Articles written for various community newspapers in the Lower Mainland, B.C. and special interest print and online magazines

Monday, October 4, 2010

Jon & Roy on the Up & Up

The surefire ticket to every great Canadian musician's success is securing grants and getting backed by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. This was the way with folk-reggae-rock band Jon and Roy who have risen to musical recognition to be the season openers for the Chan Centre for the Performing Arts yearly Live Sessions program September 23. CBC Radio 2 is co-sponsoring the event and recording the performance for its Canada Live Series.

They will be playing songs from their album Homes released April 2010 which they promoted over their summer festival tour, with stops at all the major Central and Western Canadian folk festivals.

The Centre is also where Vizer played at his high school graduation over ten years ago before leaving for the University of Victoria where he would meet his musical match in band mate Jon Middleton.

“I think Homes is kind of like a natural revolution of our music the first two albums were pretty sparse in terms of what we would add to our songs from performing them live so we were somewhat hesitant to add a bunch of stuff and on this album we felt a little more freer and got some really great musicians to play some solos and just sort of layer it more,” Vizer said about the recording, which they took much longer to produce than their previous albums Sitting Back and Another Noon. They also added more instrumentation and collaborated with guest artists who added fiddle, keys and mandolin to the mix.

“CBC has been incredibly supportive since about two years ago so it's been really great. This is about the third or fourth CBC-sponsored show that we've had and they always have a very high level of production and they've really got good people working on the sound,” said Roy Vizer, the drummer and percussionist who makes up the latter half of the band's simple, unpretentious moniker.

But this year the Victoria-based band completed their tour without the help of sponsors, getting by instead on the strength of their reputation and their booking agent. Rounding out their exposure with lots of radio time in Vancouver and Victoria and being chosen by Starbucks for their Pick of The Week download card featuring new artists gave them the added leg up. Between these marketing avenues, publicity has taken care of itself, allowing Vizer to sit back and enjoy the scenery of the changing terrain of the Canadian landscape from the window of the car as they travel between gigs.

Throughout his journey as a musician, Vizer said he owes a debt to the Vancouver Jewish community for their support and expects to play to a sold out crowd.

“Early on, we've had good support from the Jewish community. I have a good network of friends in Vancouver and the Jewish community is pretty strong there so in that sense it has been good. A lot of our Vancouver shows have ended up being Jewish reunions almost,” Vizer said.

Although Vizer's current musical tastes are not Jewish, he said his drumming is definitely influenced by Middle Eastern style. However, he said he open to the possibility of getting into new types of music beyond the scope of what he is creating with Middleton.

“I always thought of doing a Klezmer reggae mash-up at one point but I really don't really know where I'm going to go with it yet,” he said.

For now, the musical fusion he experiences with Middleton is where he is setting his sights.

“When I met Jon it worked really well in a musical sense so we just kind of started playing music together and it felt pretty natural so we just kept it going,” he said.

Tickets are available through Ticketmaster. Jon and Roy perform at 7pm in the Telus Studio Theatre.

Betty Krawcyk: Raging Granny

Widely-known in activist circles as the Raging Granny, 82-year-old Betty Krawczyk shows no signs of slowing down in her later years. She might just outlive her 97-year-old mother who, as she put it, dropped dead while cooking catfish for her son-in-law.

That her halcyon salad days of youth are far behind her doesn't hamper Krawczyk in her efforts to protect the environment to leave a low-carbon legacy for her grandchildren.

“For me the environment became an issue of what I am leaving my children, my grandchildren, the world's grandchildren. The environment rather became a culmination of all of the ills in the world,” she said of her desire to stand behind green causes.

Her secret recipe for stamina and vigour while fighting the good fight is in the sauce: eating lots of habanero and jalapeƱo peppers – a throwback to her upbringing in Louisiana, a daily 15-to-20-minute tap dancing regime and an optimistic attitude.

Her motto for living is simple: “Do something every day to stay connected to people and the environment.”

Krawczyk was made famous, or infamous depending on who's telling the story, for her civil disobedience arrest and subsequent three-and-a-half year jail term for protesting the destruction of Eaglerigde Bluffs to make way for the expansion of the Sea-to-Sky highway. It was because she didn't apologize in court for her actions that she was sentenced to serve time, she said. But she refused to kowtow to corporations when she was justly trying to protect public land from private development.

“Certainly, the prison system is very tough on anybody. The food is poor, the regime is one of deprivation and you're at the mercy of the administration of the prison,” she said. But Krawczyk was more focused on the degradation of the prison system's rehabilitation program under the Campbell government than she was the loss of her own personal liberty. That women are no longer able to raise their babies when inside is one such example.

Once out of jail, Krawcyzk continued to build on her eco mandate, running for the 2008 Vancouver mayoral candidacy on the Workless Party ticket as well as for the federal election in the same year – a far cry from her plan to retire and live out a peaceful life as a writer.

Krawczyk's early political involvement started with motherhood. Her children came home with questions about why African-American kids were not allowed to go to school with Caucasian kids during the U.S. civil rights movement. She later fought against the Vietnam War and spoke out about women's abortion rights before deciding to invest her boundless energy in tackling environmental issues as a full-fledged career.

“Nature in the end, holds all the cards and we have to work with her and acknowledge her and fight against those who want to conquer nature and not let them take all of us down with them, so if we can all get out there young and old and middle aged, whomever, to be part of the awakening, so much the better,” she said.

What she does isn't special, she claims. She is doing it because it has to be done and because she can, recognizing that the world is a much different place than it used to be. She credits the younger generation for being proactive about the state of the world, a realization she was slow to come to until she started a family.

“I have the utmost admiration because the youth have gone straight to the issue rather than having to have an intermediary which was my children. It took me a long long time to see what a lot of young people are just seeing right off the bat. I find it very hopeful,” she said.

