac’s “Say You Love Me” and a rare rendition of esteemed Canadian producer Daniel Lanois’ “The Maker,” he made clear statements about his songwriting taste and the range of styles he can comfortably navigate.

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Sharing that he is constantly writing and has high volumes of songs ready to share with audiences, he admits promoting an album on tour can be challenging when he is eager to perform new material over songs written and recorded in months and years past. Although the average record company may prefer artists stick close to their album’s content, no audience anywhere is going to mind hearing the variety of crafted tunes he is capable of performing on any given night.

Inducing feelings of passion, self-reflection, resolve and the pursuit of happiness, Sam Weber’s essence filled the Serenity living room and provided something for everyone to stew over. From a widowed emergency response worker putting her feet up for the first time in weeks, to a husband and wife who are full time working parents sharing tender affection throughout the show, the moments he created were immeasurable in their importance.

When it comes right down to it, Sam Weber is a deeply inspired songwriter and musician whose music resonates with the mind, body and soul. To steal a quote from fellow west coast artist Rolla Olak, “Dude has the muse somethin’ fierce.” Enough said.

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Album highlights: “Right-Hearted,” his show opener that captures his life on the road and heartfelt sentiments; “August,” the album’s first single with an intro hook that sticks in your head for days and a stunningly beautiful tone from start to finish; and “Burn Out,” a song that sounds like a simple introspection upon first listen, yet after subsequent plays reveals a more complicated commentary on the mutual struggles of the human condition. To add one more for good measure, his live performance of “Don’t Hurt” brought me to tears, so naturally it’s my new favourite track.

Sam Weber performed at Serenity Performing Arts Centre on November 8, 2014.

He will be touring throughout BC until early December. Check out his homepage http://www.samweber.me for show dates, links to album downloads, social media feeds and more.

Joining him on tour is the enchanting songstress Kirsten Ludwig. We had the pleasure of enjoying her company, however we were not one of the shows where she was slated to perform. If you plan to be at one where she is, count yourself lucky. http://www.kirstenludwigmusic.com

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Rolla Olak: Solo House Show

It’s officially house concert season at Serenity; a time to connect through music and relationship and build a stronger sense of community.

Returning to the venue for the third time in under a year, Rolla Olak performed a solo show, a departure from playing with a full rock band, but we didn’t mind one bit.

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Rolla has become a beloved icon of sorts for the Serenity crowd. Following his first visit here last winter while on tour with Willhorse, venue owner Shirley de Vooght was mesmerized by his talent and spirit and made a commitment to support his career. He returned to play an outdoor show in the summer, at which time Shirley asked him to join the bill for Harvest Fest 2015 to which he enthusiastically accepted.

With a gracious demeanor and humble nature, you’d never guess the guy was signed to Universal Records with a band in his youth in Toronto, or that he continues to write for major artists and record labels across Canada and the US. Rolla is a unique soul whose music represents the qualities that have come to be appreciated by his fan base…genuine, strong, tender, bold, honest, straight-up rock.

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Arriving off the highway literally minutes before his show was set to start, Rolla and his electric guitar charged up the audience immediately as he opened with “Waiting For You,” a catchy love tune he released for purchase last October that caught on immediately and was featured by many music blogs and sites, not to mention highlighted during his time as a top 20 finalist in Music BC’s 2013 Peak Performance Project.

Including the audience as active participants in his show, he led sing-a-longs, foot-stomping grooves and rocked out ballads that had the crowd all smiles and warmed with affection for this long-haired, bearded young man with an old soul.

Throughout his performance, Rolla motioned around the stage to what he referred to as his “phantom band”; it was very charming. You could almost hear the rest of the band during different parts of a song; whether there was a natural break or an amped up chorus. His performance of “Heart That Won’t Let Go” off his debut album “Western Heart” was especially interesting to watch him play solo as the track on the album is so heavily weighted by instrumentals, but he easily filled it with his voice and guitar alone.

