There is nothing quite like the Dream Café.
The small, unassuming venue tucked away on Front Street is a veritable treasure trove of musical acts that are consistently entertaining with a touch of whimsy that has become increasingly rare in live music these days.
Like the curators of a living musical museum, co-owners Pierre Couture and Debra Rice selectively bring together the best acts around. From local talent to Grammy winners, there’s no shortage of variety, and never a dip in quality.
I’ve never encountered a venue that carries the kind of clout that the Dream Café does. Of course, it’s not the physical brick and mortar making up the Dream Café (which isn’t really much of a café, Couture has often told me) that inspires some of the best musical talent nationwide to return annually.
It’s the people, the dedicated music fans, the lovely staff and last but never least, Pierre and Debra.
New to Penticton, I remember the first time I went to a Dream Café show. Pierre was there at the door, bustling with the energy of a busy night, but smiling and welcoming me in like he had known me for years. I barely had to introduce myself.
I interview a lot of the musicians that come to Penticton to visit the Dream, and “Pierre and Debra are amazing” is uttered at least once per interview, if not more. Many are unsure if they would even stop in Penticton were it not for the reputation and experience of playing the beloved venue.
What stands out to most of the musicians who play the Dream is the dedication to the music. There are no TVs playing sports in the background, no gambling machines in the corner — we’re here to hear some amazing music, and maybe indulge in a few glasses of wine.
It’s a testament to Pierre and Debra that they are able to bring that spirit, the feeling that you are bearing witness to something special and unique, outside of the venue and into the Penticton Trade and Convention Centre for the Dream Music Festival.
The second year of the festival brought back some familiar faces and ushered in some exciting new ones.
Jim Byrnes returned to host, and has been involved since the festival was just an idea. I’ve heard time and again in interviews the experience of staying and playing at the Dream. Byrnes isn’t the first to become friends with the owners, and while talking to artists like Shakura S’Aida and Rita Chiarelli it’s clear that Pierre and Debra’s passion is infectious.
I know I felt it while taking photos Friday night. I had the pleasure of being around Pierre when he would stop to catch the show before tending to one thing or another. His excitement put a smile on my face every time.
“Have you heard these guys? They’re amazing,” he would ask before whisking off to make sure everyone was having a good time.
His dedication to music knows no bounds, and the man exudes passion. He was at the door after the five-hour musical extravaganza shaking everyone’s hand, making sure they had a good time.
The show itself played like a live rendition of a greatest hits album, but instead of a compilation of the best songs of an artist, it was the best artists to play the Dream.
The night had so many memorable moments including the strong and personal lyrics of Naomi Wachira’s acoustic African Girl, the Sojourners lovingly covering Buffalo Springfield’s For What It’s Worth, Bill Bourne’s banjo-laden ode to the Dream Café, incredible pianist Michael Kaeshammer using the piano for percussion, Tom Wilson and his son Thompson Wilson making music a family affair, the hilarious antics of Keith Picot’s silent films (and a bit of live hijinx with Jim Byrnes), Shakura S’Aida saying she would come to sell T-shirts if Pierre and Debra asked (she literally sold me my T-shirt later), Mike Farris bringing the crowd off their feet with his upbeat gospel blues and Rita Chiarelli breaking a guitar string and staunchly stating “ah, I don’t need a guitar.”
Despite hundreds of people filling the seats, the intimacy and familiarity of the Dream Café managed to make its way over from Front Street. It was like attending a jam session with Canada’s top musical acts.
I personally want to thank Pierre, Debra, the staff at the Dream Café, the artists and everyone involved for a wonderful night of music, and for treating me as well as they have since I came to the Okanagan.
For those interested, the Dream Café co-op is still looking for support. Go to www.dreamcafe.ca and click on the co-op link to find out more information. If you’re a music fan, I can’t think of a better cause to support.
Dale Boyd is the arts and entertainment editor at the Penticton Western News