By Angela Espinoza, Arts Editor
Over the last two years, the New West SkyTrain station has been transformed into an outdoor mall-of-sorts, offering several restaurants, a movie theatre, and niche stores to New West inhabitants. However, despite the major progress, the area can often be quiet—construction aside. With that, the launch of Uptown Unplugged will be occurring this month, a musical event that Hyack Festival’s executive director Douglas Smith enlightens us on.
“Uptown Unplugged is kind of… an extension of Uptown Live,” Smith starts, “which was the successful street festival that we launched two years ago around the Hyack International Parade. Originally we were looking to capitalize on the crowds that came out of the Hyack International Parade each May, and we wanted to be able to keep the crowd around after the parade was over and give them something really exciting that would resonate with them. So we introduced Uptown Live, which is very similar to the Khatsalano! Music & Arts Festival, and my company was originally involved in launching that event. So I knew the format, and basically Uptown Live is just using that template…and it’s been a tremendous success, very popular showcasing of indie bands.”
With Uptown Unplugged, Smith went on to explain that Unplugged is more of a busker series, focusing on even more unique artists, which will occur each Saturday and Sunday throughout the month around the New West SkyTrain area. Each busker performer plays a limited set before switching off, with the goal of fitting in as many performances into one day as possible.
One such group is local band High Society, lead by multi-instrumentalist Ashton Sweet, who also took some time to talk about his band and their upcoming Unplugged performance.
“We’re a four-piece band and we’ve been around for about three and a half years now,” Sweet starts. “We’ve got a saxophone for our bass, three lead singers, guitar and keyboard, our drummer can switch to upright bass, sax player can switch off too clarinet or trumpet, keyboard player can switch off to accordion… and that’s how we go to the streets.
“For a few years before the Olympics, myself and our drummer, we were busking, and we would make rent and bills just going out two nights a week. We had a third guy, a sax player, we had our band called Baby Faced Brass, and we had everything covered from two days a week of busking. Leading into the Olympics… we’d make $800 each an hour. [Our singer] Chelsea [Johnson], she’s gotten a lot of her start [from] busking just up and down the Drive. She gets a lot of fans that way too; just the tone of her voice just draws people into her. Our fourth guy, we had to convince him for a while about busking… he started on a grand piano, which is not really a versatile instrument, so we finally got him an accordion… he’s finally been convinced that busking works, but he doesn’t really come from a busking background like the three of us.”
Wrapping up the interview, Sweet came prepared with the nearest possible genre that he felt somewhat fit the sound of High Society, and this is what he came to:
“Someone once called us punk rock Motown, which kind of works… we’ve got a very gospel female black singer… but the four of us all together, we’re like four powerhouses.”
Be sure to check out Uptown Unplugged any weekend this month, and be prepared for some very unique and talented performances headed your way.