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Let’s talk about The Grand Ole Northern Opry

Kim Beggs

Whitehorse is known for many great artistic activities. One of them is The Grand Ole Northern Opry. Kim Beggs is a producer and an artistic director of the Northern Opry Project. She came to the Yukon Times office for an interview. It is here what she told us:-


YT: Thank you so much Kim Beggs for coming to Yukon Times for this interview. So, what did inspire you to start Grand Ole Northern Opry?

KB: Well the inspiration for The Grand Ole Northern Opry came out of many conversations in Baked Café, with another friend – Dale Harnesh –, and he also helps with organising The Grand Ole Northern Opry. I am– my name is Kim Beggs and I am the producer and the artistic director of The Grand Ole Northern Opry. And the Opry is an annual event that takes place each winter solstice – we’re having our second annual this December 20th and 21st. And it involves artists from all over the Yukon, from emerging to established. The goals of the Opry are about bringing emerging and established artists together, about bringing artists from the communities into Whitehorse to interact with the many artists that are in Whitehorse, and kind of bring people a little bit more out of isolation. Isolation is really good for creativity, it’s amazing. But when you’re trying to sort of move forward with your art, and also your artistic goals, and maybe music career goals, it’s really, really great to be able to network and get to know other people in the industry in the Yukon. So that’s part of– one of the inspirations about the Opry. It’s also about pushing the envelope. So, for an emerging artist, pushing the envelope might be just performing on a really big stage, in front of a lot people. And for established artists, that would be a different thing, because they’re used to it – they do that all the time. So, what are the ways that we can get established artists to push their envelope, take them a little bit out of their comfort zone? And that– one of the ways that we do that is: we have new songs commissioned for the Opry. So we’ll have writers write songs for somebody else to sing. So, the writers are no longer writing for themselves, they have to think about how the other person sings, and what is their vocal range, and think about the other person’s comfort as well. And in the same way, an established artist will be– might be singing that song, or it might be an emerging artist singing that song. So it’s like a, you know, it’s a whole different adventure, to be singing somebody else’s song. And it’s not just the old top 40 cover tune thing, it’s something completely different. And another benefit of that is also about mixing up DNA, and that’s something that’s a huge benefit to any artist – to work with another artist and collaborate. And then you come away with something new, a new kind of influence. And you may use that influence down the road, or you might not. You may want to work with that person again, or you might just appreciate having a– writing a different kind of song. Because I think what happens with a lot of song writers is: we end up– we have a pattern, and we have our influences. And it’s really good to shake it up a little bit, and have some new DNA, and write a different kind of song. And I think that once you try that, it is with you forever – it teaches you how to try something different. The other thing about the Opry is about artists getting paid, [laughs]. And one of our main funders – well our only funder this year – is Arts Fund. And one of the things that makes an application really strong is that artists are getting paid. And that’s important to them, and it’s really important to me, as an artist – I like getting paid! [Laughs] ‘Cause we all have to– we all gotta pay the rent and we got all our bills to pay, and we can’t– you know, artists are often called upon to volunteer, to play for free at fundraising events. And that’s great – we love to do it, but once in a while, we need to get paid, ‘cause we’ve got bills. And then the other– one of the last components – but there are many components to the Opry – is the mentoring that happens between the emerging artists and the established artists. And that’s something that we have– the whole Opry is actually about six days long. We’ve got the two nights of the actual show, which is December 20th and 21st. We have two days of rehearsal – full day rehearsals at the Arts Centre, on the December 18th and 19th. And on December 16th and 17th, we have the Opry music camp. And the main purpose of this camp is about bringing– is just a place for the artists to gather and be in one place. And especially when artists are coming from out of town. It just gives a venue for the exchanges to take place. It’s comfortable, you’re there all day, there’s food. And it just– it allows the exchange to unfold in a really comfortable way, and with as little stress as possible. And we want people to feel really good.

YT: Good, good.

KB: And that helps with preparing them for the big show, because it’s a high-end show, and we want everybody to be able to perform their best. And I think to perform your best, you have to feel your best, you have to feel really good about yourself. And we want to help with that.

YT: Good. So who’s coming to participate in this show?

KB: We’ve got singers, musicians – some of the– most musicians are singers, but many of them aren’t, but we have like, The Grand Ole Opry band ensemble, which is made up of six great musicians. And that ensemble backs up all the singers during the Opry. So we’ve got singers, we’ve got musicians, we’ve also got some country dancers. And we have songwriters, and we have “general writers”, and performers.

YT: Good. So how many Yukon artists are involved in this project?

