These Shows are Golden!
By Robert Moyes
Published in Golden Star Sept 28, 2016
During one of the recent Summer Kicks shows a delighted out-of-town visitor praised the event for its “friendly, family picnic vibe,” and it was one of the favourite comments heard by KHC’s artistic director Bill Usher. “The shows were attracting 300 to 400 people each, and I think they were completely successful,” he says. “The audiences loved it, there was a real diversity to the performances, and the musicians all brought their ‘A game,’” he adds. “Overall, it was the best one yet.”
Even better, it was just a hint of what’s in store for fall and winter as the upcoming “Live Kicks” season gets ready to enliven the Golden Civic Centre. Starting with a mostly acoustic Canadian supergroup doing a tribute to the music of David Bowie in
October and finishing in April with the delightful Winnipeg folk-roots duo The Small Glories – and with everything from standup comedy to modern ballet included in the programming – the 13 shows are an exciting snapshot of the range and depth of contemporary Canadian culture.
“We tend to get great feedback for our programming,” says Usher, who for more than a decade has been the executive and artistic director of Kicking Horse Culture, Golden’s hard-working arts council. “We’ve earned the trust of our audience, and people will now buy tickets for performers they aren’t even familiar with,” says Usher. “Plus there’s just such a great feeling in the hall – it’s a gorgeous ambience, you can have a glass of beer or wine at your seat, and a lot of people see a night at the Centre as a chance to be social,” he adds. “That’s why we’ve stretched the intermissions longer, because the shows have
become an ideal opportunity for Goldenites to connect with each other in an attractive and relaxed environment.”
Usher, who used to be a professional musician and has played and recorded with everyone from Bruce Cockburn to Stan Rogers, knows what he’s doing when choosing a season’s lineup. “Golden is rural but cosmopolitan,” he says, “and that gives us lots of room to be flexible with the programming.” The countrified roots music of Russell deCarle last filled the Centre in 2011, and his show on October 15 will likely be a full house. “He used to open for Merle Haggard and has had a long history with Prairie Oyster,” notes Usher. “He’s such a personable performer and his brand of music is always popular.” But Usher thinks that there will also be a great deal of interest in the David Bowie show featuring Doug Cox, an award-winning master on both guitar and Dobro. “Doug is a brilliant acoustic musician, and he has assembled some incredible players who will reveal an unexpected side to Bowie’s legacy,” he says.
Usher is also excited about the return of Tom Allen, who gives “phenomenal ensemble performances” with a six-member cast offering a unique combination of music and dramatic storytelling. “From Weimar to Vaudeville evokes the ‘20s and ‘30s as it features music from Fats Waller to Richard Strauss,” he explains. “And Allen’s last appearance here generated a real buzz.” Usher is possibly even more excited to be welcoming legendary vocalist Joelle Rabu, who he’s been trying to bring to Golden for a decade. “She’s kind of the cherry on top of this season’s bookings,” chuckles Usher. “Once she gets on stage you forget where you are and get drawn totally into her world . . . every show is a master class in performance.”
Adding some diversity to the lineup are Toronto’s Kobo Town and Dene Nation singer-songwriter Leela Gilday, who hails from Yellowknife. “Kobo Town are really funky, with a hiply modern take on calypso and other Caribbean music styles,” adds Usher. “And Leela is just such a powerful performer. I’ve seen her several times and she has such a soulful honesty . . . audiences just really respond to her.”
And for those who like a traditional Christmas, plan on spending it with renowned tenor Ken Lavigne, whose Christmas Musical Roadshow is a nostalgic journey back to the 1940s as the beloved crooner and his four-piece band recreate the mood and style of an old-fashioned radio show.
Despite an emphasis on music for the Kicks series, there are two comedy shows and two dance performances to round out the season. “We selected two award-winning standouts from the Fringe
Festival circuit, standup comic Mike Delamont and a wacky comedy duo, Peter ‘n’ Chris, whose Mystery of the Hungry Heart Hotel is a horror spoof,” says Usher. And in terms of dance they are bringing back the always-popular Ballet Kelowna as well as showing an intriguing dance-theatre hybrid choreographed by Nelson’s acclaimed Hiromoto Ida that features a who’s who of local Kootenay musicians on stage.
“Our Golden audience is very adventurous in its taste, and that gives us quite a bit of latitude with the kinds of artists we present,” says Usher. “The real challenge is in booking the best possible shows for a small, rural town like ours. You have to know who is playing well, and who is on a tour that includes, say, Calgary, so we can hook into that tour without a lot of extra expense,” he adds. “For us to organize a successful season, it really comes down to affordability, diversity, excellence, and timing.”
Over the last decade, the Live Kicks shows have literally doubled their audience, with most nights now coming close to selling out. And according to Usher, anyone who plays the Civic Centre particularly enjoys the intimacy of the room, as well as its lively acoustics . . . and the lively response of the appreciative Golden audience. “It’s a real pleasure booking these artists and I couldn’t be more pleased with this season’s lineup,” concludes Usher. “I encourage everyone to visit the KHC website and check out the artist bios for all of the upcoming Live Kicks shows,” he says. “We’re presenting some pretty amazing performers.”
Robert Moyes is a freelance arts journalist with a particular interest in music.