The Kettle Valley Brakemen are devoting their 18th season on the road to celebrating the centennial of the Kettle Valley Railway.
“We’ve put together a completely Kettle Valley show,” said Jack Godwin, leader of the Brakemen.
“Normally we have songs from railways all over the map.”
The Brakemen are performing their first show of the season on May 16 in the Penticton Museum auditorium.
Though the shows this season are dedicated to the KVR, fans can still expect to hear the mix of historical stories, music and fun that make the Brakemen’s shows such an experience.
This is the first public show of the season, but the Brakemen have been warming up with a special set of private shows.
The Penticton Museum got $55,000 to celebrate the hundredth anniversary of the Kettle Valley Railway and curator Dennis Oomen decided a good way to spend part of that money would be to celebrate with seniors.
“The seniors in the community, the people who remember the steel rail era best, are the ones he would like to see benefit,” said Godwin.
Oomen hired the Brakemen to do a series of concerts at seniors’ homes throughout the district, including Charles Manor, Cherry Park, the Concorde and Athens Creek. In days of shrinking budgets, Godwin explained, some of these homes don’t have enough in their entertainment budget to hire the band.
“We’ve done four shows and we have two more planned. They are going over really well. These people really like it,” said Godwin, adding that Oomen was right about the seniors connecting with the music.
Round about the middle of their set, the Brakemen have a few songs celebrating some of the special people who are part of the KVR’s history.
One is Pearly McPherson, who was a very famous conductor who went on to become a Penticton alderman.
Another song is about the official KVR doctor.
“At one of the private shows we did, a woman came up after the show and said she was brought into the world by this guy. It’s really proving quite rewarding,” said Godwin.
“At Athen’s Creek, there was a committee forming as we left the room to try to get us back.”
Godwin has been keeping the Brakemen project going for 18 years.
He says the Kettle Valley Brakemen occupy a unique niche. “No one else in Canada — according to Tim Rogers, the guy who runs the ultimate railway song site — is doing exactly what we do,” said Godwin.
And there are lots of people looking for the kind of music and stories the Brakeman bring.
“Anyone who’s opened a train set on Christmas morning or had an engineer wave back to them — there’s a bigger market than you’d expect for what we do,” said Godwin.
“Personally speaking, I get to perform concerts of my songs for audiences that really want to hear them. Neil Young and Leonard Cohen get to do that, but most regional players have to perform covers.”
Godwin said that though the musicians that play with him are all in other bands that play for bars, conventions, weddings, etc., they also love performing as a Brakeman because people are focused on sitting and listening to them.
Tickets to the May 16 concert are $10 and available at the door. For more information, call 250-490-2452.