While the pandemic all but wiped out in-person performances for most of 2020, there was still much to celebrate on the Surrey-area entertainment scene.
Musicians, actors and other performers kept busy creating online events, and some festivals gave it a go during a tough year for pretty much everyone. Here’s a look back at some memorable entertainers, events and attractions, 2020 style.
Tyler Joe Miller
The hits kept coming for the Newton-raised country musician, who can boast “I Would Be Over Me Too” and “Pillow Talkin’” among his chart-topping songs in 2020. By fall, “T.J.” became the first Canadian independent country artist to reach #1 at radio with his first two singles.
Miller was also named among eight semifinalists in a SiriusXM Canada-backed contest to find “Canada’s next big country music star.” The third annual Top of the Country competition, done in partnership with the Canadian Country Music Association (CCMA), looks a little different than in previous years, due to COVID-19 restrictions and guidelines, and will extend across two years.
Back in July, Matty Vu said he was in no rush to again perform comedy in a club or other venue, given COVID-19 concerns, and his latest endeavour seemed like a perfect fit for the pandemic.
That month, the Surrey-raised Vu was among a dozen up-and-coming Canadian comics featured in “The New Wave of Standup” series launched on the free CBC Gem streaming service.
The 10-minute sets were filmed last February during JFL NorthWest, Vancouver’s Just for Laughs comedy festival. “I haven’t seen the footage yet, so I might be terrible and have no idea,” said the soft-spoken Vu.
“I’m not even sure I’ll watch it, because I hate watching videos of myself. But I hope people watch it, and when the time comes I hope they come out to live shows because there’s no better experience than a live comedy show.”
The Edmonton-born Vu, 34, grew up in Whalley and went to Holy Cross Regional High School before studying criminology at Kwantlen Polytechnic University. He now lives in East Vancouver.
In throwback mode, Alexis Lynn took a creative step forward with the video for her song, “I Can’t Relate,” which saw her play both relationship therapist and client.
“It’s about looking in on a friend’s toxic relationship, and reflecting what I might do in that situation while also trying to help them see they’re worth more,” Lynn said about the inspiration for the catchy pop/R&B track.
She drew from personal experience, as the scenario was one Lynn found herself in, and the song/video features a strong 1990s/’00s vibe.
A lifelong Surreyite and former Clayton Heights Secondary student, Alexis Leibenzeder embraced “Lynn” as a stage name some years ago.
She earned the Achievement by a First Nations/Indigenous Artist award at the fourth annual Fraser Valley Music Awards in 2019, and Lynn’s “Worst Behaviour” was in February named among the Top 50 songs, as judged by CBC Music, in the annual Searchlight contest.
Central City Fun Park
Months later than planned, Surrey’s new Central City Fun Park opened in June, after the first wave of COVID-19. Billed as “Metro Vancouver’s Largest Indoor Amusement Park,” it’s located in 27,000 square feet of space near Pattullo Bridge, in the former SkyZone trampoline park.
Central City Fun Park features a roller skating rink, bowling, nine-hole miniature golf course, 65 arcade games, Hologate virtual-reality game, party rooms, a pizzeria and more. The facility, operated by Surrey-raised brothers Erik, Glen and Steve Vilio, was set to open at spring break, but the COVID-19 pandemic ended those plans.
“It was frustrating, but this is the way of the world,” Steve Vilio said in June. “We feel lucky to be able to open when we did, even though it’s not the way we wanted. We’re not making money, the numbers aren’t high enough, but some income is better than no income.”
Back in March, the Clayton-area country musician performed a special song with someone special during Diesel Bird Digital Music Festival, which was among of the very first COVID-era music festivals gone online. Mason and his mother, Joan, performed John Legend’s “All of Me” during the event, but didn’t reveal the song choice beforehand.
“She’s quite the piano player, and I had the privilege of bringing her out on stage during a recent show I did (at Vancouver’s Commodore Ballroom) in February, and we’re going to recreate that moment and do it online,” Mason noted. “But of course we’re going to be six feet apart and all that. I’m excited for that.”
Looking ahead, Mason will be performing a “Live From Inside” at Vancouver’s Commodore Ballroom on Jan. 14, along with Shawn Austin and Kristin Carter, in a full-production show. Tickets are $15 at universe.com.
Last spring, at the age of 11 and after just two years of turntablism, the Surrey-based DJ was making some noise on the local music scene. DJ Miko.So? – yes, with the question mark – is a stage name for Tomiko Nishimura, who lives in Fleetwood. On March 15, she was booked to play music for 18,000 Canucks fans at Rogers Arena, but the game was cancelled just as COVID-19 hit B.C.
“They’re doing a Next Generation game with an emphasis on kids,” explained Miko’s dad, Brad, at the time. “They said they want her to do the warm-up and also do a special set during each intermission, so she’s prepared two three-minute sets for that. It’s pretty big for her.”
