Call it a “natural”.
The combination of environmentally-driven folk-rock band The Wilds (led by Ocean Park singers/multi-instrumentalists Holly Arntzen and Kevin Wright) and historically-focused folk-Celtic-roots band Tiller’s Folly (Maple Ridge songwriter-guitarist Bruce Coughlan, Whatcom County fiddler and mandolinist Nolan Murray and White Rock bassist Laurence Knight) would seem to be a match made in heaven.
On the basis of seasoned talent alone, their show Voices for the Salish Sea – which comes to White Rock’s Blue Frog Studios on March 30 – could not be less than a riveting, musically-satisfying experience.
Even when tackling some heavy ecological issues, or some of the dark by-roads of Northwest frontier history, the two locally-based bands have an innate ability to craft upbeat, hum-able, toe-tapping songs.
The blend of “songs, stories, humour, visual art and multi-media” in the current project – which began early last year – does have an underlying educational and inspirational purpose, Arntzen and Coughlan underlined in a recent interview with Peace Arch News.
But ultimately, they agreed, it’s a celebration – in both words and music – of the border-spanning Salish Sea; something we should all treasure for its ecology, beauty, history and culture.
“Your songs are about all these wonderful characters that have inhabited this area,” Arntzen said, discussing the show with Coughlan.
“Ours are about the ecosystem, the watersheds, wild salmon. Combining them brings another dimension into the music.”
Given their interests, both groups have leaned toward an educational element and have frequently presented in schools as part of their touring schedule – The Wilds with their Rock the Salish Sea program helping to focus attention on the fragile ecosystem, and Tiller’s Folly with their program invoking the days of maritime and fur-trade exploration and the gold rush era, based on the epic Stirring Up Ghosts double album.
Arntzen and Wright also co-created a kindergarten to Grade 9 resource –The Watershed Handbook: Songs, Science and Stewardship for Educators, complete with a companion CD of their songs.
“The idea is to instill among the nine million people who live among the (Salish Sea) watersheds a sense of ownership and a sense of stewardship,” Coughlan said.
It’s often an uphill battle to bring concerns for the ecosystem to the forefront, but Arntzen said she sees reason for optimism that the message is getting across, particularly in last week’s announcement of a joint federal-provincial investment of $142.8 million in a five-year program to protect wild salmon habitat and restore stocks.
As one might expect, the Voices for the Salish Sea project developed organically among musicians who share mutual admiration and similar concerns.
“We have been finishing each other’s sentences at different festivals for 20 years,” Coughlan said.
“We’re often walking on stage as Holly and Kevin are walking off. We’re old friends from way back, and working on this project seemed like a natural thing to do.”
“One of the songs that brought the two groups together was this beautiful song Bruce wrote, called Bring Lolita Home,” Arntzen said.
The 2017 song directed attention at the fate of an Orca (Lolita, also known as Tokitae) captured in Penn Cove, Wash. in 1970, and still held in captivity – in the smallest Orca tank in North America – an aquarium in Florida.
Arntzen noted that while Lolita is the sole survivor of five juvenile orcas captured there, her family of some 30 Orcas are still in local waters.
“She’s more than 45 years older, but her mother still lives in the Salish Sea,” she said.
“There’s been this years-long effort to free Lolita after four decades-plus, to bring her home and back to some kind of normality.”
Collaboration on the song and its accompanying video led to the current project, which had successful launch concerts in Bellingham and Coquitlam last year featuring the BC Boys Choir.
Coughlan pointed out that while the project has five core musicians, it lends itself to such extended and enhanced collaborations.
“We’d also like to encourage indigenous performers to join us and share their perspectives,” he said.
In addition to the Blue Frog concert, the musicians will also present Voices for the Salish Sea at a Pacific Contact showcase next week, in hopes of finding opportunities to tour to other BC coastal communities, particularly those where salmon migrate.
“We want to inspire people to know more about the ecological heritage we all share,” Arntzen said.
For tickets and information, visit bluefrogstudios.ca or call 604-542-3055.