A&E » Arts

Shari Ulrich: hopeful as ever

Juno-winning singer/songwriter plays the BAG with daughter on Sunday



WHO: Shari Ulrich with Julia Graf and Ted Littlemore

WHERE: Brackendale Art Gallery, Squamish

WHEN: Sunday, June 26, 8 p.m.


Shari Ulrich admits she's had a fortunate run. She's an award-winning singer-songwriter, once labelled Canada's most promising female vocalist and has toured across the continent with some of the finest musicians the country has to offer.

And yet, she also admits, it's been a backward career. Rather than paying her dues early on and ascending to globetrotter status along with some of her peers, she's spent the last decade touring small towns in a van she drives herself.

"I still hold out that I'm going to get another nice break," she says, laughing. "I might be completely deluded but that's okay. We all have to have hope."

Ulrich had her big break in 1976 as part of Valdy's Hometown Band, which managed two hit singles, "Flying" and "I'm Ready." It was the kind of success she had dreamt about as a teen and was too seductive to resist. She left the Pied Pumkin String Ensemble, the whimsical folk trio she co-founded three years before, to pursue record deals and tour buses with the Hometown Band but the group disbanded in 1977 after failing to produce a hit single off their second album.

What followed has been a remarkably steady career for Ulrich, who has produced 18 albums in 37 years - five of them solo albums and one "Best Of" compilation. She has played as part of 1980s rock outfit UHF; she reunited with Pied Pumpkin for a series of tours throughout the previous decade; and most recently, she joined Barney Bentall and Tom Taylor onstage to record the live album "Live" at Cates Hill. In 1982, she won the Juno Award for Most Promising Female Vocalist and was inducted into the British Columbia Entertainment Hall of Fame. She has written music for TV's Sesame Street and CBC programs and even attempted on-camera work alongside David Suzuki.

And yet, amphitheatres and tour buses have continued to evade her, but she doesn't take it personally.

"(The music industry) does take a very thick skin," she says. "You can't allow how the industry or the world responds to your music and how that reflects your success devalue what you do. If you do, it can be very hard on your self-esteem and on your soul. I just keep that separate."

Ulrich fled her California hometown San Rafael in the early 1970s in protest of the Vietnam War. Music soon became her life and ruled it for the next decade. She has never worked another job in her life.

These days, music is as much a grinding business venture as it is an escape, and having been without a manager since 1982, administrative tasks take up a lot more of her life than she would like. She says she'd rather be writing new songs - a project, she admits, she's been only dabbling in rather than tackling as of late.

But it's performing on-stage that has kept her going all this time. Ulrich is currently on tour with her daughter, Julia Graff and Graff's fellow McGill student Ted Littlemore for a string of dates across B.C.'s "Wet Coast" before performing an opening slot with her other group, the Barney Bentall-led High Bar Gang, opening for two Blue Rodeo shows in Vancouver.

"Music is so life-giving," she says, laughing at her own cliché. "There's nothing more fun on the planet as far as I've discovered. Between the audiences and the camaraderie of the people that I play with, it's a great life. Other than carrying gear, there's nothing that I'm tired of."

Her music has always been noted for its optimism. Even those songs tackling more serious subjects tend to end with a positive twist. She says this was never intentional, it merely reflects her optimistic disposition. She's never felt the need to exorcise any demons through song because that's not how her mind works, then or now. It's all about hope for the future.

"I think these are emotions that I would prefer to instill in people. It isn't so much about intentionally manipulating their feelings, but it's just the way my mind works and it's where I write from," she says.

Tickets for her Squamish show are $20 and available at the Brackendale Art Gallery and The Bookshel f.