Showing strength at Voices of the North

Singer Forrest Pocha was one of the performers at last year’s Voices of the North show. (File photo)

Dennis Adam can’t remember the last time he missed Voices of the North and the Northern Spirit showcase.

The Prince Albert resident, originally from Fond-du-Lac, has had family perform in the events. He’s been a loyal attendee ever since.

“I’ve never missed one show,” Adam said. “I see a lot of young people from my reserve. I want to see them show their talent.”

Dennis is particularly proud of his brother, Leonard. Leonard Adam has performed at the Voices of the North cabaret in the past, and is back this year.

“He’s one of the best musicians from where I’m from,” Dennis said. “I like to go to support my family.”

This will be the 26th year for Voices of the North (VotN), and the 11th for Northern Spirits.

Last year, VotN celebrated 25 years with a cabaret welcoming back acts from the past.

This year, for one of the organizers, the show is taking on new meaning.

“It’s making me really think about the climate of the shows this year, and thinking about what our show has done for people over the years,” said Sheryl Kimbley.

She’s been a driving force behind the show for years. This year, she said, it’s about showing strength and building support.

“Voices of the North and Northern Spirits provide a chance to look at each other and see there’s good in us and there’s capabilities we aren’t aware of. We can contribute.

“In this day and age for a lot of us, that’s sure needed, and not only to show others the things we can do. Sometimes we need to be reminded ourselves what a group of like-minded people in the arts can do for everyone. Music can be so healing. The arts can be so healing, and right now we really need that.”

While VotN was started to highlight talent from the north, the show has received criticism for expanding beyond that mandate.

Kimbley said the focus is still on the north, but they won’t shut the door to others from other parts of the province that want to help.

“We have to start gathering with each other if we want to make a big statement. If we want to take our people further and get them on stages where we can no longer accommodate them, because they’ve gotten too big, we need to gather with our brothers and sisters from all over to showcase and support each other,” she said.

Northern Spirits is a bit different. That program still highlights and showcases talented youth from the northern parts of the province.

Youth are brought to Prince Albert in the fall to learn how to speak in front of a group and sing to a crowd. They learn radio production and self-empowerment before returning to their home communities with new confidence and experience.

The Winter Festival Northern Spirits Showcase is created and performed by youth from the fall workshop.

The experience is impactful for all of its participants.

“You just have to listen to any one of them. Pick any one of them and ask them what’s going on in their community, and you’ll get the same things,” Kimbley said.

“It’s a struggle.”

According to Kimbley, people work hard in those small communities, but there are limited resources and few staff, along with very little to do after school.

Kimbley stays in touch with several of the youth who have come through Northern Spirits. She also keeps in contact with their families. Seeing the difference is one of the reasons she keeps going.

“Kids will tell you, ‘we’re dealing with suicide and drugs and alcohol, and gang activity in our northern community,’” she said.

“The things that exist also exist in the city, but they have little resources and few chances to get the help they need. When something like Northern Spirits comes along, or any similar programs, they’re grasping for a raft in the middle of an ocean. Coming to something like this means the world to them.”

While the show is good for its participants, it’s also, according to Adam, an entertaining night for a reasonable cost.

He’ll be there this year to hear the talent from the province’s north, and he hopes other Prince Albert residents will be there to join him.

“I like to see young people show their talents,” he said. “I’d like to see more people from P.A. come to the show.”

VotN gets going on Feb. 22 at 6:30 p.m. at the exhibition centre. There are three 6:30 p.m. shows, one each on Feb. 22, 23 and 24.

There is also a 10 p.m. show on Feb. 23. Those shows cost $15 plus the winter festival button for ages 13 and up. Admission for kids 12 and under is $10 plus a button.

The cabaret is scheduled for Feb. 24 from 10 p.m. to 1 a.m. Tickets are only available in advance, by contacting Sheryl at 980-8501 or by visiting the Northwest Company. Those tickets are $30 plus a button.

The Northern Spirits Showcase takes place Feb. 24 at 1 p.m., also at the Exhibition Centre. Ticket prices are the same as for the evening VotN shows. More information is available on the Winter Festival website,