Lovers of old-style country music will gather together this month to recreate the golden age of country radio.
Singer-songwriter Kim Beggs and music fest organizer Dale Harnish have rustled up country and folk musicians from inside and outside the Yukon for two Grand Ole Northern Opry concert performances on Dec. 20 and 21 at the Yukon Arts Centre.
“The beautiful thing about country music is it tends to take a much simpler form in musical chord progressions and arrangement,” Beggs says. “It’s the most powerful way to record a story and have it kept alive. So in terms of old time music, I think it’s some of the most powerful because it’s the simplest. The chords aren’t complicated and people are always drawn to them… It talks to the strings of your heartbeat.”
Dale Harnish agrees. Old-style country music has a charm that’s missing in new country.
“I listen to old radio shows, from the 1930s, 40s and 50s online,” Harnish says. “What is considered ‘new country’ music is not my friend. I like old country-western music. And this night is an homage to that.”
The Grand Ole Northern Opry will feature a house band, which is the Juno Award winning Opry Band Ensemble, led by Bob Hamilton and comprised of some of the Yukon’s best musicians. It will also showcase emerging and established musicians from across the Yukon and B.C., two-stepping country dancers and Texas-born Yukoner Jerome Stueart as MC.
The Yukon and B.C. performers hail from several different communities and backgrounds including First Nations, Anglophone and Francophone. Among them are Kevin Barr from Craig Lake and Carcross, Sally Lutchman, Art Johns and Nola Lamken from Tagish and Skagway, Brandon Isaac and Clint Carpentier from Whitehorse, Ecka Janus from Dawson; and Jasmine Netsena from Telegraph Creek, B.C.
“There will be a constant turnover of musicians,” Harnish says. “Each performer will get a couple of songs… There will be country dancers, country music, country dress – literally stepping into an old radio show.”
Grand Ole Opry veteran and Grammy Award winner Laurie Lewis and Tom Rozum, from San Francisco, are headlining the show.
“Laurie’s a pretty heavy hitter,” Kim Beggs says. “She’s never been to the Yukon before, but I think it’s going to fit her perfectly. She’s got a dark edge like a lot of Yukoners.”
In addition to the concerts, Beggs and Harnish will use the Northern Opry project to foster relationships between emerging and established artists through a two-day camp on Dec. 16 and 17, followed by the concerts.
At the camp, emerging artists will be assigned mentors, including Kim Barlow, Dave Haddock, Nicole Edwards and Natalie Edelson.
“They’ll each be mentoring different aspects,” Beggs explains. “Everyone has their strength. It might be performance, it might be about the music biz or it might be about song writing. Or it might be about singing. Or it might be about expression.”
The idea is to create a supportive environment where songwriters can receive feedback from their peers, which, Beggs says is the most important feedback.
“We’re bringing artists from the outlying communities and setting up connections, so they can maintain contact,” Beggs says. “Above all — even above talent — in order for people to be able to continue, their networking friendship is more important than anything.”
In addition, songwriters have been commissioned to create new songs to be performed by other artists at the show. Songwriters include Diyet from Burwash Landing, Gordie Tentrees and Helene Beaulieau from Whitehorse and Manfred Jansen from Marsh Lake.
Beggs, drawing on her extensive song writing career, says that this is one of the challenges for the songwriters: writing songs to be performed by others.
“All songwriters, for the most part, we write what we’re comfortable with and we can push our envelope where we want to and we go exactly where we want to,” Beggs says. “But when you’re writing for someone else it’s a totally different thing.”
In this way, Beggs and Harnish hope to create new music for the ages, which can be spread from one generation to the next.
Beggs and Harnish plan for the Northern Opry Project to run camps and performances again next year, so they encourage artists to apply online at www.northernopryproject.com.
The Grand Ole Northern Opry concerts take place on Dec. 20and 21 at the Yukon Arts Centre (the show is filling the slot once held by The Longest Night). The concerts begin at 8 p.m. Tickets are $35 for adults; $25 for seniors and youth 18 years old and under.