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A taste of Canadiana with the torch

Country roots artist Barney Bentall joins forces with Sea to Sky musicians for torch relay celebrations



Who: Barney Bentall and the Grand Cariboo Opry, Sea to Sky Artists Project

When: Friday, Feb. 5, 3 p.m. onwards

Where: Village Square Après Stage

Cost: Free

As the Olympic flame makes its way through Whistler, an impressive collection of Canadian artists is set to perform on Village Square Après Stage, joining forces to put on a 90-minute collaborative concert.

Barney Bentall and the Grand Cariboo Opry have made a name for themselves across Canada as one of the definitive voices of the country's country and roots movement. Bentall and a few of his fellow musicians have been coming to town to help coordinate the Sea to Sky Artist Project, a special Olympic project that has seen four regional musicians - Dana-Marie Battaglia, Greg Reamsbottom, Jon Shrier and Rachel Thom - joining forces and raising their voices to create a special one-off performance for the torch relay celebrations.

Bentall has been in the music business for almost 30 years, forming a number of musical groups over the years. But his principal - and perhaps best-known group - was The Legendary Hearts. The four key performers from that group are now the core members of the Grand Cariboo Opry, which Bentall formed almost four years ago as a fundraising effort for Vancouver's downtown eastside. Now, Bentall and friends are set to come to Whistler next month to usher in the Olympic torch on Feb. 5.

"There's a lot of people that are very jaded about the Olympics coming to Whistler and Vancouver, and I'm not one of them," Bentall said with a grin. "I think it's really exciting! I mean, I know there's problems and there are issues, but I'm really excited about it, and I want to be as much a part of it as I can."

Bentall gestured to the group of local musicians who were rehearsing with the band for the first time within the cozy, cedar-scented confines of the Squamish Lil'wat Cultural Centre's longhouse last Thursday. Singing harmonies and tapping their feet to keep time with the music, the artists paused for a few moments to chat and share refrains from some of their favourite songs.

"The Grand Cariboo Opry is in some ways an old-time country orchestra... but it's fun and it's all about having a good time, musically," Bentall said. "I love that type of music, having been a rock and roll fan all my life... and it's been so easy to try and fit in some of these Sea to Sky artists."

Bentall wanted to be involved in Olympic entertainment in some way. And Whistler Live! organizers wanted to find some way to bring local musicians into the lineup. Enter Bentall and company. Organizers combed through Whistler Arts Council's registry of artists to select a shortlist for Bentall. Then, he handpicked his top four choices for the Sea to Sky Artist Project.

"That was really hard," he admitted.

The selected Sea to Sky musicians seem to have quickly found a comfortable niche within the "loose cohesive unit" that is the Grand Cariboo Opry, settling into the welcoming and collaborative musical experience with ease.

"It's engaging and the good feeling spreads through the crowd - or ideally, that's what happens," Bentall said. "So we'll just do what we do... and I think everyone will be in a really good mood!"

They'll be sharing their original material with the crowd of thousands that will gather to welcome the flame to Whistler Feb. 5.

"I've never been in a city with the Olympics going on, so it's really exciting for me!" Bentall added.

After their performance, the Squamish Nation Eagle Song Dancers will give a performance of singing, drumming and dance. Then the Whistler Children's Choir and the Whistler Singers team up to sing There's a Light/Cette Flamme, a song that is performed at torch relay celebrations across Canada.

Access to the torch relay celebrations is free of charge; celebrations start in Village Square at 3 p.m.