Country music ‘discovery’ calls Vernon home

Raquel Cole is about to head to Halifax for Country Music Week as a finalist in CCMA’s Discovery program.

Canadian country music fans across the nation are about to discover what Vernon has known since Raquel Cole first stepped on stage when she was around 11 years old.

This girl has got some serious talent.

A powerhouse singer-songwriter, who plays a mean guitar, Cole (née Warchol) is about to head to Country Music Week in Halifax Thursday to perform as one of six finalists in the 2015 Canadian Country Music Association’s Discovery program.

Now a CCMA member, the 22-year-old Vernon Secondary graduate, who spends half her time writing in Nashville these days, was encouraged to apply for this year’s Discovery program while attending Canada Music Week in Edmonton last year.

“My first visit to the CCMAs was last year and it was my first time at an awards show,” said Cole, while enjoying a Tim Horton’s brew while visiting her parents and brother at home this summer.

“I attended all the gala awards and industry events. The whole weekend was filled with concerts and shows. It was a weekend of fun – all of a sudden you are sitting next to major industry personnel.”

Now in its third year, the Discovery program was created to educate and support Canadian country music artists in their pursuit of a career in the music industry.

“I saw the Discovery showcase last year and became friends with some of the performers, so I decided to apply and was lucky enough to be chosen,” said Cole.

As one of the finalists, Cole has already been to Toronto to be a part of the Music Industry Discovery Week, which took place in the spring.

There she learned about the music business and artist development through industry-led panels and seminars and participated in live performance training from Tom Jackson Productions, vocal coaching from voice consultant Tamara Beatty, and attended an industry showcase opportunity and more.

“We met some pretty influential people: label heads, the SOCAN president. We also visited the CMT Canada station, did some interviews… It was a week of so much learning. We also got to bond as finalists, which is good before we go to Halifax,” said Cole.

A Bryan Adams fan, Cole has had a busy summer as she gets ready to perform at the public CCMA Discovery showcase this coming week.

She has played from intimate gigs here at home, including Predator Ridge’s Music on the Patio, Kelowna’s Parks Alive and the CBC noon-hour show at Vancouver’s Plaza of Nations, and recently wrapped up a nine-date arena tour, opening for Grammy award winners Diamond Rio, whom she has performed with before.

“It was a neat experience performing for 5,000 people each night,” she said.

Cole has also been playing more theatre shows, opening for Nashville recording artist Josh Turner in major centres around the northeastern U.S.

She rejoins the tour after Country Music Week.

“I was playing in Pennsylvania not too long ago and had a day to check out New York City. I visited Times Square, where the Best Buy Theatre we will be performing at is, and saw a billboard with the show promoted and there was my name in lights. I thought, ‘Today is a great day,’” she laughed.

Cole has been performing with just her guitar and a stomp box at the Turner shows, and she just added a new instrument to her collection.

“I started playing the mandolin a year and a half ago. I wanted to learn a new instrument. I had met a guy in L.A. who had a mandolin, so I decided to get one and called up Gene Johnson from Diamond Rio to give me some tips. It takes practise, where you are stumbling through a song, but I think I am getting the hang of it,” she said.

Cole plans to return to Nashville after this latest tour to continue working on songs for her album.

“I’ve been writing with a lot of different songwriters. I go through phases with people,” she said.

Some of those people have included Natalie Hemby, who has written for Miranda Lambert,  Stephanie Bentley, who penned Faith Hill’s Breathe among other hits, Mark Irwin, who has written for Taylor Swift, Tim McGraw and Alan Jackson, and more recently with the Truman Brothers, who also backed Cole when she opened for Diamond Rio.

“There are moments where I have to pinch myself… It’s neat to be able to work with these people,” she said.

In the meantime, Cole has a six-song EP, Mix Tape, which she has been selling at her shows.

“It was recorded in different places and is something I threw together,” she said. “After the show, when I’m selling the CDs, I love hearing what songs connect with people.”

One of those songs, Leaving Home, aptly describes the journey Cole has been on as she pursues her music career.

“It reminds me of why I love what I do.  Music is healing and helps in connecting with ourselves and others,” she said, adding, “I really want to put out a full-length album and get more touring under my belt.”

Those goals may be easier to achieve once the results of the CCMA Discovery showcase are announced.

The winner will receive music video funding, courtesy of CMT Canada, support from SOCAN, production and recording (courtesy of Barrytone Studios), cash prizes (courtesy of Galaxie), a guitar (courtesy of Gibson), other industry-related  prizes (courtesy of Strut Entertainment), and a performance spot on the 2016 CMA Music Festival Global Artist Party showcase in Nashville.