Getting to know: Kath Raeber

After a brief hiatus, The Morning Star returns with its series of interviews with Okanagan-based musicians.

  • Dec. 31, 2014 10:00 a.m.
Vernon vocalist Kath Raeber heads the blues-jazz-rock band Kath and the TomKats and is the founder of the Our Kids Have talent music competition and the Rarearth Music Festival.

Vernon vocalist Kath Raeber heads the blues-jazz-rock band Kath and the TomKats and is the founder of the Our Kids Have talent music competition and the Rarearth Music Festival.

Aniko Forgo

Special to The Morning Star

Kath Raeber is a Vernon-based singer and lead vocalist with Kath and the TomKats. She is also founder of the Our Kids Have Talent youth musician competition and founder/artistic director of the Rarearth Music Festival.

Q: How did Kath and the TomKats form?

KR: In 1998 I had a near fatal car crash, which not only did irreparable damage to my body, but I also lost a huge portion of my long-term memory. Along with that went the memory of all the music that I ever knew and loved. The first song I recognized and knew some of the words to was You Are My Sunshine… It was a eureka moment!

With a blank canvas to work with anything was possible, so I decided I wanted a band and it would be called Kath and the TomKats. I met Barry Clarke (Lo-Fi Cowboy) who was playing with Andreas Artz and Walt Musekamp at a number of small venues in Vernon at the time. I was invited to bring my very scared self to the mix and we gelled, putting together our own TomKat style and went on to play twice and sometimes more a week for years.

Our genre was a mix of old jazz, rhythm & blues and ‘70s classics. I loved my TomKats and they (Walt, Barry and Andreas) indulged my memory issues and became my mentors into the amazing world of music. Kath in Blue morphed from the some of the Kats and a new jazz/lounge ensemble appeared on the scene. After six years, we combined the two bands and decided to offer ourselves up as a jazz, blues and rock band.

Q: What are your favourite venues to perform at?

KR: Special events, weddings, festivals, clubs  and community support events, just because we are able to play a diverse mix of jazz and rock ‘n roll.

Q: Do you remember the first time you performed live?

KR: Yes. Kerry Park in Kelowna. We got the attention of Deborah J. Cameron, a promoter for the likes of Rod Stewart and Bob Dylan, who asked us to play for the upcoming Heartland Music Festival, which featured The Tragically Hip and Alan Jackson. To say we jumped at the chance would be an understatement.

Q: How many shows do Kath and the TomKats do a year?

KR: We try to do one or two a month but because we are all involved with so many other things in our lives, including full-time jobs, we’ve decided this past year to cut that back to record our album – a little somethin’, somethin’.

Q: I know that you organize other music festivals and events as a promoter such as the Back to Earth Community Harvest Fest, the Rarearth Jazz and Blues Fest, and Our Kids Have Talent. Can you tell us a bit about those events?

KR: The Rarearth Jazz and Blues Fest came about because of Hurricane Wilma. I saw the wrath that the sea threw back onto the beautiful shores of Cozumel with plastic as far as the eye could see. It devastated me. The love of music and the need to create awareness led to the celebration of our rare piece of earth through music by inviting stellar musicians from around the world, supporting our own locals, creating a family/community environment, and producing an economic boost for Vernon, all created the Rarearth Jazz & Blues Fest.

The festival struggled for four years, facing weather from fires to freezing rain, financial, venue, sponsorship, and liquor board challenges, and then, like a breath of fresh air, the Back to Earth Community Harvest Fest was born.

Working with my daughter, Kiley Routley, this festival was named after her business and held in the beautiful Lavington Park, where her storefront is. With a mandate to give back, entrance was by donation and a food bank item and in the past two years, hundreds of pounds of food were given to both the Lumby and Vernon food banks.

While I’m extremely proud of the festivals, the plays, and my band, it’s Our Kids Have Talent that has given me immense pride.

Q: What made you start Our Kids Have Talent?

KR: Watching my own talented grandchildren perform their once-a-year Christmas concert, I recognized there was a huge void in our community for mentorship, self-esteem building, and singer-songwriting workshops for kids and more importantly,  a platform for them to perform more than once a year for five minutes.

Over a family discussion, it was my daughter who suggested a talent competition to complement Rarearth with a second stage, Stage Right, specifically for young musicians aged eight to 18. I teamed up with my good friend Patrick Nicol and we, along with amazing volunteers and sponsors, created a talent competition like none other, where over $50,000 in cash, festival gigs, recordings, lessons, opportunity, musical education and self-awareness was given. Every young musician, no matter what their musical strengths, were welcomed into this competition.

Q: How does it feel to watch kids you’ve mentored in Our Kids Have Talent continue on to great things?

KR: My pride began the moment each one of them walked on stage and shared their songs and their talents with us. For some, this was the first time on a mic, being judged by their peers and seasoned musicians and also performing in front of an audience, besides their mom and dad and grandparents. I was in awe of their determination in working through stage fright, forgotten lyrics, or technical issues.

For those that have continued on, all of us that had a part in their journeys are incredibly honoured to have been a small stepping stone in their musical careers.

Q: What is happening with Our Kids Have Talent?

KR: With the passing of Patrick Nicol, I made the decision to leave what we created together on a high note and to make way for a number of other talent competitions that have followed Our Kids Have Talent. I am looking forward to an alumni in Patrick Nicol’s honour.

Q: What’s your favourite song that you have written?

KR: Blue Eyes, a story about a great big beautiful man in my life with (a) long silver mane and blue eyes so kind – my father.

– Getting to Know is conducted by enterprising music lover and recent Kalamalka Secondary School grad Aniko Forgo.