KB: I was just counting it up this morning, and we’ve got 32 Yukon artists, and we also have about 13 Yukon production members, and we’ll have about 20 volunteers.

YT: Good.

KB: And people– we have some out of province and out of country participants as well. We’ve two Northwest Territory artists coming, we have one from Ohio, Texas, which also is our old friend, Jerome Stewart, who used to– was a Yukoner, before he moved to Ohio. And we also have two artists from Oregon, and one of which also used to be a Yukoner.

YT: So what type, or kind of music and dancing there will be?

KB: It’s all about country music. And we try to stick to the old-time country music, rather than the new commercial type of country. We really like the old-time country. You know, it’s– there’s just something so appealing [laughs] about it, and it just really tells an interesting story. And I feel like the old-time country music really gets to the heart of the matter, and makes you feel things. And especially at this time of year, when it’s very dark and cold – winter solstice – we’re all feeling a lot of things. And we’re feeling the darkness, we’re feeling the isolation, and it’s nice to come together in a place where music that makes you feel even more is being performed. And we can all feel together [laughs], we can feel sad and we can feel happy. And it’s a very powerful experience.

YT: Good. So I heard that there will be two-step dancing. Tell me more about that.

KB: Yeah, we have some two-stepping that happens. So in, not necessarily all the songs, but many of the songs, we’ll have the two-step dancers go out and two-step on the stage while the song is being performed. And that’s just– it’s not to take the focus off the singer, but it just offers another kind of a visual for the audience. And a real bonus about it is that we do have the Opry signed for the deaf and the hard of hearing. And we have it signed on one night only – it’s December 20th. And we thought that it would also give a visual kind of rhythm to the music, that can’t necessarily be heard. And the music– the lyrics of the music are being signed, so they can get the meaning of the song. And also, our Master of Ceremonies, whatever he is saying, will also be signed. So it just gives– rather than just paying attention to words, it also gives a way of feeling the music in a rhythmic way. We’re kind of hoping that we can get some members of the deaf and hard of hearing community to get up dancing. I will be speaking with them later this afternoon. [Laughs]

YT: Good.

KB: And I want to encourage that. So we have some really, really good dancers that know how to lead and that– We’ll just see how it goes, I mean people have to be comfortable. But we would be really open to that happening. And having more of the general public getting up dancing as well. If they’re dressed country.

YT: So can you tell me about which date timeline of this event is happening? Starting time, I think, time…

KB: Yeah. It begins at 8p.m. So on Friday, December 20th and Saturday, December 21st. It’s the same show both nights, and it starts at 8 o’clock, and it will be a two-and-a-half-hour show.

YT: At Yukon Arts Centre.

KB: At the Yukon Arts Centre, that’s right. And people can buy tickets – they can get them online, or at http://www.yukontickets.com, or you can go to the Yukon Arts Centre Box Office. Or you can go to Arts Underground, on Main Street.

YT: Good. So will there be any food or snacks, or any other thing, any different?

KB: We’re hoping so. I don’t know yet. I mean, there’s a– I don’t think that I should– because we were talking about having– doing like a fundraiser for the Philippines there. But I feel like it’s still in just discussion mode, and I don’t think that I– I have to talk to Tamara and Janice before I, like, put it out there, so…

YT: So, about this project–

KB: So if we did that, then we would want to invite the rest of the Filipino community, because– anyway, all I can say is: we hope so. [Laughs]

YT: Yes. So, to know more about this project – Grand Ole Northern Opry – which website, or where can people go to find more information about it?

KB: Ok. We have a few presences on the web; we have our website, which is: northernopryproject.com. We also have a Facebook page, which you can Like, and you can follow us on Twitter, and we also have a YouTube page that we are building. Right now, we have the Air North jingle posted on that.

YT: Good. So what are your thoughts about the future of this project? Like future plans.

KB: Future plans. Well, I would ultimately like to have a lot more song-writing commissions. The organisation of that is a little bit difficult, because it’s a lot of people matching. You have to match writers, and then you have to match who they’re going to write for, what singer. And so it’s a very– a lot of thought has to go into that to make it right. But I would ultimately– I think it’s a very fun part of the show, and I’d like to have more of that. And also, my view about the Opry is that, eventually, every single Yukon musician who is aspiring to be, you know, somewhat professional, will have the opportunity to play at the Opry. We just can’t hire everybody, every year. So no one should ever feel, like, left out. It shouldn’t feel– it’s not exclusive. It is about being inclusive.

YT: So, thank you so much, Kim Beggs, for coming to Yukon Times for this interview, and we wish all the best for your project.

KB: Thank you, Gurdeep.

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