By Will Yannacoulias
(Left to right) Voices band members Dennis Adams, Kevin Joseph and Stephen Williams at the recording sessions earlier this week. Photo courtesy of Kevin Joseph
The Voices Of The North Show has always been an important part of the Prince Albert Winter Festival. This year, with the restrictions in place due to COVID19, there was a very real possibility that the show could be canceled. Producer LJ Kimbley collaborated with Big Drum Productions to save the 2021 show, recording individual performances and streaming the show online to a home audience. The online format was a first for the Voices Of The North show, and so NSMZ thought it would be fitting to talk to first time participant Stephen Williams to understand what the entire experience was like.
This is your first time participating in the show?
(Williams) “This is my first time performing, yes! I've known the people in charge for a very long time, and I have been the stage hand, volunteer, or simply an attendee forever. I've been a part of the Voices family for as long as I can remember, and I have nothing but the upmost respect for everyone involved in it.”
And how did you come to be invited to join the backing band for the 2021 show?
(Williams) “I was approached by Lj Kimbley to be a part of the band this year. I went to high school with Lj and honestly owe a lot of my musical career to him and Zachary Kerr. They were my first serious band, and we tackled a lot together in our high school days. I know Lj both professionally and personally, I suppose, and all of the performers, band mates, and organization one way or another, as well.”
What kind of safety measures were implemented to keep the show safe and compliant?
(Williams) “We recorded the show Monday February 8th, Tuesday the 9th and Wednesday the 10th, separating performers for safety. The band is all from Prince Albert this year, not from out of town, they are trying to limit travel as much as possible. Along with social distancing guidelines in place, of course, the entire cast was well equipped with sanitizing stations, and performers, production, everyone was all masked up through the entire process. It's tough, especially for the vocalists. Singing through a mask, I'm sure is no fun, but everyone has been a huge champ about it. You can really tell just how much passion for music someone has when they will brush off a minor inconvenience like to do what they love.”
What were your feelings on the video performances?
(Williams) “Filming a performance is always a strange experience. As a performer, you always thrive off of the crowd’s atmosphere. They are always responsive with how you are doing, and you feed off of their energy. That being said, I am grateful as musicians that we still have the opportunity to perform for everyone, and we have an outlet for our craft. It was incredible to be on stage again. That's where I truly feel at home, at peace. To think this opportunity came through performing at the PA Winter Festival's Voices of the North is unreal to me. We filmed the show at the Exhibition Grounds where it is always held. I think that is important, it kind of captures the atmosphere of the show the same way it would if it was filled with hundreds of people, to some degree. With that being said, Big Drum Media was in charge of production again. They always nail it out of the park. Solid sound, incredible light show, and a strong filming crew to help bring the Voices of the North to the comfort of our homes this year.”
Any Last Thoughts?
(Williams) “Northern Saskatchewan and beyond needed Voices of the North this year, and I'm glad we were able to deliver the show to some capacity. Voices of the North is an incredible showcase, and I am so thrilled I had the chance to be a part of the team. Words can't express how grateful I feel. To Sheryl, Lj, the entire Kimbley family, and everyone involved with this showcase, thank you, from the bottom of my heart.”
This year’s show is dedicated to the memory of Lori Wuttunee, a well loved country singer from Red Pheasant First Nation, and to Josh McCallum and Ken Pedersen, late members of Northern Saskatchewan rock band New Horizon. The show can be seen streamed on the Voices Of The North Facebook, The Winter Festival Facebook, and the Prince Albert Winter Festival website at 7 pm, Saturday, February 13th.