Cap the Christmas season with a night of old-time music at Sunnybrae Community Hall.
On Saturday, Jan. 2, a familiar face at Sunnybrae coffeehouses, Denis Severino of Revelstoke, has arranged for the special guest Sam Gleaves to bring the music of Appalachia to the Shuswap.
Severino describes Gleaves as “a really great musician and a really great guy.”
Gleaves, who was born in the Appalachian region of West Virginia, plays the banjo, guitar, fiddle, autoharp and dulcimer.
He has a degree in folklore from Kentucky’s Berea College, which was founded in 1855 as the first interracial and co-educational college in the U.S. South.
The college charges no tuition and admits only academically promising students, primarily from Appalachia, who have limited economic resources. All students work at least 10 hours per week on campus and service jobs in more than 130 departments.
The college has an inclusive Christian character, expressed in its motto “God has made of one blood all peoples of the Earth.”
It is this credo of acceptance that continues to attract Gleaves.
“It’s a great scene for traditional arts,” adds the 2014 grad, who continues to work in the college’s Appalachian Centre, using traditional music in the classroom and supporting students from Appalachia. “There is such a diverse group of people and ethnicities.”
Long an ardent fan of traditional Appalachian music, Gleaves has been attending fiddlers’ conventions, being mentored by older musicians and learning by playing with them since he was a young boy.
Appalachian music is from the mountains and is a blend of European and African music originally introduced by slaves, he says.
“The fiddle is the European instrument and the banjo basically came from Africa,” says Gleaves. “And the dance has native elements.”
While much of the old-time music that holds Appalachia’s cultural heritage has been passed down from generation to generation, Gleaves is adding to the heritage.
“I try to tell stories about contemporary life, about real working people, social and environmental issues,” says the openly gay musician/singer/songwriter. “These are good topics to speak about through song, and people are more willing to consider an idea if they hear it through the music first and intellectually after.”
Gleaves says he has received amazing support for himself and his music and would like to find a way to document it the old-time music, to write about it and archive it, not just play it.
“Music is my primary focus and I want to represent our region well,” he says, noting he has toured in Europe and the Far East and is excited to be coming to Canada for the first time. “The songs are stories of resilience and love.”
That Gleaves is coming to the Shuswap is a result of Severino going to Appalachia, meeting Gleaves’ good friend and fiddler Myra Morrison and luring her to Canada.
Severino, who admits to loving the old-time music, plays fiddle, banjo and guitar, noting he’s three years into learning the fiddle right now.
“For quite some time I played guitar and was a singer/song-writer, but I have now gone to melody instruments like banjo, and I sing as well,” he says. “What I like about it (old-time music) is it’s not just music, it’s culture.”
Another appeal for Severino is it precedes the era of making an album and recording a video and getting an agent as so much music is made, often without a real connection to an audience.
“You finish a day’s work and what do you do? You make music and it’s the performance aspect I enjoy and the humanizing aspect of old-time music,” he says. “And I like coffee houses…There’s a sign-up list, a pretty large element of democracy and no such thing as a star.”
Tickets for the coffee house that begins at 7:30 p.m. at Sunnybrae Community Hall on Saturday, Jan 2 are $15 and are available at the Shuswap Pie Company between Dec. 28 to Dec. 31 or call 250-835-8657.