When Jack Godwin was a teacher he found hooking students emotionally with anecdotes they could relate to capture their attention.
It is with that same thought process Godwin writes songs for the Kettle Valley Brakemen, turning history into music the audience can tap their feet to.
“When you are in any band playing at a bar and you have one table really listening to you, that is lucky. We are used to playing in concerts where everyone is listening intently and musicians love that,” admits Godwin, whose band will be performing in Penticton on Saturday. “I got the idea for starting the KVR Brakemen when I was playing bluegrass-folk music and wanted to find out the neat little things about train history and turn those into stories and take it on the road. Now we are in our 15th year and it has been a lot of fun.”
When Godwin started the Kettle Valley Brakemen he was able to interview a lot of railway engineers while doing research for his songs. Often the morose subject of how many people the engineers have seen die in front of their train would come up.
“Some would just say six and they would want to go onto something else really fast and then some would be like the ancient mariner who has to tell the story over and over. They would go into it and tell about each one. I could tell it was a very moving ,emotional experience for them,” said Godwin.
It was a subject Godwin felt he needed to put into song to bring awareness to the public about the dangers of railway crossings.
“It is those situations that absolutely everyday people get into where they pass through a railway crossing all the time and they just don’t think about it until the time when a train is there and they die,” said Godwin.
He sent the song called Railway Crossing to Operation Lifesaver Canada, who are dedicated to educating Canadians about the hazards surrounding rail property and trains, and received feedback from the national director that they liked the song and will possibly promote it on their website.
The Kettle Valley Brakemen will be performing at the Penticton Museum auditorium on Saturday at 2 p.m. with a couple of new, old faces. Joining Godwin and fiddle player Phil Wiebe this season are Debbie Liebrecht on bass and Craig Brown on guitar and mandolin. Liebrecht has filled in on bass before and Brown is returning after an eight-year absence.
“We have a nice mix of different styles and it will let us change the sound that we are using. The fiddle is always wonderful with train songs because it has that train resonance. The mandolin, banjo and all of those instruments are all associated with traditional music from the past and, of course, the steam train era,” said Godwin.
Tickets to Saturday’s performance are $10 and can be purchased at the museum. The band has a number of dates in the region including Osoyoos on May 12, Naramata on May 16, The Grist Mill in Keremeos on May 20 and in Oliver on July 5 for Music in the Park.
“It is a show that gives everyone a slice of railway history that they may not have known. It is some folk-bluegrass music to tap their toes to and a chance to sing along. It is always a lot of fun,” said Godwin.