Along with playing songs off his first album, Rolla shared his new music with us that he will begin recording next month for his sophomore albums. Yes, that’s right, albums. He will be recording two albums of original material, one with a harder rock edge to it than the other. Recently receiving a grant from The Foundation to Assist Canadian Talent on Records (FACTOR) to assist with the costs of recording, Rolla is in the final stages of organizing his production team that will include engineering by the legendary Colin Stewart (The Hive Creative Labs) at his new destination studio on Vancouver Island. If all goes as planned, we can expect to have Rolla’s new album playing in our homes come Spring 2015.

With a timeless sound and an energy that puts you at ease instantly, it’s a favour to yourself to spend any amount of time in the company of Rolla Olak and his music.

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Additional show highlights: “Karolina” – His performance of this first-rate track off his debut album was smooth as silk; “Lifetimes”  – A beautiful thought provoking song worth waiting for on his new album; and a few covers that were grand in their execution, most notably Bruce Springsteen’s “State Trooper” and a stunning rendition of Bob Dylan’s “Girl from the North Country.”

Rolla Olak performed at Serenity Performing Arts Centre on October 17, 2014.

For those in the Vancouver area, you can catch Rolla on Thursday nights at The Main (corner of East 26th Ave & Main Street), a residency sponsored by Persephone Brewing Co.

Advance tickets are on sale now for Serenity’s Harvest Fest 2015 (September 11-13, 2015) with early-bird tickets already sold out. Rolla Olak and his band will be headlining Friday night.

Visit http://www.rollaolak.com for links to music downloads, live shows, social media feeds, and more.

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Peak Performance Project Showcase #1: Jon Bryant, David Newberry and Good For Grapes

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For this small town girl heading out for a night in the big city, this show couldn’t have fulfilled my hopes any more.

Having seen each of the night’s headliners perform before, I was curious if the environment of the “competition” would impact their performances and what they would choose to highlight from their repertoires.

Jon Bryant took the stage first and immediately greeted the audience with his unique charm as he spoke to the crowd without a mic to set the tone for his personal performance and bring everyone closer. For anyone who has been to a Jon Bryant show, you will know that he is incredibly intimate and hands on with the audience; he has an ability to connect in a way I have seen few others do while on stage in the right setting. Opening in a venue like this is typically a tougher slot for a singer-songwriter as people are filing in and just getting warmed up for the night, but Jon kept his cool, held his own and even graciously invited his fellow Peak finalists to the stage to share in a rousing arms linked acoustic sing-a-long of Stan Rogers’ “Northwest Passage.” For a moment he made a downtown club feel like a living room and gave all of us a taste of what the Peak Performance Project Bootcamp may have been like (aside from the nightly pool parties and zipline extravaganzas). Undeniably, this east coast boy with a gentle heart is impossible not to adore.
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David Newberry is a treasure. After seeing him a little over a year ago perform more of an acoustic set, his albums have been playing steadily in my home ever since. With his latest EP “Desire Lines” garnering him increased national attention, it was a moving experience to watch him play with a full band and see his music come to life in such a remarkable way. His performance was exquisitely planned as he built on the audience’s growing energy with each song. Highlights were his original “Observer” that had the crowd glued to every note, and the finale performance of his recently re-recorded and released single “Slow” was the fitting pièce de résistance. Simply put, he had my heart in his hand the entire set (and entire night to be quite honest).
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Good For Grapes. My goodness. This was the fourth time I’ve seen them in just over a year, and the first seeing them as their evolved incarnation which now includes drummer Will Watson and cellist Alex Hauka. The cello was a genius move for the band as it lends itself beautifully to their sound. Not only that, having the added touch of inviting multi-instrumentalist Greg McLeod to join them on stage for a few fiddle and trombone medleys was the candle on the cake (speaking of which, how fun was it that it was lead guitarist Graham Gomez’s birthday!). At the end of the day, the band blew the roof off the place with a performance that was executed to perfection. Their song line-up was just the right blend of old and new, as they dispersed crowd favourites they have mastered with some touching new songs (like “Time and Time Again” written by lead singer Daniel McBurnie for his sisters that stripped away much of their instrumental fanfare and featured their sometimes hidden beautiful harmonies) and an off-the-charts cover of “The Safety Dance” by Men Without Hats which was easily the best surprise of the night. I’m not going to lie, I will have an eternal soft spot for this band which goes back to the beginning of starting this site, but putting the personal back story aside, Good For Grapes never disappoints a live audience, and if the crowd’s reaction to their performance was any indication, forget the Horse, 2014 is the year of the Grape.
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Jon Bryant, David Newberry and Good For Grapes performed at Fortune Soundclub on September 18, 2014.

