By Bradley Turcotte –
Westfest founder Elaina Martin has dropped a preview of next year’s 15th-anniversary event with the announcement that legendary Canadian rock band The Pursuit of Happiness (TPOH) will headline the 2018 festival.
Formed in Toronto in 1985, TPOH scored with hit singles I’m An Adult Now and Cigarette Dangles. The group retired in the late ‘90s but never officially broke up.
Producing alternative music before Nirvana stormed the airwaves, TPOH benefitted from the advent of American college radio, which embraced the band. Their videos landed on Much, MTV and one video appeared on an episode of Beavis and Butthead.
When the outfit reunites, as they did in 2006 for their induction into the Canadian Indies Hall of Fame, TPOH’s ability to rekindle their unified rock spirit is organic and effortless, guitarist and backing vocalist Kris Abbott says.
Born “with a guitar in [her] hand” in Perth, Ontario, Kris ventured to Kingston shortly after high school to immerse herself in the local music scene. In the time before internet connectivity, budding musicians sought each other out, Kris says. Her musical aspirations then strung Kris to Toronto, where she met TPOH bandleader Moe Berg on a streetcar in 1987. When a spot in TPOH opened up, Moe invited Kris to jam. “The next thing you know, 30 years went by,” Kris laughs.
The band released their fifth and final studio album in 1996.
During TPOH’s hiatus, Kris formed folk duo Kris + Dee with Dee McNeil of the Strap Ons. The two produce engaging, country-tinged rock but their partnership transcends music. Married for 12 years, Kris + Dee will make their second appearance at Westfest in 2018.
Composing music with Dee contrasts her role in TPOH, Kris explains, as supporting band members rarely bring their personal life into the music.
“When you play in a band and you’re not partners, you go back to your personal life or you enter the band life. But we’re always in a state of that. The way we look at it is our life is what makes our music; our music doesn’t make our life. We live our life and that is what gets reflected in our music… there would be nothing to write about if all we were focused on was music.”
Humbly, Kris says she’s not a serious guitar player as she relies more on feel than technical skill.
“Kris is not an exceptionally talented female guitarist, she’s an exceptionally talented guitarist,” says Elaina. “The fact that she has dedicated her passion to two outfits that are polar opposites shows you how talented she is. She can rock out and riff out on a Stratocaster like nobody’s business with TPOH then she picks up an acoustic guitar and vibrates the neck like it’s Neil Young himself.”
Excited to return to Westfest after Kris + Dee’s 2015 set, Kris applauds Elaina’s diverse programming, the energy of the volunteers and the welcoming attitude of the attendees.
As they are both from the Ottawa Valley, Dee is an Arnprior native, Kris says Ottawa resonates with them as a couple and suggests their origins could be why they ended up together.
“There’s something about the Ottawa Valley that pulls us together,” Kris ponders. “It comes out in our music a lot… it’s always kind of felt like home to me because I played so much music in Ottawa when I was a kid. It’s exciting for us to be playing Westfest and it’s exciting for me to be playing with TPOH because it feels like all of my worlds are coming full circle.”
As Westfest celebrates its crystal anniversary, Elaina divulges details about the new location. Free for 15 years, Westfest is always in need of donations, sponsors and volunteers.
“We’re doing it off the sweat of our backs. More than ever we’d like to see the community give back a little,” says Elaina.