Rita Chiarelli on her return to Dream Music Festival

Canada's Goddess of Blues is ecstatic to return to the Dream Music Festival May 13 and 14 at the Penticton Trade and Convention Centre.

Before she was Canada’s Goddess of Blues, Rita Chiarelli would perform at the Dream Café, back when “casual imports and boat rentals” was still in the title.

The venue has since moved across Front Street to its current location, but last year’s Dream Music Festival proved the spirit of the Dream Café can be manifested in any location, which Chiarelli said is due to the commitment and dedication of owners Pierre Couture and Debra Rice.

“They brought what they were doing at the Dream Café to a bigger level. And Penticton, and I say this honestly as a touring musician for many, many years, if there hadn’t been the Dream Café in Penticton, it might not have been a stop for us,” Chiarelli said.

The Hamilton singer has returned to the Dream Café at least once every two years since her first performance. It wasn’t much of a question when she was asked to play the first festival last year.

“Last year when this came up it was ‘yeah, yippee let’s do this,’ we were just happy,” Chiarelli said.

She shares the same enthusiasm this year as the festival is inviting some newcomers and familiar faces, all collaborating and sharing the stage, creating one of the most unique performances anywhere in the country.

“You have this band that backs you up and they’re like an all-star band, amongst the best musicians in Canada and that’s who you get to play with and you get to collaborate with them and collaborate with other musicians, it just doesn’t get any better for people that you love like Debra and Pierre. It really is just a pleasure to be part of it again,” Chiarelli said.

Her affection comes from the feeling of comradeship with fellow musicians, and the respect that Couture, Rice and the loyal following of audience members cultivate.

“The beauty is that Pierre and Debra, this has always been a labour of love for them. They just love the arts, they support the arts, they love musicians and they’ve supported music for decades now,” Chiarelli said. “It’s always been a really great listening crowd, Pierre and Debra made sure of that.”

The first Dream Music Festival came about at a time when the venue was going through changes. Couture was taking a step back due to health issues and a co-op was formed to “keep the Dream alive” and moving into the future. Last year, the huge line up of top-tier talent came together and decided they were playing the two-day festival for free. For Chiarelli, there wasn’t a moment’s hesitation.

“There was absolutely no question, I said I’m there, whatever you need from me I’ll be there. Like I say, they’ve been so good to me and countless musicians throughout the years, I mean countless, I would have never said no,” Chiarelli said.

“I think Penticon and musicians like myself owe the Dream Café a lot, we owe them a lot for sure.”

Hamilton music scene

Chiarelli doesn’t pull any punches when it comes to the unlikely scenario that is the Hamilton music scene.

“I was born here, so I have a right to say it’s been a historically rough town. It’s a blue-collar town with a steel mill and the arts were maybe a secondary to just trying to make a living and working hard in this town,” Chiarelli said.

Despite the rough-and-tumble reputation,  she notes Hamilton has been home to many Canadian musicians have come from the area including King Biscuit Boy (Richard Newell), Jackie Washington and Jack de Keyzer, and more contemporary acts like the Arkells are part of a new wave of Hamilton-based music, Chiarelli said.

“Hamilton is going through a renaissance. People are coming from Toronto, it’s gotten so expensive to purchase a house, so a lot of artists have moved this way and there’s been a real resurgence in the music scene, in the arts scene,” Chiarelli said.

James Street is filled with art galleries and the restaurant industry is booming.

“It’s really something that’s happening in this town, so the music scene, everything seems to be booming. It’s really, really great,” Chiarelli said.

She is now touring with her all-female project, Sweet Loretta. Continually working on new projects keeps Chiarelli “interested and interesting,” she said.

She said they have “brought the house down” at their last few shows and Chiarelli is excited at the prospect of recording.

This is part five of a six-part series previewing the Dream Music Festival. Tickets are $69, $79 and $89 available at the South Okanagan Events Centre, Penticton and Wine Country Visitor Centre and online at www.thedreammusicfestival.ca.