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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.