Diana Braithwaite and Chris Whiteley will bring two unique nights of entertainment to the Parksville Qualicum Beach area next week.
First, the Toronto-based duo will tell the story of the Underground Railroad using narration and original songs.
“It’s got a little of everything,” said Braithwaite, listing blues, folk, traditional and gospel as the show’s musical influences.
“We do the music and stories live,” said Whiteley, adding that there will also be a slide show of photographs from the era of the Underground Railroad.
The Underground Railroad was a series of routes and networks that fugitive slaves used to escape from the southern United States to the north and into Canada. “We have an interesting story of black history in Canada,” said Braithwaite, who has a personal connection to this historical system. According to a press release from the duo, she is a descendant of people who escaped slavery through the Underground Railroad and settled in the first African-Canadian pioneer settlement in Ontario.
The stories in the show are “inspirational” and prove that “you can achieve your goals one step at a time,” she said.
This is the duo’s ninth year presenting the Underground Railroad show, which Braithwaite said they have taken to schools, churches, community programs and other venues. Whiteley estimates that they’ll have reached 90,000 people by the end of the year. “It’s been a great thing for us,” he said.
That evening will also include a full set of “old-fashioned, revival style of gospel,” said Braithwaite, who grew up singing the genre.
Organizer Butts Giraud is excited for both halves of the show. “Not many people hear a lot of really good gospel,” he said. “I’m looking forward to it from an educational viewpoint, as well.”
Later in the week, the duo will also put on a second show at the French Creek Marine Pub. This one, however, will be all about the blues.
“It’ll be a different crowd,” said Giraud of the blues dance in comparison to the first show.
The blues are what Whiteley and Braithwaite are really known for. “We’re known as the blues couple,” she said. “We have a lot of awards for our blues.” These awards include the African-American Women in the Arts award from Chicago, the 2012 Toronto Blues Society and the Canada Council’s Commissioning Award and eight Best Horn Player of the Year awards from Canada’s Maple Blues Awards. Whiteley has also received the Blues with a Feeling award for lifetime achievement in the blues.
The duo play what Braithwaite calls “authentic vintage blues.”
“We want to keep the traditional styles alive because that’s what drew us to it in the first place,” Whiteley said, adding that the music has a lot of “heart and soul.”
While the duo writes a lot of their own music, Whiteley said some people can’t tell the difference between their tunes and the original stuff. “We take that as a compliment,” he said.
Don’t think that the night will be a quiet one, though. Braithwaite said the music is “energetic” and “danceable.”
“We want them (the audience) to go home with tired feet,” agreed Whiteley. “We always hope they feel like they’ve been entertained.”
Island-based Ryk Ryce and Taylor Allen will join the duo on bass and drums, respectively, for both nights. “They add a nice rhythmic feel to it,” said Whiteley, who has worked with both musicians before.
The Underground Railroad and gospel night, which is sponsored by Christ Church Oceanside and the Nanoose Evangelical Free Church, will be held in Nanoose Bay at the Evangelical Free Church (2462 Nanoose Road) on Thursday March 5 from 7-9:30 p.m.
The blues night will be at the French Creek Marine Pub on Sat., March 7, from 8-11 p.m.Tickets for the Nanoose show are $10 each and are available at the Cranky Dog Music in Parksville and Dog’s Ear T-Shirt & Embroidery Co. in Nanaimo. There will be no cover charge for Saturday’s blues night. For more information on either event, please contact Butts Giraud at 250-756-4433.