Smithers singer playing Artspace on Saturday

New Jersey has Springsteen, New York has Billy Joel, northern B.C. has Mark Perry.

These are the storytellers of their times and places. It doesn't mean throwing the name of their town into the lyrics to "repra-zent," it means infusing the song with lifeblood depictions of the people you live with. Billy Joel never once sang "boy is New York ever big." He described the newspapers people read in the morning, the kind of wine that paired with your steet-side cafe food, the fish you could catch or not catch off of Long Island, which streets weren't safe to walk at night.

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In this region, Mark Perry was one of the first to paint our picture, northern portraits, inside the lyrics of popular songs.

He has been singing them across the local landscape from his Smithers home since the radio still spoke to us in AM frequencies. He's still doing it today.

"There is a strength to being connected to your music, living the songs," Perry said.

He felt it in a numbing wave one day at a sold-out concert in Prince Rupert when he performed a tune called Spirit Of The North about the tragic sinking of the Inside Passage ferry in 2006. One of the fans came to him after the show and wanted to buy one of his older albums because she had lost her first copy and wanted it replaced.

It was in her van on the Queen of the North when it sank.

That's how interlaced a songwriter can be when attention is paid to actualities.

"Songwriting is way more important than anything else (in the music industry's collection of professions), so many topics that have to be covered," he said. "This record (his brand new release called Right Here) I've got a song called Missing. I have a friend writing a book on the Highway Of Tears, I was talking to her - I have a previous song also called Highway Of Tears off a previous album - and she told me 'do you know there are more missing men than women?' and that made my jaw drop. And my drummer told me something once that really stuck and that is it's everybody's job to talk about it."

But not all his ballads are sad or heavy. He wraps his smooth, earthy voice around songs about hockey, loving snapshots about places like Port Essington and the Skeena River.

"I even have one called Go Cubs Go and its about the Moricetown Cubs, the baseball team, and if you get a chance to see the record there's a photo of the team," of he said. "I think, like for a lot of communities, sports gives a chance for people to all get together for something."

Perry is a throwback to the times when folk and country music were only separated by a chord or two.

Even though his arrangements lean heavily on unplugged acoustic instruments, he sparks the electricity felt by a listener when a musician dials up so close it feels like no one else is in the room but the two of you.

This relationship is amplified by that familiarity in the subject matter. He has a knack for storytelling, so he certainly has the mechanics to pen a protest song, but he thinks those grander topics of the world would take him away from the inspirations that matter to him the most, and those are almost invariably local.

"It's really hard to like America right now, and you've gotta remember there's a lot of great people there, but it's just too big for me," he said. "I like real stuff that you can grasp. You live it, and it'll come out in the song. I just want to connect honestly with people, that's what real songwriting is. It's always been a privilege, really. It's such an honour and it never goes away."

He will be bringing two accomplished musicians - Ian Olmstead on bass and accordion, Mark Thibeault on electric guitar and steel guitar - to this area for the first exposure of his new album. Perry will perform on Saturday at Artspace at 8 p.m. Tickets are $15 in advance from Books & Company or $20 at the door.

It's an Omineca-Cariboo sandwich concert, with Quesnel on Friday at The Occidental and Fort St. James on Sunday at the Pope Mountain Arts Centre.

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