Harbour City Concerts aims make Nanaimo a destination for touring folk artists

Ottawa singer-songwriter Lynn Miles will perform at Unitarian Hall on Feb. 10

Doug Creba has lived in Nanaimo for more than 30 years and during that time he’s noticed the “phenomenon” of musical acts touring across Vancouver Island but skipping its second-largest city.

“There are performers that will play in Victoria, Duncan, Salt Spring Island, Courtenay, Port Alberni and Gabriola and miss Nanaimo,” he said.

“And I was frustrated by that so I’ve always talked with people and said, ‘What can we do?'”

Creba took that issue into his own hands around five years ago by creating Harbour City Concerts as a vehicle to promote and put on shows for folk and roots musicians visiting and touring the Island.

However, he conceded that he lacked the artistic background and connections to grow his venture and identify acts to bring to the city.

That’s where Tony Turner comes in. When the Ottawa folk singer, known for his controversial 2015 protest song Harperman, moved to Nanaimo last summer he made a similar discovery and chalked it up to a lack of an appropriate performance space.

“I just searched on the internet to find out if there was anybody that felt the same way I did. The other thing I noticed was that the people that I would want to go and see weren’t playing in Nanaimo … and that’s not because they weren’t good – they were first-class touring artists, award-winning – but just maybe there wasn’t the venue for it.”

Through their mutual interest in live performance and their compatible musical tastes, Creba and Turner met and discussed how they would build upon what Harbour City Concerts had been doing for the past few years. Turner said he could help on the artistic side.

“I was plugged into the Ontario music scene,” he said.

“I was a member of Folk Music Ontario, I’d go to their annual conferences, I know a number of mostly Ontario-based artists but there are others. too. and I know the kind of quality artists id like to see here.”

The first act the duo are presenting is Juno Award-winning singer-songwriter Lynn Miles, who performs at the Unitarian Hall on Saturday, Feb. 10. Miles will be performing songs from her 14-CD catalogue with her longtime guitarist Keith Glass. In 2016 they released an album marking 15 years of touring together.

“It’s a pleasure to play with him because he’s so great, so I’ve just been really lucky to have him on stage with me for 17 years now,” she said.

“He’s a great player to begin with and he’s a great touring companion. It takes a certain personality to go on the road. It takes personalities that match each other and complement each other and able to tour that much for so long and we just have it down.”

The Nanaimo date wraps up Miles’ tour with Glass before she takes off for the United States and Europe with fellow singer-songwriter Lynne Hanson as the Lynnes.

Turner said with some lights and curtains the Unitarian Hall will be transformed into the kind of “listening room” he said Nanaimo lacks.

Creba said he hopes that by combining their skills and experiences he and Turner will ensure that travelling folk and roots artists don’t pass on Nanaimo during their visits to the Island.

“There are performers who have got a good reputation, a good professional presentation, they’re wonderful to listen to and we’re not connecting to the audience,” Creba said.

“Because I think in a community of 80- or 90,000 people in Nanaimo there have to be thousands of people who love folk music, thousands of people who like fiddle music, thousands of people who like banjos or Scottish bagpipes. It’s just connecting the performer with the audience.”

WHATS’S ON … Lynn Miles performs at Unitarian Hall on Saturday, Feb. 10 at 8 p.m. Tickets are $20 at the door or in advance at Fascinating Rhythm and Arbutus Music.

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