Two men and two women with guitars, standing in a basement studio

The Awakeneers (P2): Lost in the Goat Trails

The McKenty family’s first public performance was in the outdoor section of the Mansons Farmer’s Market in 2006. After leaving their rental home at Smelt Bay in 2018, they have lived in Vancouver, at Hollyhock and for the last year and a half in Willow Point.

“We can see Cortes across the water,” explained Immanuel.  

To which his father, Robert added, “We’re looking straight across at a place where we lived for 10 years. When we go for a swim, are gardening, or anytime we look out of the window: we’re looking at Cortes. So we’re not actually gone, in our own perspective, we’re still  displaced Cortesians.”

Francis McKenty loading the van at the Shaw Spotlight Studio – Photo courtesy the Awakeneers; Songs:“Elevate” starts 1:53, “Clean Freak” starts 7:50, ‘Lost in the Goat Trails’ starts 18:02

They were part of the circle that gathered around an H4n recorder, in the Mckenty’s basement studio. Musical instruments hung from the walls surrounding them.  

Robert McKenty and his sons Immanuel, Francis and Isa are in the Awakeneers.

Two other members of the band were in that circle. Erica and Rose Giannone are sisters, who have been living with the McKentys since 2020. They are US citizens and have work permits.

Immanuel described his mother Elizabeth McKenty, who sat on the stairs overlooking her family throughout our interview, as ‘a great supporter and behind-the-scenes member of the band. ‘She doesn’t usually perform onstage with us. She has done some wonderful watercolour paintings which we’ve used for our album artwork.’

Robert and Elizabeth have three more children. Adam is in Germany. Ieva and Eli live on Cortes. While they are no longer members of the band, they all contributed to the Awakeneers new album.

Access: The Awakeneers: coming back to Cortes (July 28 & 29)

Rose Giannone wrote the song ‘Elevate,’ which is in that album.

Erica: “Though we’re not currently living on the island, it is really nice to be able to look across the water. I know you guys are all over there, and I see the lovely island.” 

Immanuel: “I’m still frequently checking the ’property for sale’ listings on the island (this prompts some chuckles) with a hopeful raise of the eyebrow.” 

Robert: “We moved to Willow Point around Christmas in 2021. We scored a large rental house that was scheduled for demolition.  It was originally only a three month rental when we moved in, but the demolition has been rescheduled, so we are still living here, happily.”

CC: Ouch.

Immanuel: “The good part of that was that since it was scheduled to be demolished, we had free reign to install many instrument hangers all over the walls of the basement. So we took full opportunity to do that.” 

This was a ZOOM interview and we had the cameras off to preserve bandwidth. I did not recognize the male voice that interjected: “This year we have a sizeable vegetable garden, which is a big improvement over last year.”

CC: That’s a new voice. 

 Male voice: “Yeah, this is Francis.” 

Immanuel: “He’s one of the vegetable gardeners.” 

CC: Glad to see you have hired help. (Laughter) 

How long can you be sure of being there? 

Immanuel: “One month, maybe it’s two months – I don’t know. We’re always a little bit trepidatious when we see the surveyors coming and wandering around the yard and taking measurements.”

Erica: “I think that their plans of rebuilding were shelved due to massive red tape headaches. So we’re hopeful that we can leave when we feel like it rather than when we’re asked to. We are in the section of Willow Point where they decorate the lamp posts with Christmas decorations, which is far more suburban, I think, than most places we’ve ever lived before.” 

Immanuel: “We often go and busk outside Willows Farm Market & Garden Centre in the summers. It’s quite a good busking location.” 

Robert: “There’s another curious song that Francis wrote. He’s got a clear head for …” 

Immanuel inserts, “the Absurd.” 

Robert: “ … and this one, to our surprise, his surprise, everybody’s surprise actually turns out to be something of a favourite that’s requested by young children even. It’s called ‘Clean Freak,’ which also was reflected in the general goings on during the pandemic with so much sanitizer going everywhere.”

(‘Clean Freak’ is played in the podcast.)

Immanuel: “It was  released as a joke right at the beginning of the pandemic, and it seems to have been picked up with great affection on Tofino Radio. We know a fellow there who runs the local radio station, and he occasionally tells us that he’s still playing it.”

Rose: “It seems to be our most requested song, by people we don’t know yet.” 

Francis: “It’s actually been a bit of a problem for me because I did write it as a joke, and it’s quite long and it has a lot of lyrics and I never really managed to memorize it. So when somebody does request it at a concert, I’m flapping around with my paper, trying to get the lyrics out so that I can do the song. Even though we have recorded and released it, I never really thought anyone would be interested enough to want to hear it again.”

CC: What is it like to live in Willow Point, as opposed to Cortes and Vancouver?