This was the first of four showcases as part of BC’s 2014 Peak Performance Project.

To stay up to date visit http://www.peakperformanceproject.com where you will find links to these artists and the rest of this year’s top 12.

Photos courtesy of Creative Copper Images, Peak Performance Project BC and David Newberry’s facebook page (thanks David).

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Serenity Harvest Music Festival 2014

Magic (noun): A quality of being beautiful and delightful in a way that seems remote from daily life (Oxford Dictionary).

That pretty much sums it up. In all honesty I should stop right there, because attempting to summarize what was seen and felt by the people who attended Serenity last weekend is a feat impossible to achieve. However, if providing even the smallest glimpse into the collective experience helps to entice others to discover the community, talent and energy this hidden gem is attracting, all will be well.

Serenity owner and operator Shirley de Vooght had a vision, a vision that was motivated by many of the artists who she has come to love like family. She had a desire to bring back a select group of musicians she has “harvested” throughout the year at house concerts to headline a 3 day music festival on her property. The 1st Annual Harvest Music Fest was her dream and did it ever come true.

For starters, Mother Nature was definitely on our side. The week leading up to the festival saw daily down pours, but for the three days and two nights on the acreage, we experienced sun, sun, and more sun. Summer came back in all its glory much to the delight of festival goers and all of the beautiful children that adorned the grounds with their laughter, dancing and tireless energy.

At night, the sky glowed as we were lucky enough to experience the eve of a full moon for the duration of the festival. To have the night sky mural on the main stage be reflected in the natural backdrop of the festival itself was a sight that left many in awe of the surrounding environment.

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Campers began arriving as early as Thursday to set up, with midday Friday seeing the steady flow of arrivals. By 6pm, Campground A was full to capacity and the night’s line-up was the perfect combination to open the weekend’s festivities.

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Brodie Dawson opened the festival with her sweet, pure vocals that had everyone under her spell alongside her bandmates Christy Vanden and Blaine Dunaway who nailed absolutely everything. Brodie’s voice carried beautifully across the vast open fields, while the moon began to slowly rise overhead. Vanden’s grooves on the Stratocaster guitar and Dunaway’s mastery of fiddle and cello were not only enjoyed during their show, but the three of them were mainstays at the nightly bonfires enjoyed by those who stayed awake into the early morning hours to discover what can happen after dark when you get a group of accomplished musicians together.

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Next on the line-up was Windborn. For those of us behind-the-scenes, his performance was extra special. Jeff Pike of Windborn was the catalyst behind the idea of hosting the festival and has been instrumental in the development of the venue itself. Not only did he organize the Kickstarter campaign this last year that finally gave owner/operator Shirley de Vooght a new roof for her home, indoor stage and artist housing, he also helped to install the roof over five very hot summer days and constructed a new drum riser for the stage the day before the festival started. Amazing. Needless to say, Windborn is a part of this place and when he plays on that stage, there is a familiarity and nostalgia wrapped into every lyric as if the trees are humming along. His ability to solely own the main stage with his guitar and kick drum continues to astound as his unique sound fills the vast space with ease.

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Cod Gone Wild closed out the night like only they can…with the highest amount of energy possible. They are truly a band that people talk about for days afterwards. You just can’t help but move when you listen to them. Andrew Mercer, Anjuli Otter, Roy Kawano and Chad Carter make up this dynamic foursome. People of all ages (including lots of children!) were dancing to their hearts content well into the night to this modern Celtic band’s flare. Anjuli always has the crowd in fits of laughter with her hilarious banter, and her internationally renowned fiddle playing never fails to blow people away. Not only was their performance a crowd favourite, they also provided the entire lights and sound for all of the bands at the festival. They did an impeccable job and were consummate professionals. Based on their long standing relationship with the venue and undeniable appeal, they will be returning next year and we could not be happier.

