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.
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.”
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.
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.
Located 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.
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.”
To 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.
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.