The journey between two stages is less than a kilometre but took more than 10 years to travel.
Leon Power’s first experience playing in a band was at J.L. Jackson when he was about 14. This month, the 32-year-old drummer will appear at the Roots and Blues Festival with headliner Frazey Ford.
It is a trip that has taken the drummer to several corners of the world and for which he credits his parents and Salmon Arm music teachers.
Power grew up in Sunnybrae with parents who loved an eclectic mix of music.
His father enjoyed bluegrass while his mom favoured songwriters and a mix of honky-tonk, country, blues and rock ‘n’ roll. His upbringing included trips to music festivals, including Roots and Blues, starting in the early days when it played out at the rec centre.
“There was just a wide variety of music and I am grateful to have had exposure to so many options,” says Power, noting the lure of the drums began when his friend got a drum kit.
“That blew my mind, that loud obnoxious thing,” he laughs.
The drum saga surged onward when he was about 10, and his parents sold their house to music teacher Brian Pratt-Johnson.
“Brian was moving his drums in and I clung onto him,” he says. “I started taking lessons from Brian and it was a big moment in my life. It made a huge impact on me.”
At the same time, the Sunnybrae coffee house scene was beginning to flourish, thanks to Sunnybrae musicians Joan Robertson and the late Gord Milne, who introduced Power to the guitar.
Power began attending and playing at those coffee houses when he was 11 or 12, excited by the “full-on barrage of music” and the opportunity to meet so many people.
“It was my first time performing for people,” he says. “I don’t remember if performing was something I loved; I think the love of drumming and music was what appealed to me.”
Describing himself as an active, outdoors kid, Power says playing drums was another physical outlet.
In middle school, he joined the J.L. Jackson school band and jazz band under the direction of Jim Johnston, who proved to be another great support and influence to the young student, who had learning disabilities and struggled with reading music.
“He understood that I was born different,” Power says. “He was very supportive, but he also pushed me a lot; to have the support through all the crazy years was huge.”
More lessons followed and in Salmon Arm Secondary, Power continued learning from Pratt-Johnson and was introduced to the notion of recording in the school studio.
“It was a really good music program and my friends and I were super excited about recording; it opened up a new world,” he says, noting teacher and then-superintendent of music Gordon Waters became an important motivator when he joined the jazz band and began to travel for competitions. “We get out see what other people were doing, our tiny little Salmon Arm world got opened up.”
Beyond the school halls, Power made music with former teachers Sandy Cameron and Bill Lockie and, following Johnson’s advice, enrolled in the two-year music program at Selkirk College in Nelson.
College was a bit of a struggle but Power worked hard and, over the next couple of years, played with local musicians Marcus Langridge and Jacob Verburg.
“It was a really big time, moving away, new students, new town – a real eye-opener,” he says. “Nelson was awesome and some of the most important years of my life and my music with lots of opportunities to gig.”
Back in Salmon Arm, Power played a lot of guitar with Milne and embarked on his first cross-Canada tour with blues rocker Dan Englund. Then came a year of living and gigging in Montreal with Verburg and many new musician friends.
“Everywhere I’ve gone, the people I met have been the biggest influence, from all over the world.”
Another trip home and new opportunities with the Steve Brockley where he sang and played guitar on tour across Canada –meeting people and giving up preconceived ideas about the vast country.
Then came one of the most momentous moments of his young life: Power began playing with Mike Shaver, Jesse Clark, Darren Herting and Stephanie Webster as part of the short-lived but highly successful Old Man’s Beard.
It was then that he met Shaver’s sister Krista, whom he married last fall in Vancouver, a place the couple now call home.
In his four years in the Lower Mainland, Power has played with White Rock’s Sumner Brothers and immersed himself in the Vancouver musical community.
In 2014, Frazey Ford, a singer-songwriter with a soul sound, had just finished her new album, Indian Ocean that also featured a few of the members of Al Green’s Memphis Soul band.
“I got a call from Frazey Ford’s manager because her latest release was about to come out and they needed a touring drummer,” he says.
Happy to oblige, Power toured Canada and the US with the band, heading overseas to perform throughout England, Scotland, Ireland, Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden and Australia.
“That was amazing!”
Still touring the album, Ford’s band is playing all the big Canadian folk fests, has played a few festivals Stateside and will head to Australia and New Zealand in November.
Power is booked up until February and is looking forward to touring with Stephen Fearing, another 2017 Roots and Blues headliner.
“It’s kind of hard to believe,” he says, recalling all the festivals he attended when he was growing up. “I did play smaller stages at Roots &Blues, but to play in a headlining band is pretty remarkable, and to play in front of a hometown crowd is pretty neat.”
The Roots and Blues Festival plays out on the Salmon Arm Fairgrounds From Aug. 18 to 20. For tickets and information, visit www.rootsandblues.ca.