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As everyone headed back to their campsites following the show, the bonfire was a blaze with people beginning to congregate there shortly after the stage lights went out. Long after the last child had been laid down to sleep, the fireside jams carried on beyond 2am as people danced, sang, laughed and shared in the joy of friends new and old. This first night was filled with high spirits and anticipation for what was still to come.

The sun shone bright early Saturday morning, with the heat intensifying as the day progressed. For those needing the sleep, it was a day of rest and relaxation with options of taking advantage of one of the on-site vendors such as a pretty pedicure or hot stone relaxation massage from Serenity’s resident dance fairy Arden Melinda, or a private reading from Clearwater’s renowned psychic Erica Von Kcaat. For the families who were up bright and early with their children no matter how little sleep they got, there were activities planned to take part in such as hay rides and farm tours up the road at the Aveley Sheep Ranch, and a Children’s Art Garden with crafts, face painting, storytelling, and karaoke on the garden stage.

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Music started up again at 3pm with Cruel Young Heart. This Vancouver based pop band brought the FUN! They were the perfect choice to get the day going with their youthful energy and dance beats. The band was incredibly interactive with the audience, coming off the stage and sharing the mic with our smallest audience members who were mesmerized by their sound and look. Made up of James Blackmon, Drew McKay, Andrew Blackmon and Chelsea Lang, they have a real pulse on the current radio market with heavy influences from 80’s pop. Unfortunately they couldn’t stay to share in the rest of the festival and get to know everyone better, but they left a great impression and we were sad to see them go.

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Next up was North Country Gentlemen, a blend of men with strong faith-based roots, some of whom have stuck with the path, others who have rebelled against its influence. One of the weekend’s greatest quotes came from them during their set when if recalled correctly Ryan McAllister mused, “I feel like this is the place where hippies and rednecks co-exist peacefully.” This was met with roaring laughter as he hit the nail on the head regarding our community’s demographic. The harmonies created by the foursome of McAllister, JJ Shiplett, Barnaby McRae and Jeremy Friesen were humbly achieved as they played each song as if they were in the comfort of their own home. That is part of the magic of Serenity, everyone is given the freedom to relax and feel accepted. The country flare of their critically acclaimed tunes provided the perfect soundtrack to kick back and bask in the late afternoon sun.

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As North Country Gentlemen’s set was coming to a close, Devon Coyote and his band arrived following an earlier gig in Kelowna. They were met with a warm welcome as they brought along their loved ones to share in the remainder of the weekend. It is always wonderful to see musicians not only bring their partners, but also their parents. There is something about a guy on stage calling out to his mom or dad that just never gets old, and when Devon did it, it was a standout moment.

Devon Coyote has a presence and stage appeal that gets better and better each time you see him perform. Devon and his long time bass player D’Arcy Booth have played Serenity multiple times over the years, and as his success has steadily grown, his shows continue to expand in breadth. We were his third show in less than 24 hours, yet he delivered one of the purest and freshest performances of the festival. This guy has it in the bag. Reunited with one of his original and favourite drummers Rod Anderson, Devon sounded tighter than ever with his dominating Blues Rock edge. It should come as no surprise that he is getting increased recognition, including opening for Blue Rodeo and George Thorogood this past summer, and for 54-40 in November. The bigger the stages he plays, the bigger his sound and ability gets. The Serenity family can’t wait to see where he goes next.

