Who said politicians were no fun? MP Alex Atamanenko set to rock the next Joe Hill
This Sunday, January 16th, sees the first Joe Hill Coffee House of 2011, and to bring in the new year of this monthly event held at the Miner’s Hall there is a well-known name on the list of performers. For the first time, BC Southern Interior MP Alex Atamanenko will be singing and playing guitar at the coffee house, partnered with his friend Lawrence Halisheff who will play the banjo and sing backing vocals for the 15 minute set. The duo will play a total of about five songs including a Willie Nelson cover, an instrumental piece, and a BC folk song about the Kettle Valley Railway called “Kettle Valley Line.” Mr. Atamanenko was encouraged to participate in the coffee house by his friend Les Carter, who is a former Rossland mayor, and who is also a musician performing Sunday night. Our MP is no stranger to performing music live, however. “There’s a bunch of us old guys – most of us are retired teachers – and we play in this group called The Balladeers and we do old folks homes,” Mr. Atamanenko told me during a phone interview. “Lawrence and I performed at he Princeton Traditional Music Festival last August, and we had about half an hour there where we played several songs. I just try to keep up and play when I have a chance.” The Balladeers play anything from Country & Western songs, to Russian folk songs, and anything else that interests. Mr. Atamanenko joined the band in the mid-1990s when someone suggested he come to a practice because the band needed another guitar player. “I’ve played the guitar a whole bunch of years. I don’t play that well,” he modestly stated. “I play just good enough to kind of get by for singing. I’d like to take some time to really learn it one of these days, but that’ll have to wait until this life is over,” he continued, referring to his busy life as a politician. When asked if he’s nervous or excited about his upcoming performance, Mr. Atamanenko says, “It’s exciting! Anytime I get to go and play music, it’s great.” Love of performance and the opportunity to get up in front of an audience is the key factor behind the popularity the Joe Hill Coffee House has with local artists, says event organizer Michael Gifford. “That’s what Joe Hill is all about: giving people the chance to perform. The concept of Joe Hill is basically for anyone who wants to perform in a non-threatening atmosphere with a friendly audience. And it’s worked out so great!” Mr. Gifford notes that this is the 21st coffee house and the event is now into its third year. It attracts performers and artists from all over the Kootenays, including Nelson, Salmo, and the Slocan Valley, and even people who come to Rossland to stay for a season from further afar, like Ontario or the coast, have come to have an opportunity to share their talents at the Minor’s Hall. “Every show we get new people who have never performed here before,” Mike Gifford says. “A lot of them have never performed anywhere. That’s exactly what this is all about: they’re professionals, semi-professionals, and amateurs, and they all have the same chance to get up there and do their thing. Performers love to perform and will drive miles and miles just to have the opportunity get up there and get that feeling they have when they’re in front of people.” Some participants use Joe Hill as an opportunity to try to further their artistic aspirations, as is the case with a young Salmo musician playing on Sunday named Kyla Hanna. A singer, keyboardist, and guitar player, Kyla has a CD out and is looking for bookings. “She’s different from a lot of the other performers who are locals because she is seeking to go farther with her music. Admission to the coffee house is $3 for adults and free for students, and all the money goes back to the Rossland Council for Arts and Culture (RCAC) for the upkeep of the sound equipment Joe Hill needs to operate. Gas money is also provided for some performers coming from father away. The coffee house itself is under the umbrella of the RCAC, who provides the rental of the Minor’s Hall and the sound system for the event. Tea, coffee, juice, and homemade baking are provided by the RSS drama department, with proceeds going towards their upcoming trip to London over spring break. The Joe Hill Coffee House is one of those grass roots organizations that helps make a small community so vibrant, and it’s popularity is only on the rise. “I rarely call people up to ask them to perform – they’re always approaching me! It seems to be a self-perpetuating series. People like to have a place where the average person can go to perform. It’s just something that’s necessary, a needed thing, and we’ll keep doing it as long as people wish to perform.” The show starts at 7:00 sharp, and on Sunday Alex Atamanenko and Lawrence Halisheff play third. See you there!