Mission’s ability as a community to foster talent and churn out professional musicians is no coincidence, said two of last year’s Fraser Valley Music Awards winners.
Rebecca Sichon, the 19-year-old recipient of the best pop-artist award, and Michael Jantzen, the lead singer of Roads Unknown, winners of the award in the roots-music category, both give credit to their hometown for their success.
Over 50 artists were nominated at the awards, including five others from Mission. The winners were announced on Nov. 19, 2020.
“The musicians in Mission are like a close-knit supportive little family,” Sichon said. “There were just so many musical connections growing up.”
At the centre of that scene in the Mission Folk Festival. The 33-year-old festival has given both artists, a generation apart, some of their earliest musical memories.
Jantzen’s father volunteered as an electrician at the festival, and took him there every summer. He remembers being exposed to music from far corners of the world, and trying to work out the steps of a line dance for the first time.
He said he’s been back most years since – but now he takes his own kids.
“The folk festival is huge. It says, as a community, we value the arts, we value diverse musical expression,” Jantzen said. “We’ve been one small part in creating this amazing, flourishing arts community.”
Similarly, Sichon found her way to the festival through her father. She would go every summer and watch him play on stage with other musicians, meeting many, including members of Roads Unknown.
In 2017, she performed for the first time on that same stage.
“It was super rewarding being able to stand on that stage, and give back to what I’ve been appreciating my entire life,” Sichon said. “Mission has supported me from the beginning.”
The ability of local artists to interact, encourage and share with each other in a “supportive and mutually generous way” is the foundation for Mission’s success, Jantzen said.
And while the folk festival may be the main attraction, there’s a variety of music scenes in the community, such as impromptu house concerts and open mics – Jantzen found his professional start at the latter.
He met blues musician and fellow Roots Unknown founder, Tony O’Hara, at the Dewdney Open Mic in 2015. He said he’d been writing songs and testing them on stage when they played together for the first time. A duo formed shortly after.
They were joined by Jennie Bice, a long-time fiddle player, violin teacher, and former board director of the Mission Folk Festival. Bice runs the open mic at Sisto’s Pub. Solomon Janzen, their bass player, is the most recent member, and added the “funk,” Jantzen said.
“It’s this uncanny marriage of folk, country, blues and funk,” Jantzen said. “It’s hard to put a finger on why it works but it does.”
|Roads Unknown members from left to right: Tony O’Hara, Solomon Janzen, Michael Jantzen and Jennie Bice. Joe Samorodin photo.|
Musical confidence is built at the open mics, he said, but many more groups, events and friendships form as a result.
Before forming Roads Unknown, as Jantzen was trying to produce his first solo album, he said his friends from the open mics helped him put on a silent auction and fundraising concert.
A backyard stage was made, complete with a “beautiful, sanded-wood platform,” lighting was rigged, and the one-time event unintentionally turned into an annual show dubbed “Concert by the Creek.”
“In the community, we’ve really developed these relationships,” he said. “Someone’s going to the mic, maybe they’ve never sung before, and when they do they’re getting cheered on, no matter how good it sounds.”
Similarly, a web of different venues gave Sichon plenty of opportunity to perform from a young age.
Starting from age four, or “the second I started talking, AKA screaming and singing,” as she described, then carrying on through musicals in high school, Clarke Theatre, the Optimist Talent Show and other stages, Sichon was always encouraged by the musicians around her – the ones in her family most of all.
Both her parents are musicians, and her house is adorned with instruments her father’s collected from around the world, she said, adding he can play every one of them.
“I don’t remember my life without singing, I don’t remember my life without music,” she said. “I’ve always been the little performer.”
And crucially, both are heavily involved in the local music scene. For instance, Bice of Roads Unknown is a friend of the family, and Sichon grew up knowing most of the band.
The seeds grown by the community of 44,000 have started to bloom in the last decade, with a string of artists hitting high on the billboard charts, such as Carly Rae Jepsen and Powfu (Issiah Faber). Faber’s father, the lead singer in the band Faber Drive, being another successfully musician to plant roots down in Mission.
Sichon recently moved to Vancouver, and “opened up a whole new world” finding new access to larger venues, studio time, producers and collaborations.
“I feel very blessed, honestly, to just be recognized in the Fraser Valley for everything I put into it over the years,” she said. “[It was] time for me to spread my wings and move on.”
The move has been stunted by the pandemic – shuttering all music venues temporarily – but it hasn’t slowed Sichon down. She said she works 10-hour shifts at Benjamin Moore, comes home and works on music until she sleeps.
While not able to announce anything publicly yet, Sichon said she has a lot of exciting things on the way.
“I’m really excited because it’s a whole new chapter of my music that’s about to come out,” she said. “I’m going to be a lot more vulnerable, and a lot more genuine with who I am as an artist.”
Coming off of two awards last year, the other being Mission’s Celebration of the Arts award in September, Roads Unknown are releasing a new CD in January, and the digital album coming in February or March.
Jantzen said the band would like to branch out more to the festival scene, but said they will always call Mission home. He said they are just looking forward to playing together again.
“We don’t define success on our stats or our views – if it becomes bigger, great we can share our music more – but for me, being a small part of growing Mission’s music community, that’s our biggest success.