While Voices of the North sells out every year thanks to the talented singers and musicians who perform on stage, behind the scenes, it’s special for a different reason.
“The best part is the family,” said Travis Beatty. You could argue the vocals, the musicians, but the biggest part of Voices of the North is the family.
Beatty got his start on stage at Northern Spirits. That’s where he met Sheryl Kimbley and Mitch Daigneault. Then, he started performing at Voices of the North, where he met Dennis Adams.
Adams, who produces the Rock Show Experience for the Winter Festival, invited Beatty to that stage this year. It meant that over the span of a week, if you looked to the front, stage left corner, there was Beatty, singing, playing guitar or both.
“Growing up with all these people around me became normal,” he said.
“I can’t remember a time when I didn’t attend the winter festival. Everybody you meet here you’ll be friends with for the rest of your life.”
That family feeling has been part of the show since it got started, 27 years ago. The show broke new ground then, giving Indigenous performers space where they could be heard.
“There was nothing like it until a small group of people decided we needed a stage for aboriginal performers,” Kimbley said.
“Northern talent was emerging more and more, so we decided, under the guidance of Bernice Sayese, let’s make this happen. Not many things last for 27 years. We know this is a big deal.”
While Sayese was putting the first show together, she relied on support from her family, like her cousin, Rhonda Carriere.
Carriere has been involved in the show before, helping out in the canteen or selling tickets or fulfilling other volunteer duties.
She had always wanted, though, to sing on stage.
A few months ago, she was diagnosed with Stage 3 pancreatic cancer. Performing at Voices of the North was on her bucket list. This year, she got the chance.
“It was very important,” she said.
“I wanted to show my daughter and y granddaughters I could do it, and I did. It was very nerve-wracking, but so much fun.”
Carriere had her sisters up on stage with her, singing backup, while she performed her favourite song, Honky Tonk Angels.
“It feels good. It boosts my spirits for my upcoming treatments,” she said.
When she finished, Carriere earned a standing ovation. She had trouble putting the moment into words.
“It was a lot of support and love. It boosted my — it helped me. I can’t explain it.”
The moment wasn’t just special for Carriere. Kimbley, who has been involved with the show for years, was also moved seeing how much the performance meant to a member of her Voices of the North family.
“What a thing — to sing on Voices of the North to be on somebody’s bucket list,” she said.
“To me, that is a huge honour for us as well. To have her be a part of our music family for all these years is something else.”
While the show is special for the Voices of the North family, it is also special to Kimbley’s immediate family. She met her husband, Grant, at the first ever showcase. He had no plans to be at the show but came at the last minute to fill in for somebody.
“Twenty-seven years later, me and Grant have three boys,” Kimbley said.
“We’re not always in tune, but we’re always singing the same song.”
This year was extra special. Grant re-proposed to Kimbley in the far corner of the stage, in the same spot they shared their first kiss in 1993.
For Sheryl, it just underscores the importance of the annual event.
“This is a family,” she said, “right to the volunteers, to the people in the kitchen, to the admissions, these are our family.
“All of these people helped raise our kids. It does mean a lot.”