A special concert this Saturday (June 25) will celebrate a notable milestone in the life of a Semiahmoo Peninsula-based band.
Lively Celtic-based, multi-cultural, multi-instrumental group The Wheat in the Barley will mark 25 years of outstanding music-making with an anniversary concert at the White Rock Elks Hall, 1469 George Street, from 8 to 10 p.m., followed by a party and jam upstairs in the Elks Lounge.
“It’s actually been 26 years,” leader Steve Gidora reflected, “but COVID-19 stopped us doing a big concert before.”
Joining Wheat in the Barley’s current four-member lineup (guitarist, mandolinist and vocalist Gidora, violinist Annie Brown, Victor Smith on accordion, flute, whistle, guitar, percussion and vocals and Mark Dowding (flute, whistle, harmonica and saxophone) will be two other regular go-to members, bassist Lee Oliphant and percussionist Ed Johnson (of Brickhouse and the former popular Peninsula alternative rock group Cozy Bones).
Newest member of the group is Brown, who, Gidora notes, was a big follower of Cozy Bones during her high school days at Earl Marriott Secondary.
“She said ‘finally I get to play a gig with Ed Johnson!’” he laughed.
The music – always infectiously danceable – will hew to Wheat in the Barley’s winning formula, a seamless blend of the styles of folk music brought to the Pacific Northwest by immigrants from around the world, including strong influences from the Celtic and Slavic communities (the latter reflecting Gidora’s roots).
“We do all kinds of things – we’ll take a song and folk it up, or take a folk tune and jazz it up by throwing a blues harmonica solo in the middle,” Gidora said.
Also featured at the concert as the opening act will be the ethereal sounds, captivating lyrics and shattering vocals of new alternative folk-pop duo St. Cecilia (vocalist and guitarist Sophia Costello and Celtic harpist Madison Dartana), playing their combination of re-imagined covers and originals.
“Since its inception in White Rock over a quarter century ago, The Wheat in the Barley has become a part of the cultural lifeblood of the city and of the province of B.C. as a whole,” Dowding wrote in notes for the concert, adding that the group has “developed into a respected name in the Celtic and Slavic folk music communities throughout western Canada and the US”.
The concert touring schedule has reached enthusiastic fans all across B.C., Alberta and even into Saskatchewan and back, at concert halls, theatres, festivals and celebrations of all kinds, for all ages of folk music lovers, he noted.
Early in its life, the group also developed an educational concert for schools, and has performed the show for school districts all over this province, from Vancouver Island to Haida Gwai’i, to the Rockies, to the south Okanagan – although that part of its activity has fallen off since COVID, Gidora said.
“It’s kind of amazing that we’ve been going this long,” he said. “And Mark and Victor have been through it all, through thick and thin.”
Gidora also paid tribute to the role played in promoting music locally by two early presenters of the band, the late Peninsula restaurateurs John Carroll (White Rock’s Charlie Don’t Surf) and Rob Ahlgren (Crescent Beach’s Beecher Street Cafe).
“They provided a stage for our group during our fledgling years,” he said.
He recalled that the band’s inception came during a singer-songwriter series he was organizing in 1996 for Carroll at Charlie Don’t Surf.
“We were featuring a lot of people who were around then, like Jason Mitchell, Jordan Carrier, Raika and Heidi McCurdy,” he remembered. “John asked me if I could put together something for St. Patrick’s Day.”
That something turned out to be a combination of Gidora and a couple of other members of Cozy Bones, the late bassist Eamonn Kroetsch and percussionist Jason MacMillan, plus Dowding on flute and sax.
“And Victor came in as our first fiddler, although he now concentrates on accordion, guitar and whistles.”
Right from the beginning, it was apparent that the group, with its punched-up, high energy rhythm approach, had legs beyond a single event, Gidora said.
Other dates, at The Sandpiper, Washington Avenue Grill and on the beach at festivals sponsored by the City and the BIA, soon followed.
“I thought we could make something of it,” he said. “I told the guys ‘hey – we’re going into the studio’ because my friend Bob Wishinski owed me some recording time.
“We recorded our first album, Acres of Clams, pretty much right off the floor,” he said.
Ensuing albums have been the warmly-received Grandad (1998), After the Battle (2004), and Can’t Draw the Curtain (2009).
Gidora said he’s glad the band first hit around the same time as the Riverdance phenomenon, and a resurgence in interest in Celtic idioms.
“At the same time I wanted it to be a little different – a little more multi-cultural than the average Celtic band,” he said.
“The Paperboys have gone ‘Espanol’,” he noted, referring to leader Tom Landa bringing in music reflecting his Mexican heritage.
“And we’ve done every other bloody thing you could think of,” Gidora laughed.
Tickets ($25) for the Wheat in the Barley anniversary concert are available at Tapestry Music (1335 Johnston Rd.) or by e-transfer to firstname.lastname@example.org
For more information, call 604-723-3052.