Eclectic folk quartet returns to Whitehorse

Jack Garton knows where he wants to go when he comes to Whitehorse later this month: The 98. But he doesn't want to go just for drinks. He wants to see some familiar faces.

Jack Garton knows where he wants to go when he comes to Whitehorse later this month: The 98.

But he doesn’t want to go just for drinks. He wants to see some familiar faces.

“I’ve met some amazing folks there,” said the trumpet and accordion player for the Vancouver-based quartet Maria in the Shower.

Before he visited the Whitehorse bar, he associated Lake Laberge with his grandparents: they read him Robert Service when he was a child. But now, it’s more than that.

At The 98, he met an elderly pilot who lives near the lake and flies into the capital to get food and supplies. He brought the place to life.

Garton may be coming up to play some tunes, but he really wants to come to see people, to further relationships he’s already started. That’s what the band’s music is all about anyways.

“Our music just isn’t a soundtrack to a night of people getting drunk,” said Garton.

Describing what the band’s music is is a little more difficult. “It’s a new take on old folk music,” said Garton. The band began busking and playing a weekly gig at a now-closed Vancouver cafe. Their repertoire was mainly jazz classics from the ‘20s and ‘30s. But their musical inspirations go back much further – to ancient Greece, actually.

Garton began the band with Martin Reisle, a guitarist who also plays trombone. Garton, who did theatre and choir as a child, was studying drama and classical mythology at the University of British Columbia. He went to an open mic night to read some poetry he’d written. It was inspired by Greek mythology.

There, he met Reisle, a composition student. He performed an ancient Greek song that night. Reisle and Garton became friends, eventually working on an outdoor performance of Alice in Wonderland. Then they met Brendon Hartley. The guitarist had recently moved to Vancouver.

Reisle and Garton began playing shows with Hartley. But the trio didn’t have a regular drummer. One night, Todd Biffard joined them. He was playing with another band at the time. But he quit that gig and joined up with the trio.

After a few years busking around the city, they decided to take their show on the road. They had begun writing some original tunes, and knew of other artists who had cut their teeth on the British Columbia tour circuit. They followed that path. There was some vaudeville in their shows too. But it got cumbersome carting all their props around. It included doves and a steam shower they would have guests come out of, as if they were emerging from an oracle, Garton said.

Now, they mainly focus on music in their performances. And it’s an eclectic band.

“It’s kind of like punked-up folk styles: bluegrass, swing, and everything from reggae and African music and rockabilly music.

“It’s good for dancing,” said Garton.

But it’s not always happy. Take their song Don’t Build a Wall Around the Graveyard. Its upbeat tempo inspires images of country dances. But the lyrics are a little darker. One verse cautions against building a wall around your lover, “‘Cause you hope she don’t discover/That your brother he is better/Underneath the covers.”

Another verse speaks of doubts and the devil, and of a judge who is full of his own sin. The chorus reminds the listener: “Don’t build a wall around the graveyard/Everybody will get there in the end.”

The band isn’t immune to the struggles around them. They’re working on a third album to be released next year. Much of the latest music is inspired by protests like the Occupy Movement and Idle No More, said Garton. And the band tries to stay aware of more local concerns, like Vancouver bylaws that restrict when and where live music can be played in restaurants and bars.

“If something’s not right, we’ll say so,” said Garton. The band doesn’t favour “disposable culture” he said, music that seems to be little more than wallpaper for advertising.

The band also puts on workshops about storytelling and songwriting. None of these are scheduled for their upcoming trip to Yukon, but if people show an interest, they’d be willing to see what they could do, said Garton.

“It’s nice to be able to add something to the place where we go,” he said.

In the end, though, the band isn’t concerned with re-inventing the wheel.

“We just see ourselves as one blip in this very old stream of this music.”

And while libraries and the Internet give listeners access to a lot of musical history, nothing builds connections more than the live show, he said.

“The art of music and performing music hasn’t changed much since the very beginning of humankind. This is what, I guess, is at the very roots of our band,” he said. “If we’re doing it, hopefully some young people will be interested and start doing it as well and continue on after we stop doing it, and that way it will continue.”

But some things will always remain a mystery. Garton declined to explain the origins of the band’s name, saying they’ve stuck with it out of habit. The stories behind the name are just too personal, he said.

Maria in the Shower will play the Old Fire Hall on July 25. Doors open at 7 p.m. and the show starts at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $15.

Contact Meagan Gillmore at

mgillmore@yukon-news.com