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Folk musicians combine for ‘East Coast meets West Coast’ Parksville show

John Gogo and Mike McKenna Jr. will play at Knox United Church in Parksville on March 5
Joho Gogo and Mike McKenna Jr. will play their folk song repertoires during the East Meets West concert at Knox United Church on March 5. (Submitted photo)

Vancouver Island balladeer John Gogo and Cape Breton Island troubadour Mike McKenna Jr. will combine their talents for an afternoon of folk music in Parksville.

The two folk musicians will play their “East Coast meets West Coast” concert at Knox United Church (345 Pym St.) on March 5.

The singer-songwriters are storytellers, who discovered they both come from a family tradition of coal mining, on opposite coasts of the country.

“I have a couple of coal mining great grandfathers,” said Gogo, who grew up in Nanaimo and is now based in Victoria. “One was killed in a mine and one had a broken back, so I had a pretty strong interest in it all my life. When I started writing folk songs, that was kind of my subject matter and as it turns out we both have some songs about coal mining.”

The shared mining heritage was a natural jumping off point for the two musicians, who met at a music festival in Courtenay in 2017, but it’s far from the only thing they write about.

Both Gogo and McKenna are steeped in the ‘songs of the workers’ tradition. Gogo spent time working as a chokerman in a logging camp before he launched his professional music career.

“It was no fun at all at the time,” he said. “The chokerman is the bottom tier job in a logging camp and it’s quite dangerous, but I’m glad that I did it because I was able to fund my first band that I had with my younger brothers.”

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He was able to buy his brother Tommy a drum kit and his brother Paul a keyboard and the three became professional musicians. Paul has been playing with the well-known Canadian band Trooper for the past 30 or so years, Gogo added.

“I’m from a musical family and it goes back quite a few generations, so I’ve always been interested in music and I’ve always played in some music since I was a kid,” Gogo said.

McKenna hails from the coal-mining town of Glace Bay on eastern Cape Breton Island. His three award-winning albums tell the true stories about life and death in Nova Scotia’s working class communities, according to his website.

His latest album At the Edge of the World was released in 2020.

Its title track was inspired by a news article that described one man’s experience as a first responder when Swiss Air Flight 111 crashed near Peggy’s Cove in 1998.

Gogo’s upcoming album Western Balladeer is about 75 per cent recorded and will feature his brother Paul on piano, as well as the singing of daughters Jeri and Jenna.

The album contains songs about Western Canada, including one about the pioneer Cougar Annie.

“She’s quite a well known pioneer woman who lived in a very remote area in Hesquiat territory. It’s a little bit north of Tofino by boat,” he said.

“She was living quite remotely for quite a long time and I found her to be quite a fascinating topic to write a song about.”

Tickets for the concert are $25 and are available online through Eventbrite and at Parksville retailers Close to You Boutique and Fireside Books.

The concert starts at 2 p.m. and doors open at 1:30 p.m.

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Kevin Forsyth

About the Author: Kevin Forsyth

As a lifelong learner, I enjoy experiencing new cultures and traveled around the world before making Vancouver Island my home.
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