Chiarelli ready to play at the Dream Festival

When Rita Chiarelli says Pierre Couture will give a musician the shirt off his back, she’s speaking from experience.

Rita Chiarelli

Rita Chiarelli

When Rita Chiarelli says Pierre Couture will give a musician the shirt off his back, she’s speaking from experience.

During one of her performances at the Dream Café, Chiarelli took a liking for the shirt Couture, who owns the venue with his wife Debra, was sporting.

“Pierre used to wear these really flamboyant gypsy shirts. He had these incredible shirts,” said Chiarelli. “So I got the audience to chant with me that he should give me his shirt.”

Pierre gave in, stripped off his shirt and handed it over. But on Chiarelli’s next visit, Pierre made sure he wasn’t going to lose another shirt.

“The next time he wore a black turtleneck,” said Chiarelli, laughing. “A silly moment, but just a lot of fun.”

Chiarelli, dubbed the goddess of Canadian blues by CBC’s Shelagh Rogers, is one of the performers coming to Penticton on May 1 and 2 for the Dream Festival, part of an all-star lineup turning out to help support the Coutures as they create a new future for the club and step back from active management.

She is an accomplished singer-songwriter, a gifted vocalist and a skilled musician and has been performing at the Dream Café for more than a decade, starting back when the club was across the street and upstairs from its present location on Front Street.

“It was a much smaller place but it was still very magical,” said Chiarelli, adding that part of the magic came from Pierre and Debra.

“It’s one of my favourite places to play,” said Chiarelli. “The audience is there to listen to the music and appreciate the artists that come through. You are always treated well and Pierre and Debra have always been great.”

Like many other performers, Chiarelli sees the Dream Café as a unique venue that needs to be preserved. “There has just never been moment of a bad experience in there. It’s got such a great reputation because it has such a great vibe,” said Chiarelli, adding that there is no reason an artist wouldn’t want to return for more gigs.

“I think it starts with Pierre and Debra. They are people that love art and artists. Right from the moment you walk in you have this vibe from the people. It’s not just about dollars and cents.

“I think that appreciation is something that rubs off on the audience as well.”

When it came to playing at the Dream Festival, Chiarelli said it wasn’t a matter of choice.

“They asked me and I would just never say no to them,” said Chiarelli.

“They have just been so good to me and to all of the artists that perform at the Dream Cafe. If you call, I will come.”

The line up for the Dream Festival boasts 15 performers, including Jim Byrnes, Michael Kaeshammer, Bill Bourne, Gary Comeau and Rick Fines. Each of them will perform a short set, leading up to a grand finale on May 1, and then come back the next night to repeat the experience.

“From start to finish, I think it is going to be a pretty extraoridany thing. I think people are in for a really great treat,” said Chiarelli, adding that just the number of talented performers willing to perform at the festival says something about the Dream Café.

“I am really looking forward to it. Every single person that is playing is just fantastic,” said Chiarelli. “Just for them to be able to assemble everybody like that speaks for Pierre and Debra and the Dream Café and Penticton and the people that come out to the shows.

“It just speaks for everything they have created there. All of us are excited to come out.”

This article is part of a series profiling artists coming to support the Dream Café on May1 and 2.