The 2023 Prince Albert Winter Festival Voices of the North show is filled with heavy hearts this year as they not only say goodbye to two beloved performers who recently passed, but also paid tribute to the victims of the James Smith Cree Nation and Weldon tragedies.
Producer Sheryl Kimbley said following the news of the attacks, the organizers behind Voices of the North decided to dedicate the show to the brothers and sisters that were lost, as well as the families of the victims and the community as a whole.
“The country was rocked by what happened and we wanted to find a way to give back to them, lift them up, and let them know in our way that we’re thinking of them,” Kimbley said.
One of this year’s performers is James Smith Cree Nation’s Brandon Whitehead, who was donning a ‘James Smith Strong’ t-shirt on stage. He said he felt it was appropriate for the occasion.
“I was pretty close to most of the people that we lost,” Whitehead said. “I’m proud and honoured that I’m here to sing for them and to represent my home community.”
He added that he was surprised by how many people showed up to support the show, and that the first two days of Voices of the North, Wednesday’s dress rehearsal and Thursday’s opening show, was already panning out to be an experience for the books.
According to Kimbley, Whitehead was one of the judges’ favorites during auditions.
“He was great from the get-go. So far, he’s blown us away,” she said. “He’s taking energy from this and he’s so stoked to be here. It’s actually doing good for his soul, and I think it’s doing good for his community members as well.”
Voices of the North also suffered two great losses recently; former band member and fiddle player George Pistun, passed away on Jan. 8, and musician and performer Tristan Randhile, who passed on New Year’s Eve.
“We had to do our thing and say goodbye to them,” said Kimbley. “It could be a very heavy show, it could be very sad, but we’re doing what we can to lift up spirits with all the talented performers you’ll see from all walks of life.”
To honour both losses, a fiddle tribute to Pistun was performed by Kerri English and the song ‘Chasing Cars’ for Randhile was done by LJ Tyson.
Voices of the North has one more show on Saturday evening starting at 6:30 p.m., with a cabaret to follow.