Column: Shari Ulrich

Music from the Heart

Music has a way of transporting our souls to a higher plane, giving us a brief respite from troubles and cares, and making sense of our ordinary lives.

Playing music, according to the Hudziak experiment, provides as much exercise to the brain as working out in a gym does to the body. In fact, when I asked Shari Ulrich how she managed to look so young, she responded, “Two things. Photoshop and music!”

Few musicians are aware of the positive effect they can have on an audience. Like an exploding supernova, Shari’s voice and energy spews out, swelling hearts with positive, glowing flames. After succumbing to her catchy rhythms and heart-felt lyrics, it is not possible to leave a Shari Ulrich concert without a smile and love toward humanity.

Shari is no stranger to the Kootenays, known primarily as the fiddle player with the incredible voice who, with Joe Mock and Rick Scott, formed the trio Pied Pumkin String Ensemble. Castlegar was one of Pied Pumkin’s first big shows, when they played at a music festival at Selkirk College in 1974.

“We went on at about 2 o’clock in the morning to one of the most enthusiastic crowds I’ve ever played for, before or since!” Shari recalls.

Like many people in the area and West Coast, I have followed the progress of Shari Ulrich, from the lazy, blissful, sun-stroked days on the lawns of folk festivals, to the leather and perfume-laden concert halls in major cities.

Shari was born in California into a musical family, began learning violin in Grade 4, and fled to Canada at age 18 to escape the insanity of Kent State and the Vietnam War.

From the flower girl, pure innocence of youth, she has blossomed into a mature musician, adept at several instruments and is an award-winning songwriter.

Along the way, she has been a solo artist, as well as part of other bands: UHF (with Bill Henderson and Roy Forbes aka Bim), BTU (with Barney Bentall and Tom Taylor) and The Hometown Band which has changed its name to the High Bar Gang (with Barney Bentall, Angela Harris, Wendy Bird, Colin Nairne, Eric Reed and Rob Becker). She also performs with her daughter, Julia Graff, an accomplished musician in her own right.

Shari has released 21 albums, won two Juno awards and received the Canadian Folk Music Award for songwriter of the year (2014) for her song Everywhere I Go. Her current band High Bar Gang also won Vocal Group of the Year at the 2014 Canadian Folk Music Awards.

Nevertheless, she always returns and gives homage to the people who supported her success through the years.

“I’ve always had a soft spot for Castlegar and the wonderful people who live in the area, and having such a great venue to play has made it an almost annual stop for me.”

She performed with Pied Pumkin on a reunion tour at the Castle Theatre shortly after the theatre was refurbished.

“I’ve played there twice with the Pumkin and this will be my third Shari show.”

Although Shari enjoys playing with a group, sometimes she prefers performing by herself.

“It has enhanced my performance chops immeasurably … I get to listen to whatever I want to in the car, and be totally spontaneous on stage.”

After years of performing to audiences, Shari is able to let her hair down, relate directly with people and share her quirky, good-hearted sense of humour.

On her website, she writes: “I love doing something that brings joy, escape and sometimes tears, to the hearts of people who are so hungry. It’s taught me everything I know about humans and getting along with them. And it’s damn fun. See you out there.”

Yes, you will.

For the concert at the Castle Theatre on Saturday, Shari will be playing guitar, piano, mandolin, fiddle and dulcimer. For a couple of songs she has incorporated a “loop pedal” which allows her to play the mandolin and fiddle at the same time.

The concert begins at 7 p.m. Tickets are $20 and can be purchased at Mother Nature’s, Café Books, or at the door.

 

She is also playing at the Langham in Kaslo tonight, beginning at 7:30.