This week’s Grand Ole Northern Opry concerts promise an ode to country music and old time radio, in the style of the Grand Ole Opry and Prairie Home Companion.
But it’s equally an ode to the North, and the talented musicians who continue to emerge from the Yukon.
It’s a perfect fit for Sally Lutchman, a Whitehorse-born small-business owner and mother of two. She will perform at the Grand Ole Northern Opry this Thursday and Friday at the Yukon Arts Centre.
“I’m a country girl at heart,” she said.
“I grew up with it in my family, to begin with. Even through my teenage years when everyone was listening to Moody Blues and Jethro Tull, Black Sabbath, I was still discovering Loretta Lynn and Dolly Parton and George Jones and all the old folks. And I loved the purity of their voices and the emotions and the trueness of the story.”
Lutchman recommitted herself to singing and performance late this summer. When her daughter saw on Artsnet, an email mailing list for the Yukon’s artistic community, that the Northern Opry Project was looking for emerging musicians, Lutchman saw a chance she couldn’t pass up.
“I decided to open myself up to all the opportunities that came my way and not say ‘no’ anymore.”
Until now, she has only performed a few times, mostly for family at potlatches, she said.
But she’s feeling confident about her arts centre debut, thanks in part to the Northern Opry Project’s mentorship program.
Lutchman has spent this week in workshops working on her performance skills. She also got plenty of one-on-one time with famed Yukon musician Kim Barlow, the mentor assigned to her.
“It’s been very, very beneficial, fun and inspirational. Just exactly what I need at this time,” said Lutchman.
She is looking forward to rehearsing with the opry’s house band, led by Juno-award-winner Bob Hamilton, she said.
“I’m very excited. Last week I was feeling really nervous and this week I’m feeling good.”
The performances Thursday and Friday will feature both emerging and established Yukon musicians.
Six of the songs that will be performed were commissioned by the opry project and written by Yukon musicians specially for the show.
The concert will also feature a half-hour set from headliners Laurie Lewis and Tom Rozum, an award-winning bluegrass duo from California.
Lewis is a Grammy nominee and has twice won Female Vocalist of the Year at the International Bluegrass Music Awards. This is her first trip to the Yukon.
When Kim Beggs, the event’s producer and artistic director, approached Lewis to come to the Yukon for the opry, she saw an opportunity to bring some of her winter-themed songs to the North at the coldest and darkest time of year.
Lewis and Rozum released a seasonal album called Winter’s Grace in 1999.
“I really can’t imagine a better way to spend the solstice than with a community of great musicians doing what they love,” said Lewis. “It just seems like a great fit all the way around.”
Lewis arrived in the Yukon Saturday and has spent the week running workshops for the territory’s emerging performers.
“There’s some great talent here. It’s a fairly small area in terms of population, but there seem to be a lot of really talented, wonderful musicians here. It’s kind of exciting.”
The event is set to become an annual tradition, said Beggs, who has been working on the project for the last year.
“There’s something really special about being an artist in the Yukon or becoming an artist in the Yukon, and that is recognized worldwide.”
That’s something that should be fostered and encouraged, she said. That’s why the event is not just about showcasing Yukon’s established artists, but also about encouraging and mentoring emerging talent.
Thursday and Friday’s house band will include Bob Hamilton, Annie Avery, Robert Bergman, Amelia Rose, Dave Haddock and Ed White.
The local performing artists will be Art Johns, Brandon Isaak, Brenda Berezan, Brian Ladue, Claire Ness, Clint Carpenter, Helene Beaulieu, Jasmine Netsena, Jordan Schmidt, Kevin Barr, Kim Barlow, Kim Beggs, LJ Daylee, Natalie Edelson, Nola Lamken, Sally Lutchman and Sylvie Painchaud.
Jerome Stueart will be the master of ceremonies.
The full performance will run about two and a half hours, including an intermission. Two-step dancers will also be featured.
At Thursday’s performance, two professional sign language interpreters will interpret the songs and performances for the deaf community.
The concerts start at 8 p.m. at the Yukon Arts Centre. Tickets are $35 for adults, $25 for those 60 and older or 18 and younger.
Contact Jacqueline Ronson at firstname.lastname@example.org