Aaron Ruggaber, left, and Kyle Anderson show posters for the final performances of Showcase Penticton, a monthly concert promoting entertainers from the South Okanagan. After four years, the producers are calling it quits.
The musical evenings held monthly, first at Smith and Co. Coffee Company and most recently at Opus Cafe and Bistro, were the creation of Kyle Anderson and Penticton couple Aaron and Hazel Ruggaber, who wanted to offer a stage to talented performers from the South Okanagan.
"I call it Dream Cafe light," said Anderson, giving a nod to Pierre Couture of The Dream Cafe in Penticton, where the audience listens to performers and it's not an open mic or bar show.
"Garrison Keillor's (A) Prairie Home Companion was an inspiration and it went for 40 years. We had the idea originally after seeing (teacher) Don Grant's guitar class and how many awesome kids there were in this town. . . . Dustin McGifford, Nikita Afonso and Kirsti Hack were the first ones we saw, and (we) were totally wowed."
The format originally had four artists on the bill, with Anderson, a retired radio personality, serving as MC. That was quickly trimmed to three. A rookie would open the show with a four-song set, followed by an established duo (six songs), a break and then a local headliner, who would play for 45 minutes.
"For me, the biggest surprises were the teenagers," said Aaron Ruggaber, who handles sound and video as most of the performances were posted on a website and can be found on YouTube.
"When Kyle had suggested young kids, I thought, 'What are we getting ourselves into?' but I now sit and listen and they are so great. I was blown away every time."
The producers take pride in the fact that all acts were paid. Many musicians appreciate being able to play original music.
"As a performer, the majority of rooms you play want to hear covers and you're often seen as background music," said guitarist Gord McLaren, who played in three Showcases. "I used to take it personally when I'd do an original song and nobody wants to listen. With Showcase, they bought a ticket, they came to hear me play and were willing to listen to my original song."
"It's sad because it's the same old story . . . we're Penticton and people don't want to pay to hear live music when they can get it for free at so many other places," McLaren said.
Anderson takes pride in the fact they never applied for artistic grants from any level of government and that many of the expenses were covered by corporate sponsors.
Of the many performers, Beamer Wigley was the youngest who took to the stage, at age 8. Several were senior citizens, including Dr. Eclectic (Allan Markin). Afonso was the only artist who played in all three slots, starting as an opening act and progressing to the spot as headliner.
When asked who the most unique artist was to perform, Anderson and Ruggaber instantly agreed it was Diego Alcaraz, who made a career as a mariachi singer and still promotes Mexican music and culture well into his 70s.
"There's so many great performers who are under the radar. Sue Betschart did a version of What's Going On, and it was dark but powerful. Hal Whitford singing O Holy Night at a Christmas Showcase sent chills up everyone's spines - it was so beautiful," Anderson said.
Why pull the plug on something successful?
Both say other projects in the new year will make it difficult to commit the hours required. Although profitable, it was entirely a labour of love. Anderson has taken on the task of producing and narrating his first audiobook, Gold Mine to Gold Medal by Ivan McLelland.
"We're going out with our heads held high," said Ruggaber.
The final showcase is Wednesday at Opus Cafe. It features Dale Seaman and Highway 97 in a rare acoustic set. Opening acts are Penticton teens Mason Burns and Amber Leake.