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Caledonia Sings tribute to local musician

The concept has superstar potential. It certainly promises to be a night of great entertainment value, with a unique local thrust.
raghu 2017
Raghu Lokanathan smiles at Frontal Lobotomy band mate Samantha Scott during their performance Thursday over the lunch hour for Canada 150 Heatwave in Canada Games Plaza. The free concert series that features lunch hour and evening concerts for eight days ending Saturday. Citizen photo by Brent Braaten July 7 2017

The concept has superstar potential.

It certainly promises to be a night of great entertainment value, with a unique local thrust.

Few musical events in local history can compare to the lineup that's been assembled for Caledonia Sings, a tribute night to beloved singer-songwriter-playwright-performer Raghu Lokanathan.

The cavalcade of performers set to take their turn at a Lokanathan song is a who's who of the local music industry. The fact the city has one of those of its very own is partially testament to the spotlighted man himself.

Lokanathan is one of the city's cultural heroes, and especially appreciated because he never fails to not mention it. His old soul humility is as legendary as his still youthful writing habit. He works in quietly noble cultural jobs (at the Nechako Branch of the Prince George Public Library and teaching music at P.S. Piano Store) and he steps out onto local stages and studios at every opportunity to come up with new material, host an open mic, or collaborate with other musicians.

The list of performers lined up to reciprocate at Caledonia Sings includes Curtis Abriel, Danny Bell, Naomi Kavka, Patrick Kilcullen, Dave Routley, Corbin Spensley, Erin Stewart, Britt AM, Amy Blanding, Torie Beram and host/organizer Jeremy Stewart.

For all these locals that picked their own Lokanathan song to do, the entire lineup could have been exchanged for another set of performers who would have done the same.

And there are also plenty of performers across Canada who would happily take a spot in the tribute as well.

Outside of his home city, Lokanathan has a duo called The Chimney Swallows with Corwin Fox, he was a guest session player for Yael Wand and had Daniel Lapp as his session player, he did a co-headliner tour alongside Catherine MacLellan and Kim Barlow on a project they dubbed Wise & Weathered, American performer Bonnie Prince Billy publicly declared his compliments to Lokanathan's work, and many other points of admiration thither and yon.

When two Prince George tourists took their seats in Toronto folk venue The Cameron House to watch resident headliner Corin Raymond last year, and Raymond overheard from the stage that they were from Prince George, he spontaneously halted his set and launched into a four-song suite of Raghu Lokanathan tunes as a tip of his hat.

Another local visitor to Vancouver attended a folk show at a nightclub where a passerby heard the Prince George reference and interjected that "I'm in a band and we do Raghu covers, so if you know him, tell him we love his music."

This was confirmed in international terms when the late Stuart McLean, the iconic author and radio personality with his own connections to this city, brought his Vinyl Cafe recording crew to CN Centre on March 8, 2015. It was an event to commemorate Prince George's 100th anniversary, and Lokanathan was one of the featured musical guests. Lokanathan played his best-known song Caledonia.

McLean introduced him thus:

"It's hard to think about Prince George music without thinking of this guy. When talk turns to songwriting in the back of the Vinyl Cafe bus, it is inevitable that his name will come up. He is one of those songwriters who musicians respect. Why? Well, for starters, he writes about stuff that not everyone writes about. And his songs say something. He tells stories with music, and often those stories are surprising. We asked him here today to sing one of those songs. It's a song that could be about a woman. It could also be about Prince George. It's about loving something or someone that at first glance isn't easy to love. It's about sticking around long enough to see the best in someone or someplace. And to me, anyway, it's about the subtle beauty that often only reveals itself when you're ready to see it."

Jeremy Stewart saw it a long time ago. He has been a frequent collaborator with his hometown colleague in music. It was Stewart who sparked this Caledonia Sings event.

"You could do a tribute show like this just on the Caledonia record, but people have copies of his sort-run EPs and his out-of-print first record. They really know Raghu well, in local music circles, so I think the audience is going to catch the spirit of these musicians paying their respects, doing their best to celebrate one of their favourite songwriters and friends," Stewart said.

Each of the participating musicians will play a different Lokanathan song. Each will be accompanied as needed by Kilcullen on grand piano, Abriel on upright bass, and Bell on drums.

"They chose the songs themselves," said Stewart. "It was first-come first-serve but there was remarkably little overlap. Most people had their own Raghu song in mind that they wanted to do. The artists had their own very distinct feelings towards their songs of choice, and if there was a couple of people who wanted to sing the same song they just decided to sing it together and make it happen that way."

The show is getting technical artistry help from Matt and Jon Russell, Eliza Houg, Jean Chisholm and Fraser Hayes.

Caledonia Sings-The Raghu Lokanathan Songbook ensemble show happens Dec. 2 at the Prince George Playhouse. Showtime is 7 p.m. and tickets ($30) can be purchased online at www.centralinteriortickets.com.