Serena Ryder takes the Vernon and District Performing Arts Stage July 19. Ryder is on tour for the recent release of her newest album, Utopia. (Kevin Mitchell/Morning Star)

Heartfelt sounds with Serena Ryder

“You’re not allowed to make me cry on stage.”

Serena Ryder said she was feeling verklempt after a 10-year-old girl shouted “You inspire me” Wednesday night at the Vernon and District Performing Arts Theatre.

“You’re not allowed to make me cry on stage,” replied Ryder. “Thank you so much sweetheart. You inspire me to write more songs.”

While a young admiring fan named Molly managed to get Ryder teary, it was rather fitting that such an emotional moment magnify the love that exists between Ryder and her fans.

The 34-year-old, who calls Toronto home, has battled depression all her life. It’s a mental illness that drives her to pen beautiful, real-life songs with amazing panache. She took three weeks to compile her 2012 album Harmony with major single Stompa. Due to some darker times, she required three years to record her new CD Utopia.

And while she realizes a perfect world is impossible to find, her music makes one feel like life is one big peaceful picnic, or at least a 90-minute extraordinary breather from reality.

Ryder and her ultra-talented six-piece band, including two back-up singers with dynamic dance moves, put on a dazzling 19-song show for a sold-out crowd.

She brought out Alexa Birks, aka Begonia, a late 20-something singer out of Winnipeg, out for the final encore — the monster single Got Your Number. The entire theatre rose and danced by their seats. Begonia opened the night with a half-hour set of songs of joy, anger, and restlessness as a woman. Begonia performed infectious melodies, and like Ryder, holds a multiple-octave range.

Ryder, a self-described recluse with “like about three friends,” opened in darkness, wearing all black. She had tights, white and black boots and a black vest with tassels. She danced around the stage all show, starting with Stompa. She handled an electric guitar on several ditties and did a sweet four-song set on acoustic guitar, Week In The Knees drawing the loudest applause.

She even threw in a little humour, making popcorn sounds to mark a silly-kid memory.

Ryder mentioned the area wildfires and noted that “Our hearts go out to all the people affected” before saying that partial proceeds from Utopia will be going to the Red Cross.

A huge backer of Bell’s Let’s Talk mental health promotion, Ryder was 13 and living in the tiny Ontario town of Millwood when she received a guitar from her stepfather. She played legion halls and motor hotels before being discovered. She used to suffer panic attacks before going on stage, but is today a powerhouse vocalist with a Duracell smile and songs that soothe your soul. She has performed on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno and played at the Pan Am Games closing ceremonies.

She has huge interaction with fans and let them belt out most of Little Big Red while coaxing them to help her on the children’s sleepytime song Good Morning Starshine. She also taught the crowd the words to It’s No Mistake, a tender love song on the new album.

Ryder played two dates at the Calgary Stampede before hitting Vernon.

She’s an active supporter of Canadian organizations working for change including Young Artists for Haiti, Time for Climate Justice Campaign and the Canadian Kidney Foundation as well as her old alma mater Peterborough MusicFest.