Carly Dow felt drawn to come here. She tuned her guitar, filled up the fuel tank, and pointed her troubadour heart westward.
Dow already lives in her own private forest far from urban bustle, so the Omineca-Cariboo is friendly territory to the eye, but being from Manitoba she perhaps had some subliminal guidance leaning her this way. She picked the name on the B.C. map any prairie resident would probably find most comforting: Grassy Plains.
Not many touring musicians can say they have performed in Grassy Plains, but the ultra rural hamlet between the shores of Francois Lake and Ootsa Lake, in the heart of Cheslatta First Nation territory, has a vibrant arts culture. It is an oasis of farmers and teachers, old Vietnam War draft dodgers and ancient aboriginal cultures. It's only a few hours from Prince George but it is in many ways another world across the Francois Lake ferry, on the doorstep of the Kenney Dam, with North Tweedsmuir Park staring all comers into heartwarming submission.
Grassy Plains has produced unusual amounts of high-grade music, considering the scanty population. Members of The Buttless Chaps (Lasse Lutick and Torben Wilson) grew up there. So too did former Prince George musician Dusty Chipura Exner now in Montreal fronting the band Kill Matilda. Cowboy singer-songwriter Mike Robertson hangs his saddle there as he has for decades. Blues rocker Rachelle Van Zanten has her log cabin only a few curves down the road and over the ferry. Acoustic folk band The Breakmen have sung about the place, and its rolling meadows and snow-capped mountains were the backdrop of the film Neutral Territory written and directed by home-boy Joe Tschanz.
Dow will be one of the headliners at the Grassy Plains Music Festival this year. Black Spruce Bog will be there; so will Kym Gouchie - both based in Prince George. There are some Grassy Plainers on the bill as well, plus incoming headliners like 5 On A String and The Crooked Brothers. Dow is their crooked sister, life-partner to band-member Jesse Matas. While they are doing their tour of Western Canada, she is doing her own. They meet up for a rare double billing at Grassy Plains.
"It's a pretty exciting way to see the country," said Dow, who put out her latest record in May and it has worked its way up the folk-roots music charts ever since. "I have never been to your area, or anywhere that far north in B.C., so it's right up my alley."
She and Matas live and work on a quarter-section of forest and river not far from Riding Mountain National Park so perhaps Tweedsmuir country will feel especially like home when they get here.
"If we weren't travelling so much, maybe we'd have a hobby farm, but we are on the road a lot," said Dow. "We just had our one-year landiversary. It's been a wonderful home. A great place to write. I've been working up to the album release and now touring it, so that's been my whole focus for the past couple of seasons, but I've gotten a couple of things written and Jesse - wow - he's been just pumping out the songs. I'm a little jealous."
Her latest album is called Ingrained and the lead singles are Soil To Dust and Down This Road. You can find those on YouTube and at her carlydowmusic.com website. For personal familiarization, Dow will be live and solo at Shiraz Cafe on Wednesday night before heading to Grassy Plains for July 17-19, Jasper on July 21 then all the way back down Highway 16 West for the Kispiox Music Festival July 24-26.