Local musicians Jon Shrier and Laura Nedelak had a wonderful time earlier this month representing both Whistler and Canada at the Zhangjiajie International Country Music Festival in China.
But it was the impromptu jams with musicians from around the world that proved to be the most memorable. Under a bridge in Phoenix Town on cobblestone streets, the pair burst into song alongside Uzbekistan musicians and traditional dancers one night.
"They were playing their traditional music and two dancers were (dancing)," Nedelak says. "I was attempting to play, but the rhythm was so crazy. Wherever you go you're a roadside attraction because in a lot of these smaller towns people haven't seen Caucasian people before."
Adds Shrier, "The moments we created were some of the best."
The pair — who were strangers before applying through the Resort Municipality of Whistler to play at the festival — performed officially as the Whistler Mountain Duo and ended up winning an award at the festival's closing ceremony for "best singers' performance" (which they suspect translates to best vocal performance).
For Shrier, the experience also kick-started a new stage in his musical career. "I'm taking off in January," the singer-songwriter says. "I had a nice conversation with the Uzebekistanis and they put it to me, 'We can put in some work and if you're interested in a career on this side of the world, let's start talking.' It's interesting that they have their sound and I have my sound and they're thinking to blend sounds."
His tentative plan is to spend time in the New Year in that country, Australia, France and Germany. "A lot of preparation is going to have to go into it," he says. "I just figured I'd get the ball rolling. I don't want too much time to pass. I love Whistler, but it was a catalyst."
The duo also got a chance to combine cultural music with Western tunes during another impromptu jam in the lobby of the hotel where the musicians were staying. "We played 'Brown Eyed Girl' with people from all over," Shrier says. "The Mongolians took over at one point with their throat whistling... It gave you a sense that you don't know what's out there. Then when you get out there it's inspiring. I'm taking it back with me to my writing."
Another thing he's taking into his songwriting: new pal Nedelak, who works at the Whistler Library and sings for kids there. "Laura is going to be coming to sing on my album that I'm recording now," he says.
Besides getting rained out of some picturesque venues over the festival's five days, the entire two-week trip — including tours and a trek across the Great Wall of China — was "unbelievable," Nedelak says.
And they've been invited back for the festival's next installation in 2015.
"I had no expectations, but it far exceeded any I could've conjured up on my own," she says. "It was really amazing."