The Kettle Valley Brakemen promise they’re not rebuilding their railway heritage concerts, only fine-tuning them.
After two decades of delivering tales and songs about life on the railway to their ever-increasing fan base, you might wonder why they would want to mess with success. But for 2018, they’re introducing new songs, plus a surprise concert ending added to their shows.
Jack Godwin, the leader of the band, said they’re busier than ever.
“We used to just start playing in April and play through to September and October,” said Godwin. “The valley is now filling up in the winter with snowbirds. They’re seniors and they know trains because a lot of them are prairie people.”
The Brakemen have two concerts booked already, performing for northern snowbirds wintering in the South Okanagan. On Feb. 24, they will be at the Osoyoos Seniors Centre, a concert that has sold out over the past couple of years. For more info about his concert, call 250-495-3211.
“They sell out a week in advance,” said Godwin. “We started doing the same thing in Peachland. Then in the summer, we’re travelling around to music festivals.”
Peachland is also already booked, for an afternoon concert on March 11 at the local seniors’ centre. Call. 250-767-2647 to find out more.
The number of places you can find the Brakemen playing is growing too.
About ten years ago, the Brakemen also started playing seniors’ accommodations, though only a few, since most couldn’t afford the band.
“They were used to, in those days, having kids come in from the piano class and playing études, and they would listen for a while,” said Godwin, explaining that the kind of seniors’ accommodations opening up in the last five years or so have been radically different.
“They have sound systems built in, they have seating areas,” said Godwin. “The people that are going to seniors homes nowadays are just a little bit younger than I am and they are wanting entertainment.”
Plus, the modern homes tend to be wired and ready for professional entertainers.
“You just show up, plug in and perform.”
Godwin is also being mysterious about a new ending to Brakemen shows, saying that they’re not going to make the audience “pay” for an encore this year.
No excessive applauding, cheering or foot stomping needed. The free encore follows the full Brakemen concert/singalong and they promise will finally answer one the most persistent questions asked of the band, according to their press release.
“For some reason, people love this, we’re all in on this encore joke,” said Godwin, adding that for the encore they usually play a song relating to where they are performing, like Rattlesnake Rain if it was Naramata.
“What we are doing this year is something completely different. It will still be the same Brakemen ending, but then there will be this little, added treat.”
They have lots of their own original songs, but the Brakemen have been known to take some liberties with classic railroad songs, like Orange Blossom Special — specifically Johnny Cash’s harmonica version.
“I’ve adapted the lyrics, so it’s now called Cantaloupe Special. The first product they carried when they opened up the southern part of the Kettle Valley line in the 40s, was cantaloupes. They grew them down in Osoyoos and Oliver and there was a famous little train call ‘Cantaloupe Manny’”
Beyond just appealing to the love of railroads in everyone, Godwin said their mix of humour, music and storytelling has a timeless appeal.
“That combination of stories and songs really works. The first guys who were musicians and ever made money — or their food — made it by travelling from community to community, telling stories and singing songs,” said Godwin. “That appeal still works for people.”
Senior reporter, Penticton Western News