All country roads lead to Chemainus this summer, to take us home to the place we belong.
Chemainus Theatre Festival’s performance of Classic Country Roads runs June 17-Aug. 21 for a guaranteed good ol’ time of nostalgic classics from the world’s foremost country legends, with a terrific cast of singers and a backing musical ensemble to belt them out.
The tradition of popular past Chemainus Theatre shows of different genres, Rock Legends and Twist and Shout, is alive and well to appeal to a foot-stomping audience from the hayride through classic country, western, bluegrass, honky tonk, rockabilly, country waltz, old-time country and many others from the Grand Ole Opry traditions.
You can expect tributes to great performers like Conway Twitty, Loretta Lynn, Johnny and June, Dolly Parton, Kenny Rogers, Tammy Wynette, George Jones, Tanya Tucker, Reba McEntire, Garth Brooks, Travis Tritt and many more.
Classic Country Roads is conceived and directed by Mark DuMez, the Chemainus Theatre Festival’s artistic director. Six singers will perform a medley of songs with their wide range of vocal abilities, accompanied by a five-piece live band, and under the guidance of music director Heather Burns.
“It has been a treat to wander and reminisce down these country trails for this summer celebration of song in Chemainus,” noted DuMez. “During the freelance time of my career, I had the good fortune to spend the better part of a couple of seasons in and around Nashville, Tennessee and Louisville, Kentucky.
“From the jambalaya to the hootenannies, places like the Appalachian Trail, the Blue Ridge Mountains and the Cumberland River helped to etch deep impressions which stayed with me for many years. I am thankful to have experienced much hospitality there. And this summer, I’m grateful to spend the summer with this exciting team of artists singing songs which celebrate hope, healing and harmony.”
That country road, or trail, if you will, is short for some performers and a little longer for others.
Georgia Bennett, of course, is from right here in Chemainus and she’s only too happy to be making the hop, skip and the jump over to the theatre again.
It’s also a chance to perform right in his own backyard for Sean Baker, who grew up in Shawnigan Lake, now lives in Cobble Hill and is a 2002 graduate of Frances Kelsey Secondary School in Mill Bay. Despite his longtime proximity to Chemainus, this is his first time performing at the Chemainus Theatre.
“I’ve been to shows in Chemainus growing up,” said Baker. “It’s exciting for me to finally be on stage in Chemainus.”
Baker’s mom Susan Baker is a longtime teacher at Chemainus Secondary School, providing another connection to the community.
Growing up in the Baker household, Sean was also interested and surrounded by music.
“My dad and I played a lot of country music which is great for this show,” he said.
Baker is also grateful for the mentoring of Roger Carr at Frances Kelsey for giving him with the opportunity to get involved in a great musical theatre program at the school.
“High school, it really took off,” said Baker. “I did tons of plays. It was so much fun.”
He also was a longtime member of a band called Celebrity Traffic that played a variety of blues, funk and more.
Baker said Classic Country Roads “hits all the notes” for him with all the moods and images about life that country music creates.
“It’s all there. It’s pretty cool to be able to play that stuff, too. We go from kind of the germinations of country music – bluegrass, gospel.
“There’s a story from whatever you need to feel in that moment. There’s a country song that’s going to support that.”
It’s been a long and winding road for Katelyn Morishita to get to Chemainus for the first time from Calgary and she’s loving every minute of it. What would a country show be without a true Calgarian, with roots in Brooks, Alberta?
“It’s awesome, I love it here,” Morishita said. “I’ve been bragging how cute Chemainus is.”
The family still back home in Alberta plus her great grandmother in Victoria, who’s 96, are all going to be coming to the theatre for the performance.
“I’ve been so lucky, my parents have never missed a show in my entire life,” Morishita said. “They have always supported me in my endeavours.”
Musical influences at home started her on the path toward performing as a singer, actress, puppeteer and director. Both her mom and dad are singers and they had a karaoke and DJ business while Morishita was growing up.
“We were sitting around in the living room all the time,” she confided. “It’s always been in my roots.”
Morishita has numerous performances at Theatre Calgary, Vertigo Theatre in Calgary and Edmonton’s Citadel Theatre to her credit and is looking forward to staking her claim in this westward journey.
“I’ve actually been very lucky,” she conceded.
Morishita loves the blend of music and extra treasures in this show. And working with DuMez and Burns has been pure joy.
“There’s comedy in between. There’s fun facts in between and there’s parts of the show where we are just showcasing the band itself. There’s dancing, five-part harmonies and a little bit of everything. It keeps everything going, it’s a really good pace.
“Everybody has a mixture of solos, duets and group numbers. Everybody gets to be showcased which is really nice.”