Awards night connects the arts

Vernon Morning Star

It was the sight of a writer moved to tears, the delight of three musicians at being on stage together, and the obvious passion of one man for carrying on a friend's legacy that gave Saturday's UHF/award show all the makings of a celebration of Canadian culture.

Though the UHF reunion concert was the main event, the evening was focused on the presentation of the inaugural George Ryga Award for Social Awareness in B.C. Literature to Maggie de Vries.

After accepting a sculpture from artist Reg Kienast, de Vries read from her winning book, Missing Sarah, a story about her sister who vanished from Vancouver's Downtown East Side along with dozens of other women involved with drugs and the sex trade in the late '70s.

Missing Sarah includes excerpts from Sarah's diaries, and de Vries selected two poems to share.

"Like Ryga she had a gift of creativity, she was an artist and was driven to share that talent," said de Vries. "Like George Ryga, Sarah had something important to say."
Before leaving the stage to a standing ovation, the writer speculated that her sister would have loved to see her words in print, but feared that if she was still alive, Sarah's writing might not have received the same recognition.

"I hope [the award] will help to open up Canadians to hearing from living women on the margins."

The mood in the cozy Performing Arts Centre was quickly elevated when Roy Forbes, Bill Henderson and Shari Ulrich of UHF arrived.

The concert marked the end of a three-year hiatus for the friends, and they clearly enjoyed sharing the stage again. Any extra time in the set was filled with lots of friendly banter and story telling.

"I wrote this song for my wife," said Henderson to introduce one song. "It was when I woke up at 3 a.m. one morning."

"You mean you didn't go for a peanut butter sandwich?" interrupted Forbes.
"Well that's where I was going until my guitar got in the way."

Each song came with a memory for the performers, whether it was Forbes seeing "pixies" while sitting with his records, or Ulrich anticipating the day her daughter would leave home, or Henderson pondering the life of artist Emily Carr.

The chemistry and easy mix of the performers' voices and musical talents made the roots/folk concert enjoyable, but what made UHF really stand out as a group was its connection with the audience. The performers put on a no-pretenses show, and talked to the audience as though speaking to a friend.

"Don't let me forget my sweater here, okay?" said Ulrich as she shed a layer of clothes.

In turn, the audience laughed, clapped and joined in the singing at all the right times.

Not that UHF had to do much work to win over fans - when word got out of the reunion concert, UHF devotees from all over booked their travel plans.
Charlene Sorken and Cheryl-Ann Orr both arrived from Edmonton, joining another friend from Fort McMurray.

"They don't perform together live very often so this was a rare opportunity," said Sorken. "The concert was moving in a word, I think I cried three times."

"Roy Forbes' voice is like honey," added Orr. "It's amazing, and Bill Henderson from Chilliwack is a voice from my youth, Shari Ulrich too."

Not to be forgotten is the Lent, Fraser and Wall trio's contribution to the night. John Lent, Shelby Wall and Neil Fraser are three guys who really feel their music. Lent's chocolatey, soulful voice accompanied by the fast-finger picking of Fraser and Wall, made the opening act the perfect appetizer for the music to come and a fantastic performance in its own right.

"Are you keeping them a secret up here?" said MC Paul Grant of CBC Radio after the group finished. "Let them loose."

The event had the work of many supporters and volunteers behind it, but the real force was Ken Smedley of the George Ryga Centre. Smedley recalled the last time he saw his friend, Ryga. The writer was 55, and suffering with stomach cancer.

"The last time I saw him he told me he would beat the cancer because there was still a lot to be done. That stayed with me," said Smedley.

The UHF concert/Ryga award presentation was a memorable step in Smedley's and his supporters' quest for keeping Ryga's work alive.

Copyright 2004 Vernon Morning Star


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Updated: August 21, 2016