A&E » Music

Five local acts battle to Be the Best and Play the Fest

$10K in cash up for grabs as well as a spot at the Pemberton Music Festival



The stage has been set, the tickets are sold and the clock is ticking down to the start of another hotly anticipated Pemberton Music Festival (PMF), running July 14 to 17. But there's one coveted spot in the lineup that remains unfilled.

On July 9, five bands from across the Sea to Sky will duke it out for $10,000 in total prize money, and, more importantly, the chance to play PMF in front of thousands of screaming festivalgoers at Mountain FM's third annual Be the Best, Play the Fest.

"We want to support and develop local talent. That's it in a nutshell," says Mountain FM's sales manager Joe Polito. "It's a great opportunity for us to be involved with (the local music scene), because we can be, right? And because we can be, we should be."

Pique caught up with each of the competing bands, which were whittled down from 41 hopefuls, to find out what they'll be bringing to the stage and how they're gearing up for one of the biggest moments in their musical careers.

Let the battle begin.

Brother Twang

Genre: Rock 'n' roll, country

Featuring: Jay Romany on lead vocals and rhythm guitar, George Skoupas on lead guitar and backing vocals, Todd Vague on drums, Derek "Heavy D" Stembridge on bass

Based out of: Whistler, Squamish

For the tireless rockers in Brother Twang, playing the PMF would complete a journey that began nearly 10 years ago when the group first emerged out of the Longhorn's long-running jam night. That's because the band's first gig as Brother Twang was at the 2008 Pemberton Music Festival.

"It feels like destiny," says Romany of the band's potential return to the fest.

Now, a decade in and three albums deep — the latest, Here Comes the Melody, is available on iTunes this month — and the guys in Brother Twang are out to prove how far they've come as performers.

"I think especially at this time of our lives, because we've got the balance between kids and family and it's been five years since our last recording, we've just been crafting," Skoupas says. "We want every song to be the best song. So for us now to be putting out a new album and possibly going to the Pemberton festival while we're, I think, firing on all cylinders, it would be us coming full circle as a band coming into our 10th year."

The Dick Smithins

Genre: Alternative rock, punk

Featuring: Matt Chevrefils on vocals, rhythm guitar, Casey Hensrud on bass and backing vocals, Brent Manyk on lead guitar, Daryl Peterson on drums

Based out of: Squamish, Vancouver

Made up of firefighters, The Dick Smithins is a project that grew out of a desire to let off the stress of a demanding job by playing rock at high volumes.

"We started this band as a side project almost as a way to have a steam vent just to get stuff out without having to vocalize it," explains Chevrefils.

Drawing on a wide range of influences that includes The Clash, Social Distortion and Jimi Hendrix, The Dick Smithins are no stranger to this type of competition. But the chance to play PMF has the band riding a wave that they hope has only just begun to crest.

"The prospect of Be the Best, Play the Fest is what it's all about. It's why we're in a band," says Chevrefils. "There are so many ways to describe it, we use the surfer analogy: If there are no waves and you're a surfer, it kinda sucks. This is one of those major waves where you get towed in on a jet ski and you either stick it or you wipe out."

Jon Shrier and The Ones That Made it Happen

Genre: Rock 'n' roll, pop, roots

Featuring: Jon Shrier on vocals and guitar, Calum Foulis on guitar, Dylan Stewart on bass, Jordan White on keys, Mark Bannock on drums

Based out of: Whistler

It's been 20 years since Jon Shrier played his first gig in Whistler as a bright-eyed teen, and in that time the hard-working singer-songwriter has learned the hard realities of the resort's music scene.

"To pay the bills in this town, unless you're Taylor Swift or the Sam Roberts Band, the reality is you have to play cover songs for your supper," he says. "So having this opportunity to play original songs is incredible and sublime."

A fixture in the bars and clubs, Shrier has no shortage of musical milestones under his belt: He won a corridor-wide battle of the bands in 2008, was crowned Whistler's King of Song the following year, and represented the resort in front of thousands at the 2013 Zhangjiajie International Country Music Festival in China.

With all that experience behind him, Shrier is feeling cool, calm and collected heading into the contest.

"When I was 16, you hear it's a competition and you're shitting your pants, you're practicing all the time and then you show up, you've got pit stains and you're nervous. But now I'm just so happy and content," he says. "I know the songs have been written and recorded and I've played them a thousand times, so I'm feeling very, very confident.

"I just wanna kick ass."

Northern Ignition

Genre: Rock 'n' roll, blues

Featuring: Marcus Ramsay on vocals and guitar, Clive English on guitar, Art Barrientos on bass, Bradford Needham on keys

Based out of: Whistler, Squamish

If 20-year-old guitar wizard Marcus Ramsay has the good fortune to earn a spot at the PMF this year, he's going to dedicate his set to a very select group.

"(Playing Pemberton) would be a cool way to thank everyone who didn't kick me off the stage when I was playing jam night at the Crystal Lounge the last few years," he says with a laugh. "It's an amazing opportunity."

The humble blues rocker credits his time at the Crystal for helping to hone his performing chops — it's also where he learned just how diverse the merry band of musicians who call Whistler home really is.

"Whistler attracts all these different kinds of people from all walks of life," he says. "There's two Canadian guys in the band we're playing with, and how else would I have met the rest of the guys? They're from all over the world and they've got so much to teach me."

Small Town Runaway

Genre: Country

Featuring: Christine Sherrington on vocals, Lonny Eagleton on lead guitar, Dave Hartney on rhythm guitar, Rajan Das on bass, Trent Otter on drums

Based out of: Whistler

Soulful singer-songwriter Christine Sherrington knows a career in music comes with its ups and downs. She also knows the high of getting to play PMF would make all the lows worth it.

"It's a bit of a rollercoaster ride to try and do music, and to actually play the fest for me would be kind of like saying that all the time and hard work and dedication I've put into it is paying off," says the 25-year-old. "As much as it will be an absolute dream come true to play for that many people, it would be so validating at the same time."

Hailing from rural Ontario, Sherrington said she was shocked to learn she had made the final cut after friends encouraged her to apply to the contest. While she plans to "pull out all the stops" on Saturday, just getting the chance to play Be the Best Play the Fest is a win in its own right.

"For me, no matter what happens, I'm going to learn a ton, I'm going to grow as a musician and I get to say I got in the Top 5," she says. "But I'm not going to hold back by any means because I really, really want to play Pemby fest."

Be the Best, Play the Fest is produced and hosted by The Meadows at Pemberton. Tickets are $10, and include a beer and a burger or hot dog, available at www.mountainfm.com/events. Limited free shuttles will be running from the Village Gate Bus Loop at 5:30 p.m. and the Blackbird Bakery in Pemberton at 6 p.m. and the PetroCan at 6:05 p.m.