When Kelowna musician Rod Russell sat at the piano at the Stettler Performing Arts Centre (PAC) on Saturday, Nov. 26, he was a stranger to the audience.
By the end of the night, everyone was friends, united by a shared love of music.
It was Russell’s first time performing in Stettler, both as a solo artist and in general. For the past year, the pianist has been touring solo, and decided to do four shows in Alberta in November.
Three of those shows were in Athabasca, Forestburg and Wainwright. The fourth show was up in the air until a friend of his sister – who lives in Forestburg – recommended the PAC.
“You have a beautiful little theatre here, and a wonderful piano,” Russell said after his show.
There were about 100 people who came to the show, a number with which Russell said he was pleased. When booking the show, he unknowingly booked it at the same time as the final event of the Festival of Lights, the yearly gala, and competition was stiff.
“I didn’t even know if I’d be able to get in,” Russell admitted, noting that with several productions underway at the theatre, there was a chance he wouldn’t have been able to book it.
Even though Wildcat Theatre’s “Almost, Maine” is set up to start its shows tomorrow, Russell said that by simply placing the piano at the front of the stage and closing the curtain, he was able to perform.
And he was glad he was able to do so.
“I really hope I can come back here some day,” he said. “I had a very responsive audience. And you get great energy from them.”
His program included covers of hits from the 1940s to the 1970s, music that embraced a mix of rock’n’roll, ballads and country, he said.
“I try to pick tunes that match the type of audience I have, which tends to be older,” he explained.
The independent musician owns and operates a music school in Kelowna, and it was his students and friends with whom he played casually, that convinced him to try touring solo. Before that, he’d always played as a group, or in small clubs, Russell explained.
Since he started his solo performances, Russell has played 11 concerts in B.C. and Alberta.
“It’s not something I’m going to stop soon,” he said with a chuckle.