Ryga Festival

From left, Claire Lawrence, Terri-Lynn Davidson and Bill Henderson are among the performers at the Ryga Arts Festival, later this month in Summerland.

Bill Henderson, founder and lead guitarist of Chilliwack, will be a big part of the crowning concert at the Ryga Arts Festival, which runs Aug. 24 – Sept. 1 in Summerland.

While this will be Henderson’s first appearance at the festival, the Vancouver-based musician is no stranger to Summerland or the work of George Ryga.

In fact, this year marks the 50th anniversary of the acclaimed album, “Grass and Wild Strawberries,” which was a collaboration between Henderson and Ryga. The album was a commercial success for the Collectors (who went on to become Chilliwack) in 1969. In the same year, a stage version of Grass and Wild Strawberries broke attendance records at the Vancouver Playhouse and at regional theatres across Canada.

“Basically, George sent us his script and lyrics... We took them and worked with them and shifted stuff around,” Henderson recalled working with Ryga on “Seventeenth Summer” and other songs half a century ago.

“Then we went and met with him and spent time working hands-on together ... he would go and bang something out on the typewriter and say: try this.”

Henderson also acknowledges that Ryga, the political writer, changed his way of looking at the world and continues to influence his songs about social issues. “So George lives in some way,” he says, in songs like “Patent on the Wind,” Henderson’s commentary on the legal battle between the Saskatchewan farmer Percy Schmeiser and the global Monsanto corporation.

Henderson returns to Summerland after a decade’s absence. For 15 years, he and Roy Forbes used to give songwriting workshops at the former Ryga home, which became a retreat for writers and musicians following Ryga’s untimely death in 1987.

The Ryga Centre closed in 2014 and the Ryga Festival Society was formed the following year: brick and mortar turned into song, words and spirit.

This year’s Festival closing concert, called “Interweaving,” will be held Sat., Aug. 31 at the intimate Centre Stage Theatre in Summerland. Bill Henderson will be joined by Claire Lawrence, another veteran member of The Collectors, and they will accompany Terri-Lynn Williams-Davidson, the innovative Haida artist, singer and activist for aboriginal land rights.

The trio recently released an album, “Grizzly Bear Town,” which boldly explores the spirit of improvisation that connects Haida music and jazz. It was recorded among the ancient totem poles and mossy landscape of Haida Gwaii, where Williams-Davidson lives.

The Summerland performance will also feature Juno-nominated Jodi Proznick on bass, and Henderson’s talented daughters, Saffron and Camille Henderson, as vocalists.

Saffron has a long list of film and anime credits as an actress, and she provided backing vocals on such albums as “Electric” by Paul Rodgers of Bad Company fame (who owns a home in Summerland.) Younger sister Camille, now a renowned voice coach, began performing aged ten and has won various awards recording and touring with the West End Girls and later with Sarah McLachlan.

And there is yet one more Henderson coming to perform in Summerland.

Ed Henderson, Bill’s brother, is also an original member of Chilliwack, and a celebrated Juno-Award winning musician in his own right. At once virtuoso and versatile, Ed is returning to the Ryga Arts Festival, where he performed two years ago with Ann Mortifee at her 70th birthday concert. His collaboration with Mortifee spans decades.

Chilliwack gained fame for a string of radio hits in the early 1980s.

This year Ed Henderson will be performing his own music in an evening of Acoustic Blend, on Fri., Aug. 30th at Centre Stage Theatre.

So four Hendersons will all be here.... what a scene.

The 2019 Ryga Arts Festival will be held in Summerland, Aug. 24 - Sept. 1. For tickets, a schedule of workshops and other information, visit: rygafest.ca