The issues the current generation have to contend with are much more serious and many young people slave away “with heavy hearts” to save a piece of forest or a stream, she said.

“Young people sense that there is a gap between older people's lives and the lives they are going to be living. It's a very sad and frightening thing but elders haven't had to face what the world is facing now ever before. It's not as if elders have some special insight into how to deal with what's on our plates here,” she said.

The important thing, she said is for seniors to show support for the cause.

“When older people come out and join a blockade or commit to peaceful civil disobedience it puts a whole new light on it. Older people are generally voters, they are generally well informed,” she said.

Less concerned about the future of her own life as she gets on in years, Krawczyk seems to take aging in stride, devoting herself instead to the life of the earth.

Geothermal energy gets standardized

A new code that standardizes the public reporting of geothermal energy on the Canadian stock market signals a change in investor confidence in the geothermal energy sector.

Brian Toohey is a Canadian reporting code committee member for the Canadian Geothermal Energy Association who initiated the industry regulation practices applauded by the Toronto Stock Exchange and the Canadian Securities Commission in March 2010.

“The Canadian financial industry all the way down to the average investor has been waiting for something like this,” he said.

Before the code was introduced in January of this year, the public was reluctant to invest in geothermal companies listed on the TSX – the resource industry securities hub in North America – because there was a lack of transparency and understanding about the industry. Prior to now, geothermal investors would have needed to be geology or engineering experts to assess stock values and compare companies. This drove profits down because people didn't know what they were getting into if they put their money into geothermal ventures.

“Right now it's kind of the Wild West of the industry in terms of the fact that one person says P90, P50, one person says this many megawatts, sure we can do this, we can do that...,” said Toohey.

In the oil industry, standardization makes it one of the preferred energy stocks to invest in. A barrel extracted in one part of the country is listed as same as a barrel drilled in another part of the country, something that previously couldn't be measured with geothermal power.

The code makes it easier to analyze geothermal companies' annual and quarterly reports and compare websites like in the oil, gas and mining sectors.

“They want to be able to speak the same language, talk knowledgeably on projects and want to understand the limitations to certain stages of (geothermal) development,” he said.

Now investors are better able to raise money for geothermal companies to get more projects off the ground in Canada, the US and abroad. The hope is that the U.S. will follow suit.

“It would be obviously fantastic if one day the U.S. market was that open to geothermal standardization and offered that sort of treatment to a similar peer geothermal association,” Toohey said.

The code also makes the geothermal industry more environmentally accountable. Although geothermal is by nature a very environmentally-friendly energy resource, companies haven't been uniformly ethical, Toohey said. Projects must now meet the modifying factors set by the code – permission of the government, facilitation with community members, meeting environmental impact standards.

“Beforehand when you get a geologist or an engineer around the table we say, oh well we're pretty confident that it will be this many megawatts subsurface in x place, but no one ever took into consideration social, environmental, first nations issues,” he said,

Already CanGea has seen a marked change.

“We've seen an increase in activity and it's actually been a total buzz around the international community,” said Toohey.

This year it is voluntary for companies to follow the code but next year it will be compulsory for CanGea membership. However, the TSX has yet to make the code a mandatory requirement.

More Graffiti in Deep Cove

The District of North Vancouver reported a “rash of graffiti” in Deep Cove in recent weeks, an area that doesn't usually have a lot of tagging activity.

“It's hitting out in an area we hadn't seen it before,” said Carol Walker of the District bylaw office.

"Graffiti is typically around Pemberton and Marine Drive corridor for us and more so in the city of North Vancouver and the bottom of Lonsdale,” said Walker adding that the extent of graffiti vandalism they have seen in past years in Deep Cove has been the odd post box.

An RCMP-led integrated task force is investigating the situation.

According to Walker, the taggers could be living close to or within the neighbourhoods where the graffiti is found and might be a newcomer to the area. They are also typically a younger age.

“We want to be able to rid graffiti from the North Shore entirely, not just move it around,” said Walker, “Eighty percent of those folks that are doing this sort of damage, it's a precursor to other crime.”

Fines for both graffiti tagging or allowing graffiti to remain on property are $200. But Walker said the bylaw office doesn't like to ticket very often.

“We really want voluntary compliance because we just want people to understand that the faster they remove it off their property the less likely that it's going to return,” she said. Removing graffiti acts as a deterrent. Evidence of this was the Pemberton graffiti that was removed about a month ago and hasn't yet returned.

Walker said the graffiti task force has discussed putting a public art wall around the sea bus area where a lot of graffiti is found. But she said this won't stop graffiti from happening throughout the district.

“From what I understand, you're still going to get these taggers tagging even though you've got these community art walls. It's two different groups of people. The taggers are about the criminal activity and vandalism and of course the artists that just want a space to work their art it doesn't necessarily prevent graffiti from happening where we don't want it to occur,” Walker said.

Walker said of the Deep Cove graffiti incidents: “This is not art. This is staking their territory.”

But this is a common misconception about graffiti taggers, said Adrian Archambault of the Community Policing Centre for Grandview-Woodland in Vancouver. Archambault oversees the RestART program, a Vancouver-based restorative justice project that began a graffiti management initiative with the City of Vancouver to allow graffiti taggers to channel their skills. Graffiti artists work with mentors to design murals on city-approved walls, that has lead to changing public perception around the art form, he said.

“From the criminal perspective graffiti tagging is almost like an addiction. It's not territorial so much as it's a compulsion,” Archambault said, “The way it is perceived is not always the way it was intended.”

Those who suspect graffiti taggers are acting in their neighbourhoods are asked to call 911 to report vandalism. Those who are the victims of graffiti should contact the District to get a 40 per cent off paint voucher.