By Robert Moyes
Special to Black Press
There’s a wonderful song by John Hartford called “Turn Your Radio On.”
It captures the era when radio was king and families gathered around the old Sears Silvertone to listen to popular shows featuring bluegrass, country, and gospel tunes … interspersed with corny ads for kitchen soap and Wheaties breakfast cereal. That rosy feeling of yesteryear – but with even better music – will be evoked during the Vancouver Island MusicFest’s Old-Time Radio Show, which pays loving tribute to the Western Canadian country music scene from days gone by.
“This is a unique performance that was created for us by musicologist, writer, and all-round radio man Peter North,” explains VIMF artistic director Doug Cox. “It’s an entertaining mix of nostalgia, humour and fantastic music.”
Presented as musical theatre, it features as its host the incomparable Jim Byrnes. With his smoky, rich-as-bourbon voice that has sung every roots genre known to man, Jim is both a brilliant musician and an unparalleled raconteur – the perfect guide to introduce the show’s stars and take the audience on this special musical journey.
Born in Calgary but long since based in Chemainus, Diamond Joe White is a talented singer-songwriter who’s never gotten the fame he deserved. His career started in the 1970s, back in the vinyl era. A few of his songs charted over the years, and he received back-to-back Juno nominations for Country Male Vocalist in 1983 and ’84.
One of those bands where much of the magic is in the synergy of complementary talents, Dirt Road Opera features four accomplished musicians – three of whom are Juno nominees – who revel in a rootsy, Americana-style blend of three-part harmonies, inspired musicianship, and catchy rhythms. Comprising much-praised vocalist Rachel Matkin, singer-songwriter-instrumentalist Barry Mathers, classically trained boss of the bass Jim Ryan, and multi-instrumentalist Robert Bailey, this opera hits all those high and lonesome notes you really love.
Originally famous for her work with Spirit of the West, Linda McRae has gone deeper and deeper into the singer-songwriter realm, establishing an enviable reputation for creativity and authenticity. A multi-instrumentalist as much as a virtuoso singer, Linda has released six impressive and diverse CDs over a dazzling career. Whether performing her own songs or launching into a David Bowie tune on a banjo, Linda captures and delights audiences wherever she plays.
You know you’ve arrived when Ian Tyson wants to record with you. That’s the happy situation of Calgary’s Shaye Zadravec, a hauntingly pure vocalist who, although just in her mid-20s, has already garnered national and international attention.
Her sophomore CD, Now and Then, reveals a breadth of musical influence and a depth of talent that is truly exceptional. Whether singing songs by Shelby Lynne, Bobby Darin, or Doc Pomus, Shaye will amaze you while touching your heart in unexpected ways.
And accompanying this countrified galaxy of stars is an equally luminous set of backup musicians: The Swingin’ Country Dance Kings, superb instrumentalists who have ruled the Alberta country-roots scene starting back in the 1970s. At the core of the band are guitarist Dave Hamilton and steel guitar maestro Jeff Bradshaw (check out their delightful CD, Swingin’ Country Dance Toons). Joining them are longtime buddies Mike Lent on bass, Thom Moon on drums, and much-recorded superstar fiddler Calvin Vollrath. The performance credits these men have racked up over the decades are impressive indeed, having worked and toured with such noted western artists as Tyson, Cindy Church, Tim Hus, and The Great Western Orchestra.
“This is a rare opportunity to hear these super-talented musicians,” notes Cox. “And the show itself, with all those stars, will be truly entertaining.”
The Old Time Radio Show takes place Sunday, July 10, 6 p.m. on the Rotary Concert Bowl stage.
–Robert Moyes is an arts journalist with a particular interest in music