Cochrane Valley Folk Club still going strong after it humble beginnings 13 years ago
Many ideas, concepts are born on the wings of communication when two or more people sit around bouncing ideas off one another. Such was the scenario in 1999 when Dean Clark was having coffee with Tim Davidson at the Coffee Traders. Clark had been kicking around the idea of starting a folk club in Cochrane but needed a venue to play in. Davidson, who was the Chairman of the Boys and Girls Club at the time, suggested to Clark that he should play at the Club and the Cochrane Valley Folk Club was established.
“I loved the idea of bringing the arts and community together,” Clark remarked. “The first time we played in the Boys and Girls Club it was like playing in a big living room. It might have held 100 people standing.”
The first year of the club featured all local artists from the area and from Calgary. Clark had called all of his musician friends and told them they had to play the club once for free. The Club had received sporadic attendance for their live shows and in 2002 the Clarks hosted a folk festival, but due to low attendance and bad weather, the club’s future was in jeopardy.
“We were severely broke because of the Festival,” Clark lamented. “And I was done. I was depressed that I didn’t even want to think about the upcoming folk season.”
At the time Clark had only one act booked for the upcoming season, and was thinking that he would get through the first booking and then shut the Folk Club down. But, like many things in life, fate intervened.
“I got a phone call from a live tour artist agency in Toronto,” commented Clark, a gleam in his eye. “The agent said that he had heard that the Club was looking to take their musical acts to the next level, and I replied, ‘no, we were actually thinking of shutting the Club down.”
As it turned out the agency offered Harry Manx and Lynn Miles to play for the Folk Club, which had switched venues and was playing their shows at the Cochrane Community Hall.
“We got Harry Manx for $750.00,” Clark laughed. “But I was nervous even at that price. I was thinking at the time if anyone would even show up for the show, because every show up until that point had cost us money. As it turned out it was unbelievable. When I arrived at the hall people were lined up down the street, all the way to the Coffee Traders.”
Then a short while later Lynn Miles played to another sold out audience which gave Clark the idea to book only name acts that could draw large crowds for the Cochrane Valley Folk Club, and like a phoenix that rises from the ashes the Club had a renewed sense of energy.
Many great acts have played at the Club since those heady days, everyone from Matt Andersen, who was just starting his career at the time to big names such as Murray McLaughlin and Valdy, just to name a few. Like everything in life the Club also has evolved and change is inevitable, from the venues they have played at to the personnel running the Club.
In 2004 Brian Fitzgerald, presently the president of the Club, was standing on the sidelines with Dean Clark watching their sons play football at Bow Valley High School, when Clark suggested to Fitzgerald that he should come out to the show and see a performer named Ruthie Foster.
“I told Dean that I really didn’t go out for folk music,” chuckled Fitzgerald. “It was the first show I had gone to and I said to myself, ‘this isn’t folk music’. She was incredible.”
Over the years the Cochrane Valley Folk Club has relied on the charity of volunteers to keep the Club functioning. Carolyn Fitzgerald, wife of Brian, has held several positions as a volunteer with the Club, and suggested that Ruthie Foster was one of her favourite acts that had played there.
“It was the first show we attended before we started volunteering,” she smiled. “At the time I thought that I really don’t like folk music. I am not a Joan Baez kind of girl. We saw Ruthie and she was fabulous.”
Another volunteer, Celine Orieux, has a list of her favourite acts from The Bills, The McDades to the Wailing Jennys, just to name a few.
“We have had some awesome groups come through,” said Orieux. “I think it is amazing that this small community can have music like this and that these artists will come and play. There is such a variety of music, it is just not folk music.”
Debbie Brock has volunteered with the Club since 2002. For many, many years Brock was in charge of co-ordinating the volunteers, but is now ‘just’ a volunteer. She realizes how important it is to have volunteers to run the Club, and the fact that she lives in Water Valley and has had some ‘hairy’ drives through snow blizzards and other inclement weather from the concerts to her home demonstrates how dedicated the volunteers really are.
“Volunteers have pulled together and made it work,” Brock related. “We have had a wonderful group of people throughout the years. We have had volunteers here for over ten years. I am just happy to come and help out. And to tell you the truth there has not been one single show that I haven’t liked.”
Since the very beginning the Club had changed venues several times when it commenced at the Boys and Girls Club and went to the Cochrane Community Hall, to the Ricochet Ranch, to the Cochrane Ranche House to their present location at the Alliance Church.
“We were trying to find a home for the longest time,” Dean Clark said. “We thought we found it at the Ranche House which was unfortunate.”
“It is the music that makes the thing go,” Brian Fitzgerald added. “No matter where we end up we’ll always make a good show of it. Nothing is ever ideal. We could only get so many people into a show at the Ranche House. But now we can seat twice as many people which has enabled us to get groups like the Cowboy Junkies.”
For Brian Fitzgerald, who is not only serves as the President of the Club but also the Artistic Director, and is in charge of booking all the entertainment, his biggest surprise act throughout the years was Matt Andersen.
“Matt Andersen was in Alberta and I was lucky to get him to open for David Gogo and he blew David off the stage, he was that phenomenal,” Fitzgerald imparted. “He was one of the biggest surprises because he was sort of Howling Wolf reincarnated in this 20 year old body. The guitar looks so small in his hands.”
One of the reasons the Cochrane Valley Folk Club is so steeped in the community is due to Clark’s and Fitzgerald’s insistence on booking local talent to open for the big name acts. Local musicians such as Robbie Aylesworth, Robert Burton Hubele, Lucas Chaisson, Noel Johnson, and Emily West to name a very few, have all graced the stage of the Folk Club. All of these local musicians have been given a great deal of exposure, given the opportunity to share the spotlight with the bigger names that are drawn to Cochrane. An opportunity they may have not received had the Folk Club not been here.
When one combines the local talent with a club that is propelled by volunteers, the outcome is a winning combination, for musicians and residents alike. It is a formula that truly benefits the community of Cochrane, and should for a very long time in the future.