Kootenay Soul Diva: Loud and Proud

Creston's fiery chanteuse Velle Weitman launches Winter Ale Series with strength and charm

Ferdy Belland

“Our musical world has been pretty exciting as of late,” says Velle Weitman, vocalist-violinist-keyboardist for Creston’s hottest band Kootenay Soul. “Our band has come a long way in the past two years!”

And how. The former violinist for the Jeremy Walsh Band and Barleywik, Velle has also logged time as a music teacher in Victoria BC and is a long-seasoned veteran performer of the national folk and jazz worlds; her musical adventures have taken her across Ireland, the UK, the USA, and Canada. As of late, she’s focused her frontperson role in Kootenay Soul, which features her husband Aaron Weitman (bass), Jason Deatherage (drums), James Jost (guitar), and occasional sit-ins with legendary Cranbrook wizard Robert “Bernie” Bernhardt (keyboards). Kootenay Soul have been featured performers at Fernie’s Wapiti Festival and Kaslo Jazz Etc, and are dedicated roadhounds when touring across BC and Alberta. With two albums already under their belt and a third one on the way later in 2018 (produced by Adrian Dolan of award-winning roots ensemble The Bills), Velle’s band keeps on keepin’ on with flair and panache. And as the grand debut to their new year, Velle Weitman and Kootenay Soul will perform live at the Key City Theatre’s Gallery Stage as part of the Winter Ale Concert Series on Wednesday January 31st.

Maintaining a harmonious balance between her precious home life and her burning professional desires requires both discipline and persistence. “Living in the Kootenays makes it a little more work,” Velle admits. “Our bandmembers are scattered across different towns across the region, so gathering everyone can get a little headachy, but when we’re all together it’s well worth it.”

Velle details the struggles Canadian musicians face when propelling themselves above regional obscurity and into the national limelight. “Our communities lack places to play. There’s a shortage of dedicated live venues across the province, here in the Kootenays or elsewhere. Which is frustrating for performers and lovers of live music.”

Those obstacles aren’t unique to Kootenay Soul; establishing a serious arts career in Canada has always been a struggle, regardless of who the musicians are, or where they live, and these struggles aren’t unique to the current times. If anything, the experiences show how motivated Velle’s band are, at not only honing their craft, but the mountains they’re willing to move.

“It just takes lots of time,” she says. “It takes more energy from us. We’re not playing Vancouver nightclubs every weekend, where we can develop a following and a fan base. It’s a demanding time to be a live musician in this modern digital culture. Making true fans who love you and want to play your music and attend your concerts…it’s harder to make that connection now. We’re not out playing live enough. You need to be endlessly networking online. It’s emotionally exhausting, and I don’t know how other artists even do that.”

Despite spelling out the ruts in the road, her enthusiasm for her muse and her drive has not flagged or failed one bit.

“I’ve broken through any discouragement,” she says. “I’m staying true to plugging away at what I do, because it’s who I am. We started as a seven-piece soul band with backup singers and a horn section, and whenever we can perform that way we really shine. But the band’s core is me and Aaron and Jason and James. If there’s no zap or fire with a small unit to start with, you can’t stoke up a burning storm with a larger band. We’ll open up more opportunities with a tighter, smaller, more portable band, and things will accelerate from there. “

And Velle’s joy of the local Kootenay music scene knows no bounds. “I am so thrilled to be playing the Key City Theatre,” gushes Velle. “The venue’s beautiful, and we’re lucky to have it here. The Gallery Stage is just stunning, and tailor-made for the presence our band has. There’s been a dramatic upswing in the East Kootenay’s cultural life over the past decade. It’s a boon for the people of Cranbrook, and the Kootenays as a whole. There’s a need and a desire for great live entertainment, and there’s room for everybody.”

Velle compares the local holistic approach encountered locally to music opportunities offered in the big cities. “I was invited to play an industry showcase in New York City,” says Velle. “At first I flipped my wig. I mean, New York City, right? Then they told me I had to pay $900…for a 15-minute set. Pay-to-play, baby!”

Velle smirks: “…and no, I didn’t go.”

“We are playing the RAW Showcase in Calgary” she says. “It promotes all art forms; hairdressers, photographers, filmmakers, mixed-media stuff. The benefit of this event is the real media exposure – the Calgary Herald, the Calgary Sun, A&R reps from various Canadian record labels, the Calgary Folk Festival, the Calgary Jazz Festival, Calgary YYC, and talent scouts from various Calgary jazz clubs. If we’re doing this, we need to take full advantage of who we want there. Will they show? That’s their prerogative. I can’t force them. I can only invite them. We’ll stand on our own talents, and people will either like us or not. Even if we get a good gig review from the Calgary Sun, then I can add that to our resume. Anything to build up credibility in the press.”

Velle is proud of her band, but there’s no ego in her declarations. “We really do put on an incredible show,” she says. “Of course I’m biased, but our collective musicianship is quite unreal. I’ve been singing and playing for so long, and so have the others. We strive to be good, gig after gig, and we have this great musical mix. I add a rootsy component to our show; we can play an old-school R&B classic like Etta James’ “Rather Go Blind,” and just kill it, and then follow that with a Newfie jig and a Maritime reel. And we add funk tunes, too. We have a dedicated dancer in our group, who’s just unreal; she adds so much to the visual element.”

Velle shows no sign of letting go of her dreams.

“We’re making it happen,” she says. “We’re working on our new album. We’re driving forward in the right direction. And I’m still happy to be a musician in the Kootenays. I truly mean that. This is who I am. I’m not a 20-year-old glittery pop tart. I’m a loving mother of three wonderful children, and I’m also a serious musician. I’ve played everywhere, from the dirtiest coffeeshops in England to the hottest nightclubs in Vancouver. I’ve seen it all. I’ve been around the block. I want to tell anyone who truly wants to pursue some sort of career as a professional musician: Do It Your Way. Do You. And do it the best you can do. I’m taking a little taste of the Kootenays with me wherever I perform.”

Velle Weitman and the Kootenay Soul Express perform live in concert as the kickoff concert of the Fisher Peak Performing Artists’ Society (FPPAS) Winter Ale Series at the Key City Theatre’s Gallery Stage on Wednesday January 31st (showtime 7:00pm). For ticket information please visit www.keycitytheatre.com or phone 250-426-7006.

Cranbrook Daily Townsman

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