A dark Tuesday evening in early January needs something special to draw Yukoners away from our post-December hibernation. The fourth workshop in an eight-part series hosted by Gordie Tentrees provided just the right comfy, intimate mood that you’d be looking for. On January 15, Tentrees was joined on the small Hamilton and Son stage for his 90-minute performance by Yukon musicians Amelia Rose Slobogean (fiddle) and Graeme Peters (guitar). The trio explored some of their new works and shared their crafting experiences and inspirations of the pieces, displaying a rare chance to see the creative process through someone else’s eyes. Tentrees’ winter project is an effort to capture the vibe that he felt when he started his musical journey nearly two decades ago in Whitehorse – the type of vibe you find at writers’ workshops at music festivals.
“Back then, like 20 people would go with their own songs,” Tentrees said, adding that they’d play and go away inspired to learn two new songs for the next week. And it was an environment that everyone learned from each other and pushed each other. The small and cozy venue of Hamilton and Son captures that closeness between the audience and the musicians on stage. And it’s intended to push musicians out of their comfort zones and finding out what they’re capable of.
“When I was envisioning the project, I thought of some things I wanted each show,” Tentrees said. “Place, different genres, one male and one female, and interesting personalities with a mix of veteran/emerging writers.”
The show with Slobogean and Peters was about supporting musicians evolving from where they started and becoming their own identity. Regular Yukon music-goers would recognize both from their extensive performances with multiple groups over two decades. Slobogean is a folk music fiddler who started with gypsy/celtic music group Fishead Stew and now performs as part of Stockstill and Rose and also The Swinging Pines. Peters started as a youth drummer in the Peters/Drury Trio jazz group, and now, after changing instruments at post-secondary jazz school, plays lead guitar for rock group Speed Control .But Tentrees brought them together to challenge them outside of their comfort zone – by performing live as solo individuals. For both, it was a rare experience and Slobogean noted she was very nervous.
“I never play alone, so I was quite nervous,” she said. “I mean, I was excitedly saying yes, but was still really nervous.” That sort of adventure brings out family and friends who want to see the musicians perform and this event was no different. Both are parents, so the room had children fans sprinkled about, enjoying the show. But the challenge remained to share yourself.“ They have to go through getting on stage by themselves,” Tentrees said. “When you’re up there, you’re naked and exposed.” But the cultivating nature of the show has built a dedicated following in the music community, that shares the special experience of collaboration.
Tentrees noted that the audience is often lots of local songwriters, who are keen to see what new creations their friends and colleagues have crafted. And it can be very interactive when the musicians share their creative influences, with many questions coming from other songwriters learning as well. Recruiting 16 musicians for an eight-part series might appear to be a challenging task, but Tentrees was overwhelmed by the response. Slobogean and Peters both declared that participating was a no-brainer, as it provided an amazing experience. Tentrees in fact had more interest than he could handle, and has even unearthed some special performers who add a bit of mystery to future performances. “Sixteen people came up so fast, and then another 16 came up,” he explained. “And even some of the people who are just songwriters, but have never played in public.” The next event on February 19 will feature two iconic Yukon musicians as guests, Hank Karr and Diyet.
But the series isn’t just about inspiring current musicians, but it’s also about inspiring the next generation and helping them access opportunities. Tentrees didn’t want to make it a money-making venture, so ticket sales are going towards the Inspire Song Fund, that will be managed by the Yukon Foundation. The fund will provide eight youth with financial support to take musical training, something that Tentrees believes should be available for all children. And before the audience leaves, a small quirk in the event is the “meat” draw for all attendees. It’s become a bit of a joke over the years Tentrees explained, mocking all the strange things that have happened over the years at shows. “The venue owner or promoter would ask us to adjust our show accordingly, in order to not interfere with the regular meat draw that usually takes place,” he laughed. “It would always be, ‘We’ve got our bingo or meat draw tonight, so can you stop playing at eight?’ or ‘They’ve got their jello-wrestling down the road, so you’ll have to stop at nine for a bit.’ “I just got tired of competing with the meat draw, so I decided to start my own. We’ve given out crab, or cod, or a chicken. Graeme brought the moose.”
There are four more shows beginning with the performance scheduled on February 19.
The chance to learn from Karr and Diyet should be a fascinating one, or any of the future artists. Or you might just get to take home the meat.