Passion. When you meet those that have it, you can feel it, their passion radiates from within, an electrifying energy that connects with those around them.
This past weekend at Serenity, three individual artists embodied just that.
Kelowna based artist Dylan Ranney arrived Friday night to begin a mural on the exterior wall of the stage. What was originally planned to be a live exhibit during the upcoming Harvest Music Festival in September was moved up to this weekend because Dylan and his wife Liz are expecting their first child in the next month. He shared that this is the last piece of visual art he will produce before his daughter arrives which made his presence even more meaningful. He brought with him a digital template he had created to help guide the piece that he discussed with venue owner Shirley de Vooght before diving in and completing the outline sketch on the first night.
Over 3 days, Dylan created something that will remain a fixture of the venue for years to come. Visitors came and went over the course of the weekend to watch Dylan paint the mural layer by layer. Everything culminated on Sunday night’s concert featuring the music of Jeremy Borschneck (Willhorse) and Australia’s Benny Walker where Dylan painted throughout the duration of the show, providing a multi-sensory experience for the audience.
The result is a contextual landscape at sunset, featuring a vibrant colour scheme and stylized point of view. Dylan not only captured the essence of Serenity’s majestic energy, he playfully added components that reflect a few of the artists who have resonated deeply with the venue; his selections were inspired by those who lend themselves to animal representations. In his original concept of the piece, he had planned to include people in a dance-like state, however as he got further into the image, he decidedly chose to refrain from incorporating people at all. A surprising choice from an artist known for his signature portraits and depictions of people in his art. When he spoke of this particular decision, Dylan shared his own realization that he had not painted animals ever before in his work. The only other time he had painted an animal was when he had been here last as a musician (playing drums for Devon Coyote), and painted a coyote on the wall of the artist bunkhouse. He went on to say that for this piece, “people would complicate and ruin it, as they do most things” he mused. He expanded on this thought by saying “Out here, people are animals, they are wild and free, so for all intents and purposes, the animals in this piece are people.” There is no doubt the mural will be the subject of conversation at all future concerts, including the Harvest Music Festival on September 11-13. Dylan’s presence further expanded the potential for the venue to be a place for visual artists to create and produce art, something to build on and broaden in the future.
“The Call” by Dylan Ranney. Latex on plywood. 10×16.
As mentioned, the weekend’s highlight was on Sunday when the venue was bustling with people who had come to watch Dylan paint and listen to Jeremy Borschneck and Benny Walker perform.
Willhorse frontman Jeremy Borschneck had been added to the night’s show only the day prior. Benny’s original tourmate Tom Richardson had to cancel due to a personal family matter, so when Benny and Jeremy reconnected at the Golden Sound Festival, the opportunity for them to tour together presented itself and worked out seamlessly.
For the Serenity audience, the surprise return of Jeremy was notably special. Willhorse performed here almost two years ago at an indoor house concert in mid-December. They won everyone over with their pure rock sound and remain one of those talked-about bands by Shirley and the Serenity team. When word spread that Willhorse was taking a hiatus, we wondered if we would ever see them perform here again. In a twist of fate, over the past two years, Willhorse members Todd Menzies and Nick Petrowich have returned playing for other bands, and hopes for a Willhorse reunion never ceased. With Jeremy at the venue singing the songs so many of us have come to love, talks revved up around a collective desire to see this band reunite. Willhorse has a buzz that has not diminished over time, but only continues to amplify. The band continues to appear in countless references in the facebook and twitter feeds that I follow around the current music scene. What became increasingly clear as I listened to Jeremy talk about the status of the band is how passionate he is about not only their music but the bond of brotherhood between them. There were moments that became undoubtedly emotional as he spoke about how proud he is of the most recent music they recorded and how hard it is to be so far apart from them. Although the rest of the band is touring and busy with other projects, they are all based out of Vancouver except for Jeremy who lives in Edmonton to be closer to his son who lives half of the time with his mother in Saskatchewan. Sacrifice is something all parents know too well. For Jeremy, the sacrifice to not be closer to his friends and bandmates is something that he continues to face, but the way his face lights up when he talks about his son says it all. The most encouraging fact is that Jeremy is not giving up on music. Seeing him perform solo only confirmed that he is meant to be on stage. His natural charisma, ability to connect with an audience, and a voice with an edge all add up to an artist who people want to see. He continues to tour and perform on his own, keeping the music of Willhorse alive on stage, with all of them continuing to write songs that they share with each other in hopes to finish recording a new album. There is no question we will be keeping the dream alive as an audience.
Benny Walker’s return to Serenity was a long time coming. It had been two years almost to the day since he was last in Canada and made his way to the venue. His previous show here had included a backing band and full on rock sound. This time, it was Benny and his acoustic guitar in a raw, personal, vulnerable performance. His latest album ‘Through The Forest’ is a reflection of a challenging time in his life where he faced insecurities and anxieties as not only an artist, but as a person. Songwriting became his saving grace to aid him through coming to terms and coping with his experience, a realization he does not take for granted. To see how he has developed over the past two years both lyrically and technically was inspiring. Benny’s commitment to continue to challenge himself and never do the same thing twice is evident in every aspect of his artistry. He tours and plays live as much as possible, a testament to his skill which shows in his performance. His guitar riffs were exceptional, his voice smooth and the synergy he created between the audience and his songs was perfectly on point.
Having an international artist like Benny Walker return time and time again is a testament to the draw of the venue and the people who make Serenity possible, primarily venue owner/operator Shirley de Vooght. Benny has always held strong to Shirley being his ‘Canadian mom’ with Serenity feeling like his home away from home (a familiar sentiment shared with a multitude of artists who have graced this stage). The connection felt by countless artists and this place runs deep. Benny described the undeniable comfort in knowing that when you finish the show there is nowhere else you need to be or get to, that you can walk off the stage and be completely relaxed with food to eat, a bed to sleep in, and the real bonus for a touring musician, you can even do your laundry. What makes it extra special is the company that awaits, a familial atmosphere of people who genuinely care about your music and your overall well being as a person.
The laughs and conversation shared with these artists and members of our ‘Serenity family’ are memories that will be cherished. Each show brings its own unique energy and experience, but it’s safe to say that this night was up there with the best of them.
For information on his music (including his 5 albums to date) and the current tour, visit http://www.bennywalker.com. To check out the music of Willhorse, visit http://www.willhorse.com.
To learn more about artist Dylan Ranney, visit his website http://www.dylanranney.com
Jeremy Borschneck and Benny Walker performed at Serenity Performing Arts Centre on August 23, 2015.
Dylan Ranney created his original mural at Serenity August 21-24, 2015.
Photos courtesy of Steve Mechem and Shirley de Vooght.