There are a lot of things that keep Valdy coming back to the Okanagan on an annual tour.
There’s the fact that it’s in support of a good cause, the George Ryga Centre, and then there is the fun and challenge of playing with Gary Fjellgaard in the duo they call the Contenders.
“I believe this is year 11 for us. It’s the only extended time of the year that Gary and I get to play together regularly,” said Valdy, who will be missing out on a possible investiture date for the Order of Canada in order to make the tour.
“Isn’t that an honour? I am just tickled pink with that, I never thought it would happen to me,” he said. But after finding that the date he was to actually be invested with the Order of Canada conflicted with the annual Ryga tour, he asked to be moved to a spring date.
The Contenders tour, which gets underway Oct. 28, winds through several Okanagan communities and includes a stop in Penticton on Nov. 1 at the Barking Parrot, finishing up on Nov. 5 at Centre Stage Theatre in Summerland, which Valdy said is a fitting place to finish up.
Ryga’s Summerland home and the place where he wrote his most famous work, The Ecstasy of Rita Joe, was purchased in the ‘90s with the intent of preserving it as the George Ryga Centre, creating a place for writers to come and work.
“The house resonates, not only because of Mr. Ryga himself and his presence in there, but also the myriad numbers of people who have been through there: playwrights, poets, songwriters, writers,” said Valdy. “Everyone who has been in there leaves their mark. It’s a bustling busy little place. I feel like I am getting something done just by walking in there.”
While he’s never written a song while staying at the Ryga Centre, Valdy said the experience inspires him in other ways.
“We’ve not written specifically while there, but definitely we have sat around and had some sessions where we come up with ideas or dispense with bad ideas,” he said, adding that he’s also been encouraged to pick up a new instrument.
“George was a banjo player, and his banjo is sitting there. That’s inspired me to now go out and buy a banjo and start working on it,” said Valdy. “I am not nearly up to performance level yet, but I do take it with me and I am practising on it regularly. One of these years, I am going to make it to the Sorrento Blue Grass festival.”
Inspiration also come from playing music with Fjellgaard.
“He is such a good player. He is intuitive … and he cares about what he is doing,” said Valdy. “He’s not a taskmaster, he’s just good. When I play with people who are good and demand, my music goes up too.”
A solo player for much of his career, Valdy said it’s an interesting change to be playing with a partner regularly.
“There is a lack of control, but there is also the fun of harmony, banter and those magical moments that can happen musically; because there is a blend of two different souls,” he said. “Gary is from a cowboy poet background and I am from a back to the lander, hippie folk singer background.”
At some stops on the tour, they will be incorporating local musicians, but Valdy said that won’t be happening at the Penticton stop this year, though he does have some high praise for a local musician.
“One of my favourite drummers in the world lives there. His name is Gord Osland and he is the (retired) director of the children’s festival,” said Valdy. “Incredibly good drummer. Just puts your jaw on the floor and he has fun doing it too.”
Tickets are available for the at the Dragon’s Den in Penticton (250-492-3011) for the Nov. 1 show at the Barking Parrot. Tickets for the Nov. 5 show at Centre Stage Theatre are available at Martin’s Flowers in Summerland (250-494-5432).