You've likely gathered that I'm quite a history buff and I don't much mind the shape my history lessons come in: museums, castles, interpreters, roadside plaques, recreated villages, even the History Channel. But I know that lots of you would rather eat raw eggs; shave your legs with an emery board; listen to a thumbnail scraping a blackboard - well, maybe not that. But you're really not into the history thing.
Jack Godwin understands. This retired history teacher learned in the classroom that “the way to get students involved is to hook them emotionally with a question or a story.”
In his second career as chief engineer of the folksy, bluegrass Kettle Valley Brakemen, he uses the same technique, drawing audiences into the performance with tales from the railway days, stories about how he came to write the songs and lots of humour. Every concert is a rollicking history lesson with special emphasis on the Kettle Valley line.
Jack first hit on the idea as a way to add value to the Kettle Valley Steam Train ride when the attraction first opened. The Brakemen only played the KVR one summer. Preferring the more personal relationship they build with an audience in concert, they now perform for tour groups cycling the Kettle Valley Trail; at special events like Canada Day celebrations in Hedley and Revelstoke’s annual Railway Days.
Jack also performs solo. Summer Thursdays and Sundays you can catch him and his shiny, custom, monogrammed resophonic guitar (you really have to see this baby), outside the Naramata Museum, “luring the tourists in.”
When he’s not doing local volunteer work, Jack’s researching, writing new songs and rehearsing with the band – a rotating cast (depends who’s available) of nine accomplished musicians who really know how to fiddle, pluck, strum and pour on the harmony.
After 11 years Jack says his big concern is not to get too successful. “This is a joy and I want to keep it a joy.” While the group has produced three CDs, he doesn’t want to get all caught up in the business end of the biz. “Success ought to be performing for small audiences where people come up after the show and tell us their railway stories. That personal contact with railway fans is where it’s at for me.”