Creator of the Joe Hill Coffeehouse

Creator of the Joe Hill Coffeehouse

Going out on a high note

Joe Hill Coffeehouse creator Michael Gifford retires after four successful years and 35 shows

The Hill is alive with the sound of music.

Or it will be once again, as the final show of Michael Gifford’s reign at the reins of the Joe Hill Coffeehouse rains down this Sunday at the Miner’s Hall in Rossland (7 p.m.).

The retired school music teacher and multi-instrumentalist was instrumental in establishing the monthly musical meet four years and 35 shows ago, but had been on the verge of folding the show a few weeks ago as he was unsuccessful in sourcing out new musical blood to hand the organizing torch to.

With the recent confirmation Gifford’s work will continue — with the capable quartet of Les Carter, Marti Daniel, Kyle Buckley and David Snider on board — Gifford is bidding farewell this Sunday as the backbone of the coffeehouse.

The former music teacher and veteran musician was convinced of his decision to retire, consoled by the fact the goal of providing a locale for the performing arts in the West Kootenay would continue.

“I’ve always tried convincing people that music should be in their lives in any way, shape or form,” he said.

It was why he started up the Joe Hill Coffeehouse a few months after he retired from School District No. 20 in 2008. He wanted to create a scene for all performers — including those who may have only played in their bedroom to the family dog — to share in the enjoyment and beauty of music.

“Performers are always looking for a place to perform,” he said. “That was the success of the coffeehouse and that was one of the main reasons I wanted to get the coffeehouse going was so I could have a place to perform, too.”

And what a success it was. Nearly 2,400 people saw over 800 performers in 34 shows in the last four years, mining some of the best musical talent and hidden gems from across the West Kootenay.

Hundreds of people have come forward to perform at Joe Hill who would not have done otherwise — with every single show a “high,” leaving Gifford and his volunteer core with the feeling they had just witnessed the best one ever.

The coffeehouse had the support of the Rossland Arts Council right from the start, and it also had the support of the people, with good crowds of 80 to 150 on any given show.

“Never in my wildest dreams would I have thought it would be so successful. On the other hand, it does not surprise me,” Gifford said.

Gifford operated the coffeehouse like a concert venue, scheduling performers, giving them a defined slot in the evening, and drawing upon a legion of volunteers (around 40) to man sound, concession and door duties to mount a professional monthly show.

As a result, the performers would rehearse for their set well in advance, lending a real concert feel to the evening.

But the amount of hours the retired teacher had to put into each show was a constant drain on his time and energy resources. When Gifford wanted to step aside and could not find replacements, he announced in March the Joe Hill Coffeehouse was over.

“I had no complaints about all of the hours I put into it because it had just been so rewarding, both personally and for all of these other people too,” he said, “but I felt like I was still working and I was supposed to be retired.”

The non-profit, all volunteer run show will offer one more performance in June after Gifford steps down to close out the fourth season, beginning the Gifford-less era in September.

“But I will come down and perform at the coffee house once in a while, sure,” Gifford said with a wink.

The May 20 lineup includes the Golden City Fiddlers, Dawn Graham, Kootenay DanceWorks, Wendy Garbe, Doug, Dave and Chuck, Denis Rorick, David Hartman and Keith Simmonds.

The show starts at 7 p.m. on Sunday at the Rossland Miners’ Hall. Admission is $3 for adults, with students and children free.