Wendy Gregson has so many fond memories of the Penticton Peach Festival, it seems dreamlike that she’s returning — this time as an entertainer.
Gregson, the 1976 Miss Penticton, was crowned at the Gyro Park bandshell during Peachfest. In those days, the competitors and visiting royalty got dressed at the courthouse before being escorted across the street to the ceremony.
“Both my parents were there, sitting side by side, and my mother liked that I was being helped up on stage by a Mountie,” Gregson recalls.
“I was born in Revelstoke and moved to Penticton when I was 10. The night of the pageant, I look up and there’s a girl, Cindy McGregor, who I hadn’t seen since Grade 2, and she was Miss Revelstoke. I was shocked to see her.”
The royalty program includes an oratory competition. Gregson’s father helped with her speech and suggested the topic — keeping real estate within the Agricultural Land Reserve because many orchards were in the ALR.
“And I still managed to win,” she laughs.
Being Miss Penticton was life changing and provided her with many positive experiences.
“I started performing on stage when I was about 14, but to be Miss Penticton, it made me feel like I had the right to be on stage. It was like a validation. People wanted to see and hear what I had to say,” she said.
“I remember spending a lot of time on floats and I was given a lot of clothes and presents. One time we were in a parade in Calgary. It was so cold, the driver down below was handing us up hot toddies so we wouldn’t freeze. I also really liked my princesses, Kim Dagneau and Linda Ibbotson. We all got along well and became close friends.”
Gregson has become an accomplished singer, moving to Edmonton about five years ago to be closer to her children. During that time, she co-founded a band with her daughter, Renee McLachlan, which specializes in contemporary folk. The duo writes all its own music.
“I first sang with Renee when she was in a talent show in Grade 3 at Naramata School,” Gregson recalls. “She wasn’t going to go up on stage alone, so the two of us sang a song by The Judds together. When I moved to Edmonton, I was already playing with my sister (Catherine Stewart), so we brought Renee in to sing the third harmony. It sounded pretty good, so we were hooked from there.”
Like her mother, McLachlan was once royalty, being named the May Day princess at Naramata School, an honour bestowed annually on a Grade 5 pupil.
Living in a larger city with a vibrant arts community, landing paid gigs is never a problem.
“It’s a dream come true to be playing with my daughter,” Gregson said. “It’s tricky to figure out who’s singing what part. We’re so close. We have blood vocals, the same throat shape, the same intonation. I’m really surprised we’re doing this well, so quickly. With a dream like this, you’d think if you didn’t do it in your 30s, you will never do it.”
In addition to live performance, their band is recording songs with producer Bill Bourne, who is well known to Okanagan audiences for regular appearances at The Dream Cafe.
Mother and daughter are playing a 30-minute set on the opening day of the Peachfest, Wednesday, beginning at 12:30 p.m. at Okanagan Lake Park. The band is a four-piece, but the two backup musicians won’t be making the trip to Penticton due to distance. As per tradition, they’re saving their signature song, “Tsunami,” for last.
Gregson’s lone appearance on the Peachfest stage since the night of the 1976 pageant was a reunion in the late 1990s of all former Miss Pentictons. As a child, she went every summer.
“It’s going to be nostalgic,” Gregson said. “It’s something I had always wanted to do, but I couldn’t even imagine how a person got picked to sing.”