Celebrated Canadian musician Joel Plaskett has built a successful career on his own terms, whether as a rocker with his band The Emergency, or a singer-songwriter playing solo gigs. Never a commercial success or a staple of mainstream radio, he’s built a career on touring Canada, singing unique, original tunes. Plaskett comes to Kelowna this month touring behind Solidarity, an album he made with his father Bill. And Kelowna is a city Plaskett knows well.
Joel Plaskett has been singing about Kelowna for a long time; ever since his early indie-rock band Thrush Hermit rolled into Flashbacks on a dead Wednesday night in 1994.
Plaskett, a Nova Scotia native and now a multi-award winning Canadian musician (2010’s Three won a JUNO for adult alternative album; 2015’s Park Avenue Sobriety Test was nominated for the same award), was in the early days of his musical journey.
When Thrush Hermit and its alternative rock show rolled into Kelowna on a string of endless dates on that Wednesday night, it didn’t go well. The tale has been told (tongue-in-cheek) by Plaskett in the two decades since and was immortalized on his song I Love This Town.
“It was just one of those nights,” remembered Plaskett last week in an interview with the Kelowna Capital News. “It was just the wrong venue. It was a particularly dark moment in the history of my travels and I made light of it and ran with it.”
The Kelowna gig would find it’s way into I Love This Town, a song Plaskett was writing about his recollections of Halifax.
I played a show in Kelowna last year
They said, ‘Pick it up Joel, we’re dyin’ in here.’
Picture one hand clapping, now picture half that sound
There’s a reason that I hate that town
Plaskett’s ties to Kelowna and to the West Coast go deeper than just one tough gig and the story/song that has grown from it.
His wife was born in Kelowna and grew up in Victoria and he still has extended family in the Okanagan. He laughs about the song and his connection to the area. It’s an extension of his personality, a personality that shines through in his music.
“I’m always of the mind that if everything is happy and polite it’s almost unbelievable so I use sarcasm,” he said. “Kelowna just ended up being the brunt of a joke after this experience…it became one of my catalogue of jokes. I’ve always had a connection to that part of the world. I’ve always loved going out west and found a connection out there.”
A lot of that connection came from transplanted Easterners at gigs across the prairies and into BC. But his connection to his crowds didn’t stop at provincial borders and over the years Plaskett’s crowds have grown and he has continued to connect with audiences with his live show.
Plaskett also played more successful shows in Kelowna. In 2004, he returned to play what was then Skyreach Place as an opener for the Tragically Hip. He has played Big White and in 2009 played a sold out show at the Habitat, where people were turned away at the door and when he sang I Love this Town.
“Joel handled himself in stellar fashion when playing his infamous song Love This Town,” stated the Kelowna Live Music Blog after the two-hour-plus long show. “Once and for all nobody should actually believe that Joel hates Kelowna.”
Later this month, Plaskett will again be in Kelowna, playing the quaint Mary Irwin Theatre on a tour behind the album Solidarity, which he made with his father Bill.
Born in London, England, Bill Plaskett immigrated to Canada in the 1960s. In Nova Scotia, he became immersed in the folk music scene, where Joel, born in 1975, would first pick up a guitar and first appear on stage.
The father and son have played together before. In fact Bill went out on tour with Joel in 2009 and played at the The Habitat gig.
“I’ve joined him on the road before, and it’s enjoyable traveling across the country and spending time together,” said Bill on joelplaskett.com. “On stage, I just play and pick up on the energy in the room that Joel is able to bring out of the audience with his charisma and stage presence. The upcoming tour to support this new record is exciting as it will be more ambitious and collaborative than anything we’ve done in the past.”
Featuring great guitar, violins and haunting vocals, Solidarity has a traditional feel and touches on themes from the influences of both father and son. True to form, the songs also hit on themes of today with politically-tinged lyrics. Playing with his dad has a feel like nothing Plaskett has found in his years on the road.
“It’s a real pleasure for me to play with my dad,” said Joel. “He has a guitar style that has influenced me. When we play together there is a weave that I don’t get when I play with anyone else. My dad taught me the basics of guitar, he gave me my first public appearance accompanying him when I was 14. My parents, aside from the musical impacts…where I’ve been really lucky is they both supported the fact I wanted to play music and wanted to play it professionally.”
This tour the Plaskett’s will be accompanied by the Mayhemingways, described as a fuzz-folk duo with Cajun, bluegrass, and Celtic influences, from Peterborough, Ontario.
“This tour with my dad is a pretty intimate or causal relaxed show,” said Plaskett. “It’s a family show and it’s fun. It’s not all quiet. The Mayhemingways open the show and also play with us as a rhythm section. It’s a good, tidy little band. It’s not a hard swinging rock and roll show but still it gets up there by the end.”
Joel and Bill Plaskett, with the Mayhemingways, play the Mary Irwin Theatre March 29, 2017. Ticket information is here.