Shuswap Coffee House Magic

April, 2006

The phenomenal growth of the Coffee House scene here never ceases to amaze me, perhaps because of the efforts that others and I put in to promote music some thirty years ago.  The folk music scene in the Shuswap began in earnest in 1972, when banjo aficionado Jake Jacobson opened the Sweet Earth Natural Food store and began having music jams in the evenings.  My involvement began after helping to build the log Youth Centre in 1975 (now the Roots and Blues offices), which became the first venue for the Shuswap Coffee House. 

Jake and I formed the society that resulted in six successful years of open mikes, dances and concerts that involved local musicians and bands, as well as world-class entertainers, such as Barde, Stringband, Roy Forbes (then called Bim), Ferron, and Pied Pear.  Venues ranged from the Youth Centre, the Shuswap Theatre in Tappen, and the Gleneden Hall to various school gyms. By 1982, Jake and I had moved on to other endeavours.  Thankfully, Linda Tanaka took over and with help from other Shuswap musicians and music lovers formed a new society that grew into the success we see today.

However, the focus of the Salmon Arm Folk Music Society has most always been on bringing great music to the Shuswap, which meant a lack of venues for the growing number of local musicians.  Fast-forward to 1992, when Jannis Delisle and Glenn and Naomi Hobbs along with a dedicated cadre of local musicians began holding Coffee Houses in Celista at the North Shuswap Community Hall.  The news spread and musicians began to come from throughout the region.  As the Celista Coffee House grew in stature and scope, the concept spread back to other local communities due to the efforts of the musicians who saw the value of having homegrown entertainment in their own local halls.

Folk musician Gord Milne is one of these Coffee House promoters who helped spread the movement by helping organize the now very successful Sunnybrae Coffee House.  Gord believes there is no other place in North America where there are so many community based, folk music venues.  In the Shuswap, there are now nine venues; Celista (3rd Friday), Sunnybrae (2nd Saturday), Eagle Bay (4th Saturday), Malakwa (3rd Saturday), Carlin (1st Saturday), Chase, Seymour Arm (one in mid-summer), Cherryville (1st Friday) and Salmon Arm.  As well, the scene has extended even further to Barnhartvale, Coldstream and Heffley Creek.

While certainly the music scene has benefited from appreciative audiences, the musicians themselves also appreciate the opportunities to be heard.  Gord believes that one reason excellent bands are willing to play for free at the Coffee Houses is that when they play, “you can hear a pin drop” which is the “best gig possible” and better than playing in noisy pubs or restaurants.  Sue Kyle, banjo player and vocalist with Birchbark, couldn’t agree more and for her the best part of the coffee house scene is the music jam that often happens after the show.  Sue explains how for musicians, “jamming is like having a great conversation” and that music helps to provide that “something that is missing in our modern lives.”

While the Coffee Houses take a break for the summer, there are other opportunities to hear great locally based, live music in the Shuswap.  In Salmon Arm, hundreds of music lovers attend the Wednesdays on the Wharf (WOW) where they enjoy a variety of local bands in a magnificent outdoor setting.  The list of music festivals is growing, beginning with the Roots and Blues Mayfest on May 20, the Lorenzo’s Café 10th Anniversary Music Festival on July 22nd, the 14th Annual Roots and Blues Festival August 18th – 20th and the Sorrento Bluegrass Festival on August 26th.  And the list of pubs and restaurants that feature local entertainers gets longer every year in the musical Shuswap.

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