Nothing could be more important to Canadian balladeer Wiz Bryant than launching his new song right in the very town he was born and raised in.
Calling Penticton home, The Wine and Cheese Song Bryant penned will be presented at the Cleland Theatre right at the finale of the Okanagan Fall Wine Festival and in the middle of a battle for the government to ease liquor restrictions to the benefit of local wineries.
“My good buddy Stompin’ Tom Connors wrote a song about potatoes and it did a lot for P.E.I. I was raised here in the Okanagan and I wanted to do the same thing for this fantastic Shangri-La that we all get to call home,” said Bryant. “It’s upbeat and fun. People laugh and love it. I’m calling the winery owners Canadian heroes and they are all patriots because they say red and white are our favourite colours.
Loud and boisterous, Bryant is not only a singer-songwriter, he previously was the host of the television series Wandering Canada on CBC and a consummate entertainer. With all of that under his hat, he is also part historian and part political activist. He considers it his duty to document Canada’s history (past and present) in song.
“I know what it means to be Canadian in the core of my being,” he said while getting choked up. “I have lived through a tremendous amount of experience and to be able to sing to the people and remind them of who we are would be a great privilege and honour and that is what I am up to.”
Ironically, it was while traveling in Australia in his younger days that Bryant developed a fire to create Canadian folk music. It was a sound he heard only a handful of artists, such as Gordon Lightfoot, do.
“You can only sing Farewell to Nova Scotia so many times,” joked Bryant.
Stompin’ Tom Connors became his musical inspiration, who gave him a song about Manitoba to listen to when driving through Manitoba, or a song about Frank’s Slide while driving past it.
“I thought, wow, finally there is a Canadian country folk artists who is writing songs about who we are,” said Bryant.
Eventually Bryant got to meet his folk singer hero. It was after Connors had quit the music business and was living in recluse on his farm. Bryant said he became a friend, mentor and learned a tremendous amount from the Canadian legend.
Since his days as a budding Canadian folk songwriter and singer, Bryant has some 300 songs in his catalogue. Topics ranging from Okanagan Falls cowboy Kenny McLean, blue collar heroes, Grey Owl to the Bluenose.
His patriotic sense came from his father, who Bryant said was a classical violinist until he had to run a tank corps for six years in Europe during the Second World War. He then moved to Penticton ,opening a men’s and boy’s wear store and died when Bryant was just 14.
“He was a great Canadian and loved this country and paid a big price for it so we all could be having our debates and enjoying what we have here,” said Bryant.
The storytelling side of the Canadian troubadour came from his mother, who will be his guest of honour at the Penticton concert.
“I never saw TV until I was 11 or 12. I grew up laying in the living room in our little house in Penticton and listened to the Cisco Kid and used my imagination. My mom read me all the classics and I thought I was Tom Sawyer. She cultivated my imagination. I was also lucky to go to the Summer School of the Arts and got a degree in theatre arts but I fell in love with folk music and storytelling through songs,” he said.
Bryant hopes to spread his patriotic sense as he wanders the country on tour in 2014 and generate excitement for Canada’s milestone 150th birthday in 2017. Through his unique way he also wants to drop a little knowledge to those he comes across.
“I think we are on to something and we are at a critical time in the history of not only our country but our planet. I think Canadians can stand and have stood and can stand for something tremendous in the immediate future before us. Although it may require a new government to get the job done,” he said.
Bryant is performing at the Cleland on Oct. 14 at 8 p.m. Tickets for the two-hour show, plus intermission, are $45 or to attend the Wine and cheese VIP reception at 5 p.m., the tickets are $60. For general admission reserved seating tickets to the concert call The Cleland Theatre box office at 250-490-2426 or drop by the Penticton Community Centre reception desk.