The sight of sound

Published in the February 5 2010 issue of the West Kootenay Weekender

Cover shot:

I’ve been scanning posters on the street post outside, looking for live music gigs I can sink my ears into. I recently moved to the Koots after a decade in a big, gritty city. Live music and frequent rad bands were why I stayed but judging from the overlapping notices stapled fanatically to the board, I didn’t leave good music behind.

People live here, move here, and choose here because of its fist pumping, hand clapping celebration of all things alive. Rocking and shaking are best performed to music, and the big little pocket we call the West Kootenays is no stranger to sensational toe tapping, throat-vibrating acts—from all recesses of the spectrum.

Heavy Shtetl

I have a bit of a thing for accordions. Maybe it’s because they sound like lungs, but watching Catherine McGrath wield the bellows makes me breathe a little deeper. With Anneke Rosch on trumpet and trombone, John Deeley on upright bass and Dmitro Woychuk on sax and clarinet, Heavy Shtetl’s current incarnation has been mixing Klezmer, swing and jazz since 2006. They quickly manage to umpah the intimate Old Fire House crowd to their feet. With gregarious Jewish wedding music and a sprinkle of Eastern European roots, the troupe easily delights our unsuspecting ears, which may be the reason Heavy Shtetl earned a touring grant from the Kootenay Cultural Alliance and the Columbia Basin Trust. Sipping wine in the comfy booths under the firemen’s original trampoline, the tall ceiling and hardwood floor were a perfect match for lively feet and raucous hoots. You’ll have a chance to bop to McGrath’s high hat this year as Heavy Shtetl hits the road on tour.


Being a heavy metal fan from way back means supporting the black clad kids and raspy voiced adults whenever I can. While the Spirit Bar in Nelson’s most frequent scene is the beep-beep electronic kids, it’s tough to find a gig where strings, skins and painstakingly grown hair reign supreme. Enter Datura. Needles and vinyl are easily replaced by leather and studs and judging from the relentless streams of hair muting the spotlights, the crowd of head bangers—mostly represented by Selkirk Music School students—thrash their way through epic riffs and drone. Comprised of Evan Arnott and Levi Sheppard on guitars, Adam Tschritter on bass and Kyle Sheppard on drums, Datura has been leading Nelson’s metal scene for years, yet quietly so. The metal scene in the Kootenays is further underground than in most any city, so kudos to the Spirit Bar and their sunken floor for creating the perfect pit. Metal is a poorly understood musical genre, so here’s a tip: if you’re screaming through trees and slaying huge terrain, an Arnott 12-stringed riff backed by Sheppard’s intricate beatings will aggressively and skillfully lead you down any line.

The Breakmen

Even comparatively big bands can play small venues in the Kootenays without risk of trampling fans. Vancouver’s The Breakmen is made of four amazing songwriters, accomplished musicians in each of their own rights. We joined the quartet for a cozy affair at the Little Slocan Lodge, which seemed quintessential for their mix of bluegrass and vintage country-inspired, purely Canadian roots music. The impressively thick walls of the straw bale house created incredible acoustics as we nestled into the lodge’s warm living room, sipping on our brews brought from home. This is a special pleasure in our neck of the woods, yet getting here is not easy for a stranger. Lee Watson, guitar plucker clad in gingham shirt, led his band to the Koots because he’d spent a winter basking in the snow shine, and just wanted to come back to play in someone’s living room.

DJ Joel West

The typical heart rate for a baby is 120-140 beats per minute. The first sound an infant hears is mom’s heartbeat, and hers quickens to over 120 when she’s excited—or dancing. DJ Joel West is an emphatic lover of house, typified by the 120-140 beat range, and he plays a live set on Tuesdays at 11 pm on CJLY. West knows there’s a vibrant underground scene in the Kootenays, one of the reasons he returned to Nelson after almost ten years out east honing his theatre and mixing skills while tapping into the club scene. “I’m giving the crowd something, and they’re giving right back,” describes West of why he spins house, what he considers the most danceable music of all electronic genres. From the private sound booth at the CJLY station on Hall Street, West knows the house crew is listening, and he hopes their heart rates are rocking with his beats.

Flora Ware

Like the electronic scene, jazz fans are rarely disappointed when they come to the West Kootenays. But they don’t have wait until our renowned festival flanks the lakeside. The Library Lounge at the Hume Hotel regularly hosts intimate yet unassuming jazz evenings with Flora Ware. In 2008, the BC Interior Music Awards nominated Ware for Best Jazz Artist of the Year. She was also awarded a touring grant from the Columbia Basin Trust. Though her roots are in jazz, her talent reaches beyond, and she slips seamlessly like scotch over ice into R&B and pop music, but never leaving her pure, silky and dynamic style. Beside guitarist Cliff Maddix, Ware sits calmly under the warm lights and austere atmosphere of the Library. The room is hushed but for Maddix’s strings and Ware’s effortless renditions of jazz and swing standards. I can’t help but order myself a drink, sink back in my velvet chair and listen. Ware coyly reveals bits of soul, a glimpse of diva and a subtle sprinkle of a gregarious performer we’re not likely to see this early in the evening. But keep an eye out for her growing, integral influence in the Kootenays.

*I’ll be shooting Flora and friends at an immensely popular burlesque show, Cupid’s Cabaret, on February 13th at the Spirit Bar.

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