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Not to be outdone by his friend and musical comrade, Greg Drummond took to the stage as darkness had settled in and the glow sticks began to make their nightly appearances. Greg and his band have also been regulars on the venue’s lineup over the past few years. He has earned a place in the hearts of many with his uplifting folk rock sound, and his rise in the BC music scene has been cheered on every step of the way by a growing fan base. Greg and his band (Michael Lothian, Mike Meroniuk, Greg Mcleod, and Alanna Pearce) performed their array of eclectic instruments including accordion, keys, electric guitar, bass, trumpet, mandolin and drums. Coming off months of practice and recording sessions for Greg’s sophomore album, they gave the audience exactly what they were looking for, and the adoring crowd immediately called for an encore that they graciously provided. They were also one of the few bands who camped out at the festival the entire weekend, which was appreciated by festival goers who have come to love Serenity for the camaraderie created between the audience and the artists.

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The night’s finale was a highly anticipated one for many of the venue’s regulars who influenced the decision to have this particular artist headline the second night. JJ Shiplett & The Red River Rebellion played one year ago to the day on the Serenity stage to its largest crowd to date at the time, which helped Shirley decide to host a festival the following year. It was the performance JJ gave then that solidified having him come back to close out the festival. He is raw, real Rock to its core. The guy just lays it all out on the stage, with his tortured soul and bad boy image stealing hearts each note at a time. Joined by bassist Greg Peace and Nate Giebelhaus on drums, JJ proved he cannot be tamed, with his wild red hair, quick mouth, and brooding voice that digs deep into your soul. For the last few songs, he held the stage solo without the band, playing some of his new material that is soon to be released on his sophomore album. Still relatively under the radar, JJ Shiplett is one to watch as his music is ready to resonate with the masses. Of course, underneath that exterior lies a tender heart, and Shirley has a piece of it. One of the weekend’s touching moments was when JJ brought her up on stage to publicly thank and recognize her for all of her efforts and support.

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For his encore set, JJ spontaneously invited members of the other bands to join him on stage where they created an instant super group. They played a rendition of The Band’s classic “The Weight” that put the crowd in a frenzy and included accordion, trombone, drum and tambourine solos to name a few. To take a line from today’s pop-culture vocabulary, “It was epic.”

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Saturday evening drew to a close as had the night before, with a roaring bonfire and beautiful voices filling the starry sky. On this night, the mood was softer, more intimate, as everyone had come to know one another more deeply, and the recognition that tomorrow would be filled with goodbyes was looming. As the hours drew on, the music became sweeter, and the circle huddled closer, not only to get the last of the fire’s warmth, but to soak up each moment we could of each other’s company. It must also be mentioned that many a musician not featured on the festival line-up were “headliners” at the nightly bonfire jams. In particular, Nils Loewen on cello (who also provided the official festival photography and videography), as well as his brother Dan Loewen on guitar and vocals led some of the most memorable jam sessions of the weekend. Accomplished Merritt based artist Cassandra Dolen also graced our festival with her presence and donated one of her beautiful original walnut oil paintings. She too lent her angelic voice to our campfire concerts. Music festival mainstay Doug Koyoma joined our Serenity family as our volunteer gate keeper, and his deep, soulful voice and sing-a-long rounds were dearly appreciated. An honourable mention must also be made to Greg Drummond’s “fill-in” bass player, Greg Mcleod, who came along with a multitude of instruments he showcased including fiddle and trombone…the nickname “Super G” stuck instantly and I’m fairly sure there is a Facebook fan page in production as we speak.

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If that was not enough, by midday on Sunday, the main stage was packed with multiple artists re-creating the nightly bonfire jams only amplified. It was the perfect way to end off what was truly an exceptional experience.

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After all was said and done, with a few hundred people gracing the grounds over three days, it was heart warming to see how respectful festival attendees had been with little to no garbage being left on the campsite grounds and every piece of property still in one piece and in working order.

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Special thanks goes out to Tacos`n`More, our delicious food vendor who fed us extremely well and generously throughout the weekend. And of course as always, our endless gratitude is given to Shirley de Vooght for dedicating her life and property to creating a place where experiences like this can occur.

On behalf of all of us on the Serenity team, a heartfelt thank you is due to everyone in attendance who created the magic that defined the 1st Annual Harvest Music Fest. See you next year!

Photos courtesy of Shirley de Vooght, Steve Mechem and Nils Loewen.

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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 conceded 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. 

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Windborn: What lies beneath

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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.

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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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