The Kettle Valley Brakemen are becoming a bit of history themselves — their story is part of the 83rd edition of the Okanagan Historical Society Report.
The band first performed for the public at the reopening of the Kettle Valley Steam Railway in Summerland 24 years ago, and have kept chugging along ever since, touring the Okanagan and rest of the province, showcasing their combination of bluegrass heritage music and the history and stories that go into the music.
“When we started out, we thought it would be a niche thing, but there’s such a broad reach,” said Jack Godwin, the leader of the Kettle Valley Brakemen. “If you’ve ever had a toy train when you were a kid, there’s just something about it that’s a part of our culture.”
Godwin put together the group for the Kettle Valley Railway Society. After the audition, in front of four of the KVR’s actual engineers, they earned themselves a contract for 10 shows in that first year.
“I’ve written about 70 songs, and the best thing about writing in the winter is that when the spring touring season comes around, we can test out and see which ones work. If people like them, they stay, and we’ve done a lot of refining like that. Besides all the train wreck songs and construction songs, there are some on maybe not the nicest things.”
The performances combine historical anecdotes that preface the songs. Through the connections that Godwin established, first with the engineers and then with the other historical writers on the railway, his music and stories are as historically accurate as he can get.
The Kettle Valley Brakemen’s story is one of four featured in the upcoming Penticton: A Brief History by the Okanagan Historical Society. The Okanagan Historical Society puts together an annual history report, gathering stories from the seven branch groups in the region.
“The Okanagan Historical Review, it’s written by members of the Historical Society and it is much more than just a book. It captures the lives of groups and individuals who are important to the local area. Were just a regional group, not a national act, and we don’t want to be. Working with seniors, who remember the era best, it’s very rewarding. and if you believe it, they still buy CDs too.”
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