To date, Miko has DJ’d at Vancouver Mural Festival, Vancouver Street Dance Festival, the Granville Flea fashion event and graduations at some Surrey-area schools.
Surrey’s Henri Brown has earned himself some big-league connections in the music world, thanks in part to family roots. Brown, first cousin of the Seattle-raised guitar legend Jimi Hendrix, is a mainstay on the Experience Hendrix tour that has featured a cavalcade of rock and blues stars in recent years, including Buddy Guy, Johnny Lang, Dweezil Zappa, Kenny Aronoff and many others, in a concert showcase of Hendrix’s immortal music.
This year, one of those recent Experience Hendrix tour stars, Joe Satriani, featured on a song recorded by Brown and his band, HB Wild. The “Make Time 4 Love” track, a rearranged number Brown wrote and recorded for an album years ago, is also featured in a video posted to Youtube in March.
“I had the song and recorded the bed tracks and everything, all done,” Brown explained. “And when I met Joe (Satriani) on the (Experience Hendrix) tour, I just asked him about doing a solo on one of the tracks, and he said he’d be honoured, which was great. As soon as we got back from the tour, I sent him the song, he loved it, he said to give him two or three days and he came back with a draft and just a screaming solo on it – but you know, he did three passes before he was happy with it. I said, ‘Man, do as many as you want!’”
‘Sonic the Hedgehog’ in Surrey
The action-comedy movie “Sonic the Hedgehog” was released in theatres on Valentine’s Day, and Surrey could share in the love of movie-making economic impact. In the summer of 2018, scenes were filmed for about a week at Joe Brown Park, in Surrey’s Panorama Ridge area, and also in the Crescent Park neighbourhood.
Based on the Sega video-game character, the Paramount Pictures film co-stars Jim Carrey, who was at Joe Brown Park for filming.
“It was a substantial part of the movie, with an armoured semi-trailer truck that drove out onto the softball field,” said James Monk, the City of Surrey’s filming manager. “It was so heavy that we had to get the ground professionally checked to see if it could support the weight of the truck.”
Scenes from the park are shown in the original trailer for the film, from April 2019.
It was a Surrey homecoming for actor Jimmy Yi when “Kim’s Convenience” played the city’s arts centre in February. On stage at Bear Creek Park, the Fraser Heights-area resident was Appa, or Mr. Kim, in a touring production of Ins Choi’s award-winning script, about a family-run corner store.
“I’ve never actually toured this show, so this will be the first time,” Yi said during rehearsals. “Usually it’s been a fixed production at the same theatre, so this is a bit different for us.”
Yi has developed a special relationship with “Kim’s Convenience,” on stage and also on television. In the TV series he has a recurring role as Jimmy Young. Away from acting, the Korean-born, Cleveland-raised Yi is an associate pastor at New Joy Church, in Guildford.
Ram family on ‘Feud’ TV show
When Surrey’s Ram family appeared on the “Family Feud Canada” game show in January, one answer from patriarch Atish Ram drew laughter from show host Gerry Dee and the studio audience.
“Name something you might Google repeatedly,” Dee asked.
“Porn,” Atish replied when he won the race to the buzzer, before a red ‘X’ flashed across the screen to indicate a wrong answer.
The Rams didn’t win the game show, but they felt like winners.
“We already won with the experience and having it connected to my dad,” Atish said. “It so happens that it aired on my dad’s birthday.”
— Family Feud Canada (@FamilyFeudCa) January 23, 2020
The Clayton-area musician helped launch a new app he and others hope will disrupt the world of social media and websites where things are bought and sold. The Trybe platform counts Nickelback singer/guitarist Chad Kroeger among its four “founders/angels,” along with Swinimer, his father Bill Swinimer and fellow Surrey-area musician/construction company boss Felipe Freig.
“We set out to try and monetize social media, while making it a safer and more positive experience,” Swinimer said in September. “We felt it unfair that social media users do all the work, provide all the content but make none of the profits.”
Surrey-raised rapper Merkules returned home with a photo on the cover of his latest album, which he’s made available for all to hear on YouTube. “Apply Pressure” features an image of a house and alley on 146A Street, in an area of Green Timbers where Cole Stevenson grew up before he became Merkules in the world of music.
The video for the title track earned hundreds of thousands of views soon after it was posted to his “Young Merkules” channel on Nov. 14, along with other songs from the album.
In a Facebook post, Merkules uploaded a photo of himself in the area of Surrey where he grew up. “What you see here is a fat dude standing in front of a electrical box but what I see is my entire childhood,” he wrote. “This was ‘the boxes’ when I grew up and you could always rely on a couple of the guys in our crew to be here no matter what time or day smoking weed and drinking 40’s.
“For those that don’t know already, you know that scar on my face that you’ve always wondered about? Well right behind this fence is also where I got stabbed in the face. Welcome to Green Timbers, where I grew up.”