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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.