Francis: “It’s much better than we expected. We’re not really city people, but I think we’ve all been pleasantly surprised. As far as being able to do music, it does definitely have some benefits over living on Cortes because the ferries on Cortes were quite a challenge for us  to do concerts for anyone other than the people who lived on the island. We’d have to  book  a major expedition, which would involve accommodations and various expensive administrative complications, whereas from here we can drive anywhere on Vancouver Island and get back home without having to arrange accommodations or food.”

Erica: “It’s also been pretty neat how welcoming the arts community is. I didn’t really even know there was an arts community here, but there actually is in the Campbell River Arts Council, which has been super supportive and welcoming. We had a really sweet concert series through the winter, every week for the first month and every two weeks for several months after that at their headquarters. That’s right here in Willow Point, just down the street from us In the little Sybil Andrews’ Cottage.” 

“It was just so lovely and we started getting quite a following of repeat people coming. It was this wonderful little gathering with pizza and cookies and warmth and laughter and music.We gave ourselves the challenge of not repeating any songs. So it was like 8 or 9 two hour long concerts. If you do the math, that’s really a lot of songs. So we were really mining through the archives of music and it was a great challenge for ourselves. 

“Some of the people that came commented, ‘Wow, you’re really sharing a lot about yourselves’ – because they come to every concert! They heard everything that we’d done and a lot of the songs have a story behind them. Robert was doing a lot of really hilarious and excellent introductions at, with great jokes at most of our expense, through most of the events. It was a lot of fun and super neat to meet so many warm and friendly folks here in Campbell River, where normally we were blazing through to catch the ferry and go shopping. It’s quite a different thing to meet the people in a community where you’re actually living.” 

Immanuel: “It is super different from when we were living in Vancouver, in that way where there was a lot of music and art stuff happening, but it was such a big place that it was hard to get a toe hold in the networks for that kind of stuff.

Erica: “We’ve recently made a good connection with a fellow over at Shaw Cable who has an interesting challenge of needing to have 60% local content. So we’ve come up with a quite a happy collaboration where he’s been running an hour long show of our videos for several months now, I think, since Earth Day. We recently just went in and recorded one live in the studio to be broadcast and talking about doing a once a month sort of music hour with the Awakeneers, which I think is an interesting opportunity and something different than we’ve really ever done before. So that’s also something different about Campbell River.”

Immanuel: “I also wanted to say thanks to you, Manda (from Folk U) and all of you folks at Cortes Radio. It’s been really fun to stay in touch, read your articles and listen to your guys’ shows even while we’re over here in Campbell River.” 

Robert: “Cortes Radio has played a really pivotal part in local communications and people managing to be able to stay informed and stay in touch with each other. For years I think it’s been a fixture that we noticed that was special about Cortes.” 

Isa: “Every time we go back to Cortes, we’re totally blown away by the peacefulness and silence, which we  took for granted until we moved to the city, right next to a highway.”

Immanuel: “We also have several local agents on Cortes who are quite enthusiastic to get us back on an island. They’re always looking out for possible rentals or pieces of property that might be a good fit and sending them our way.” 

Francis: “If anyone who’s listening to this show has something in mind, please feel free to contact us.”

Robert: “We’re still maintaining a fairly significant storage presence on Cortes“

“Francis has written a song which unfortunately isn’t recorded yet, called ‘Lost in the Goat Trails.’ It’s a biography of our storage unit. You may hear it at the upcoming concerts, as I’m sure Doug Brown from Hansen Road Storage would relate to.” 

Francis: “I think we’re his longest standing customers and possibly also his largest customer for that entire time. We also have some storage units on Quadra. We won’t tell you how many, but just our connection to Cortes Island is still quite large. Including our boat, it may be close to a hundred tons!”

Music credits for podcast

  • The songs ‘Elevate,’ (July 2023) and ‘Clean Freak (Mar 2020) are taken from Awakeneers: The Album, 2023
  • The Awakeneers recorded and emailed Cortes Currents an MP3 of ‘Lost in the Goat Trails’ for this program

Concerts in July 2023

  • Jul 8, Saturday: 39 Days of July Festival, Duncan BC, 6:00pm.
  • Jul 15 & 16th: Vancouver Island Musicfest, Courtenay BC.
  • Jul 22, Saturday: Album release concert, Sybil Andrews Cottage, Campbell River BC, 7:00pm.
  • Jul 28, Friday: Gorge Hall, Cortes Island BC, 8:00pm.
  • Jul 29, Saturday: Mansons Hall, Cortes Island BC, 8:00pm.

Links of Interest:

Top image credit: Rehearsal at Willow Creek – courtesy the Awakeneers

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