Contender Valdy contends with the times

Valdy reads between the lines as he gets ready for his annual George Ryga tour through the Okanagan with Gary Fjellgaard.

Folk singer Valdy returns to the Okanagan with Gary Fjellgaard for The Contenders’ 12th annual tour in support of George Ryga Week in B.C.

Folk singer Valdy returns to the Okanagan with Gary Fjellgaard for The Contenders’ 12th annual tour in support of George Ryga Week in B.C.

“The Maritimes is losing its busses,” announces Valdy.

On the phone staring out at one of the seven natural wonders of the world  ––  the Bay of Fundy’s seemingly endless tide –– Valdy is talking about the news that Acadian Coach Lines, which provides public transportation throughout Atlantic Canada, is shutting down, putting hundreds of people out of work.

As a Canadian folk troubadour of the same era as Dylan and Pete Seeger, Valdy has always been attuned to the changing times.

Appointed to the Order of Canada in June 2011, Valdy continues to keep his ear to the ground and his eyes on the headlines as he travels to all corners of Canada and beyond.

He is also a passionate advocate of reading and literacy.

About to head back to the Okanagan, where he’ll meet up with his Contenders’ music partner, fellow western roots artist Gary Fjellgaard, to perform as part of George Ryga Week in B.C., Valdy has a new album out, entitled Read Between the Lines, which advocates literacy.

Valdy was first introduced to raising funds for the cause of literacy in 1988 through Peter Gzowski, when he was invited to the late CBC Radio Morningside host’s annual invitational golf tournament.

“I like the fact that the money stays in the hood,” said Valdy, who continues to support literacy causes.

And although he can read, and does so avidly, Valdy says he has been able to relate to the cause when it comes to his own field –– reading music.

“I took five years of piano as a kid, but then I became a party hound with playing blues and boogie woogie.  I was using my memory to play the notes,” he said. “I realized that musical illiteracy was the same as (word) illiteracy, except we’re talking about a different language… I can now write in both clefs (treble and bass) but I just wasn’t able to play and read the notes as judiciously as I would have liked.”

Valdy also applies his regard of the written word in supporting George Ryga Week in B.C., which is proclaimed annually by the B.C. government to recognize the pioneering and socially aware works of late playwright and author, Ryga.

Although saddened with the news that Ryga’s Summerland home, run for more than a decade  as a not-for-profit  artists retreat, is being sold, Valdy says he will continue to support what Ryga stood for.

“This is year 12 for us,” said Valdy in regards to the tour with Fjellgaard, which is produced by local arts advocate Ken Smedley. “It’s in honour of George’s memory. He was the father of literature about the downtrodden. There are not many writers who aspire to what he did. As a folk singer, we hold our feet to the fire just as George did.”

Valdy is also attuned to the folk revival movement that is currently happening in music right now, with bands such as Mumford and Sons and The Avett Brothers.

He hopes corporate radio starts listening.

“I like the fact that it is happening in music right now, and I attribute it to the work done by CBC Radio 3, the Internet and YouTube,” he said. “The new (folk) music is not pushed on contemporary radio, and although it’s not something I would always cross the street for,  I am against (corporate radio) trying to squash the individual, making it homogenous and controlled.”

Valdy describes the music he makes with Fjellgaard as purely organic, just two old boys sitting around with some flattop guitars, talking about what really matters and their observations on the road travelled, as can be heard on their two Contenders CDs.

The men will be sure to play some of those tunes on the upcoming Ryga tour, plus some of Valdy’s new material off Read Between the Lines, and from his vast collection of songs.

In turn, Fjellgaard never stops writing songs so he’ll be sure to have some new tunes along with his vast repertoire that spans over 40 years of recording.

The Contenders, Valdy and Gary Fjellgaard, start the North Okanagan leg of their tour Friday, Nov. 2 at 8 p.m. in Armstrong’s Zion United Church Hall. Tickets are at the Brown Derby in Armstrong. Call 250-546-8221.

They play Lorenzo’s Cafe in Ashton Creek on Nov. 4. Dinner starts at 6 p.m. and the show is at 8 p.m. Reservations can be made by calling 250-838-6700.

The boys are in Vernon, at Okanagan College’s Kalamalka campus theatre, Nov. 9 at 8 p.m. Tickets are The BookNook in Vernon. Call 250-558-0668.

Full tour information is available at www.fjellgaard.bc.ca and  www.valdy.com