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A hundred-plus people packed into the friendly confines of Norway House to partake in a concert/bake sale/silent auction to help West My Friend raise funds for their upcoming tour of Europe. The evening of great music, warm camaraderie and plain out’n’out fun was just the tonic for a dreary, drizzly winter’s night in Victoria.

The musicians were a little tentative during the first few numbers, which was to be expected as they were breaking in a new member, Tad Ruszel. Ruszel now takes over mandolin duties from Alex Rempel who moves over to stand-up bass replacing the departed Adam Bailey. It didn’t take long, however, for WMF to hit their stride, playing as they were to a highly receptive crowd. The quartet (which also includes Jeff Poynter on accordion/piano and Eden Oliver on acoustic guitar/flute) entranced the crowd with their folk tunes that varied from rollicking sing-alongs to plaintive ballads. They drew on material primarily from the excellent 2014 album ‘When the Ink Dries’, but also played a couple of songs from ‘Place’ and even some earlier stuff. Rempel occasionally took over lead vocals and his soft baritone provided a nice contrast to the band’s primary vocalist Oliver who, as usual, sang with the crystal clarity of a songbird.

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During the break we all mingled around the back section of the hall where tables were set up with the donated wares for the silent auction, ranging from knitted items to CDs, and from roller blades to musical instruments. There was also a tasty array of baked goods, so I happily decided that I am going to put off losing my Christmas fat until February. I also pulled a bone-headed move akin to Spinal Tap when I took the wrong turn off the stairs up to the bathroom and found myself smack in the middle of the stage.

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The second set of the evening was somehow even better than the first. The band simply grew more confident and poised as the evening wore on, and it’s not as if they were shaky to start with. The between-song banter was natural and funny, and the concert turned into a fully participatory event with the crowd being called upon to join in the chorus on several occasions. The evening’s highlight, as it turns out, came as a surprise. The band had not planned on playing the popular “Cat Lady Song” because the song’s complicated, multi-instrumented arrangement is difficult for just the four players to perform on-stage. A music reviewer, however, had expressed his hope that they would perform it because he’d selected it as one of his favourite songs of 2014, referring to it as “A mini operetta by the West Coast indie/choral smarty pants” (hint: he writes for Ride the Tempo). So, WMF proceeded to stun the crowd with a version featuring only Oliver (vocals), Rempel (bass) and Poynter (piano), an arrangement that they had hastily crafted in only two days. The result was a resounding success as they managed to capture all of the thrills and power of the recorded original.

Magical.