Article and photos by Tara McDermott
*Wade and Chord Fehr
On Thursday, October 28, 2021, River Valley Resilience Retreat (RVRR) held its first-ever charity concert at the EA Rawlinson Center for the Arts. While the turnout was small, those in attendance were treated to an outstanding show. Not to mention laughter, tears, and some brand-new material by local talent.
*Wade and Chord Fehr
Opening the night were Wade and Chord Fehr who revealed how musically talented they are. Over the course of their set, in addition to his beautiful voice, Wade entranced the audience with his guitar, dobro, and harmonica. While Chord’s skill with his bass clarinet was nothing short of incredible. This was evident when they played, for the first time live, their new song, “Devil Comes Knockin.” A powerful song with a rock vibe that was inspired by the trials and tribulations of RVRR. When asked about that inspiration, Wade talked about the aggressive opposition RVRR has faced in attempting to set up in their current location. He said, “As I’ve heard about all that has gone on with RVRR and all they have been through, I have been extremely impressed and inspired by Michelle McKeaveney, Jeff Reeder and everyone else at RVRR for their strength and composure. Through all they’ve had to endure they have managed to stay true to themselves and take the high road. They have chosen to do what’s right rather than fight a dirty fight, even when the dirt has been thrown at them.”
*Wade Fehr and Michelle McKeaveney
Wade remained on stage to support McKeaveney for her set. Accompanied by her Service Dog, Scooter, she alternated between encouraging laughter in the audience with her humour and moving them deeply with her powerhouse vocals. Her rendition of “Anyone” by Demi Lovato was emotionally charged and it would be shocking if there were a dry eye in the house when she was done. Even more awe-inspiring is the fact that she has terrible stage fright. An issue that is exacerbated when performing in front of smaller crowds such as the one at Thursday’s show and it “throws [her] anxiety and PTSD into overdrive.” Thankful for her Service Dog Scooter, who was slightly distracted by the light show much to the audience’s delight, she said, “I would never be able to sing without him.”
*Michelle McKeaveney and her Service Dog, Scooter
Arriving on stage for the next set with a big beaming smile was this year’s Saskatchewan Country Music Awards’ “Emerging Artist of the Year”, Katelyn Lehner. Though Lehner was excited to be there to support the cause, she was also humbled. “Mental health has taken leaps in the past few years with becoming more talked about in communities. I think that Michelle and the rest of the RVRR team are doing a great job in bridging the gap and providing support and a foundation for people.”
A shining presence on stage, she captivated the audience with her original songs. A few of which have yet to be released. Of note, was the upbeat, and simply fun, song, “10 Bucks” which Lehner says has become a staple for the band to play and is frequently a fan favourite. About the song, Katelyn shared, “This song has a lot of attitude! It touches on those times in your life when someone wasn’t treating you right, so you walked away, and then they realized they messed up and try to get you back. ‘You’ll try your best, I’ll give you that. You hold on hard, after I’ve left.’ I’ve experienced this, I’ve seen friends experience this, I think everyone can relate to this song.” Fans waiting to add “10 Bucks” to their playlist will be happy to hear that it’s expected to be released sometime in the new year. Until then, you’ll have to catch it live.
Closing out the show was Canadian Country Music star, Julian Austin. In addition to the lead guitarist, John Thiel, and bass guitarist, Darcy Johnstone, Austin was joined on stage by a local drummer, Dean Kushneryk. Named "Drummer of The Year" at this year’s Saskatchewan Country Music Awards, Dean didn’t miss a beat and fit right in with the band. Together, the foursome rocked the house.
*Dean Kushneryk on stage with Julian Austin
RVRR’s cause was clearly near and dear to Austin’s heart. Throughout his set, he talked about playing songs for Canada’s troops overseas, how much he respects the work First Responders and Veterans do and why what RVRR is doing is important. Between charming the crowd with fun covers of songs like “Fat-Bottomed Girls,” “Margaritaville,” “The Boys Are Back In Town,” and a tiny taste of an Iron Maiden song, he also chatted back and forth with members of the audience about PTSD and his musical influences. He was clearly there to entertain and the audience responded well, laughing and shouting comments back. Ultimately, the atmosphere was that of an intimate gathering of friends.
* Julian Austin
Though he aimed to keep things light, his tender heart showed when a member of the audience called out a song request. Recognizing the individual as being a veteran, he got choked up when he said he wouldn’t deny the man’s request to play a song that was emotionally challenging for him. However, he did take a moment to compose himself before his poignant rendition of the song he wrote for Canada’s troops, “The Red and White.” The audience responded with a standing ovation.
* Julian Austin
If the audience wasn't convinced that Austin was a sweetheart after that, they sure did by the end of the set. Sharing with the audience some of the struggles he and his wife went through during the height of his career, he introduced the song he wrote for her, "Diamond." A heartfelt and lovely ode to the person he spends his life with and a beautiful way to send off the night.
While the night was an incredible success musically, and despite the caliber of the artists, the event did not have the turnout they expected. When asked about it, McKeaveney stated, “I truly hope that it’s not a reflection of the mentality behind supporting our veterans and first responders in our city.” But she’s “grateful the audience got one hell of a show.” Unfortunately, due to the low attendance, and the unexpected additional costs for going over their time, they didn’t raise the funds they were hoping for.
For those wishing to contribute to RVRR’s cause, donations can be made here: https://gofund.me/7f8affaf
For those in Saskatchewan, bottles can be donated to them at any SARCAN facility.