The music goes back to the days when people from around the world picked up instruments and sang to tell stories of who they were and where they came from.
That music of the people would go on to be called folk, and has seen many incarnations since. Whether it be traditional, world, roots, revival, modern or nu folk, the music conjures images from an Appalachian dweller playing a dulcimer to Joni Mitchell standing on stage with her guitar in Toronto’s historic Yorkville neighborhood, to the now fiddle, mandolin and banjo plucking bands such as Mumford and Sons and Fleet Foxes.
“For me it’s about music that I not only like, but it travels all over the map. It has a large genre list,” says Keith Whittingstall, a former radio guy from Alberta who moved to Vernon two years ago and now sits on the eight-person founding committee of the brand new Vernon Folk-Roots Music Society.
With a mission to support musicians, songwriters and music lovers by providing a stage to share, celebrate and nurture original and traditional folk-roots music, the society is up and running and is hosting its first show with cowboy singer Tim Hus at the Army Navy Airforce Hall Saturday.
Besides Whittingstall, Vernon has a few other former Albertans to thank for taking the idea of starting a folk music society and making it happen.
Paul Tessier, a retired radio announcer who worked in Lethbridge and now hosts his own show, PT’s Roadhouse, online from his home, was intrigued at the notion when Marv Machura, a musician and spoken word artist originally from Edmonton, first suggested it.
“We were bemoaning the lack of live music venues in this town. He said ‘someday I am going to start a folk music society here.’ I said, ‘if you’re serious, I’m in,’” said Tessier, adding when he mentioned the idea to others, it started building momentum.
“I heard pockets of people who wanted to the same thing,” added Whittingstall.
“We met so many people and when we told them there was a possibility that a folk music society would start here, they said ‘I’m in,’” added Vernon musician Dave McBride, who also sits on the committee. “There are so many people who want live music here.”
It was after catching the sold-out performance by Manitoba roots artist Del Barber and Oh My Darling at the Vernon Performing Arts Centre in February, that Tessier knew they were on the right track.
“I thought, this is our audience,” he said, “A lot of young people were there and they were into it.”
With a mandate installed, the society’s next step has been to find a permanent venue for its events.
“We are looking for a venue that would seat from 100 to 150 people, with a more intimate theme. We are not adverse to doing some carpentry,” said Whittingstall.
“This would be for both a dance band and for intimate solo performances from one to five on stage,” added McBride.
Even without its own venue to start with, the society is busy booking both touring and local acts of varying genres to perform monthly shows.
“They can run from Americana to Zydeco to blues to bluegrass,” said Tessier.
“We have a huge talent pool right here in the Okanagan from Penticton to the north. We also want to capture artists coming through Western Canada as well as highlight local,” added Whittingstall. “We have contacts in Vancouver, Edmonton, and Calgary, and can find out whose playing through our network, and it’s a nice stop here between Calgary and Vancouver.”
The first concert with Canadiana songwriter Hus, touted as the man to take up the spot Stompin’ Tom Connors left with his passing, is more in the country dance band vein, while the society’s next show will feature award-winning acoustic finger-style guitarist Don Alder, June 28 (location to be announced.)
With its non-profit status now official, the society is also looking to build on its membership.
Members will receive first notification to all events and concerts, early opportunities to purchase tickets, discounts to all concerts, as well as a seat to vote at the society’s annual general meeting.
Hus, with opening act Vernon’s Steel Wound, takes the stage at the ANAF Hall, 2500 45th Ave., at 8 p.m. Saturday, May 31. Doors open at 7:15 p.m. Tickets are $20 at the Bean Scene, the ANAF Club, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or at the door.
More information on the society can be found at www.vernonfolkroots.com.