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Musical adventures in China

Jon Shrier and Laura Nedelak chosen for Zhangjiajie International Country Music Festival in September



Local musicians Jon Shrier and Laura Nedelak had never met before learning about their successful application to play the Zhangjiajie International Country Music Festival, but a last minute request from festival organizers soon had them acquainted.

"They were like, 'We love you and Laura. Now we want you two together in a video sending best wishes to the festival,'" Shrier says.

The pair also needed to get photos taken together and learn each other's songs for a collaborative portion of their package. They shot multiple takes before nailing it. "The poor videographer had to go home and listen to it for another two hours (editing)," Nedelak says with a laugh. "He said he had Jon's song stuck in his head for three days. Even still, he said, 'Where is he playing? I really liked him.'"

Both longtime locals are delighted to travel to the festival — which will take place in southern China from Sept. 1 to 7 and feature more than 500 musicians from over 50 countries — to represent Whistler. "I'm in shock," Shrier says. "I can't really believe that I'm going. That's the best I can convey."

In May, the Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW) put out a call for local musicians to apply to play the festival. There was room for up to 12 musicians. Three were chosen, but one had to drop out because of prior commitments. The musicians have to pay their way to Beijing but from there will have the trip covered to Zhangjiajie, a picturesque UNESCO World Heritage Site that, in part inspired the landscape in Avatar, as well as accommodations once they get there.

With a little encouragement from her husband, Nedelak decided to apply after hearing about the area's beautiful landscape and wonderful people from Whistler Councillor Jayson Faulkner, who recently visited and helped facilitate the program.

"I was transfixed listening to him describe the place and the people," she says, recalling a conversation with Faulkner at a party. "That was the trigger. When I saw it in the paper, I realized that was the place Jayson was talking about. I had to apply."

While Shrier plays gigs around Whistler regularly, Nedelak says she hasn't performed in public outside of her library job performing for kids since the closing Olympic ceremonies back in 2010. "I'm going from 55 five-year-olds to, conceivably, 100 million people," she says.

Her request to prepare: "I would really love it if some of the local venues here could open up their hearts to me and say, 'Yeah! You can play here for a night.' I need to get my performance legs again."

Shrier too is looking for a little help from a community that has always supported him. He is hoping to fundraise to help pay for his flight to Beijing. Starting this Friday and Saturday at his Crystal Lounge shows he will be passing around a fundraising pitcher to collect donations.

"I was telling my father, 'This town looks after me,'" he says. "I've asked almost everyone who cares about me for a contribution. I'm supremely confident and I hope this doesn't come off as egotistical, but there are good people in this town. Really, this is a dream come true. I'm literally going to have a chance to play songs I created in front of a hundred million people. For a brief moment, I'll be a total Bieber."

The trip is important to the RMOW too, as China has become an important market for tourism in Whistler. "China has been identified as an emerging market for Whistler and we've been working together with our partners, including Tourism Vancouver, Destination BC and the Canadian Tourism Commission, to build a better understanding of this market for Whistler," Karen Goodwin, Tourism Whistler's vice president of market development, said in a release. "We are taking a very strategic, targeted approach to the market, as we know there is significant potential for growth. The (music festival) is a fantastic opportunity to have Whistler ambassadors on the ground in China, helping to further our ongoing efforts of promoting Whistler in that market."

To that end, both Shrier and Nedelak feel confident representing the community. While Nedelak won't give away exactly how many years she lived here (for Shrier it's been 15), she reveals that she arrived when she was 18 and helped survey the village to be built. "The village was not here," she says. "I consider myself a bit of a pioneer, so I feel I can be a pretty good ambassador."


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