The Arbutus Collective15 July 2009 at The Media Club

The Arbutus Collective play a soothing, beach-inspired folk that is a combination of Jon and Roy, and Jack Johnson. It is little wonder then that this Vancouver band actually opened for Jon and Roy here at The Media Club, in November of last year. Front man Brandon Chalmers tells us a story about how he almost died earlier. He was listening to his iPod and walking to a Skytrain station, minding his own business, and had to dive out of the way of a car. This brush with death gave him a much greater appreciation of the evening. Their best song so far is called “Pride” (I think), and it’s about taking responsibility. They also play a great song called “Going Down,” which is available for listening on their MySpace page, along with my other favourite, “The Rain Song.” Brandon tells us that “Going Down” is a song about his struggle with his desire to fulfil his dream of sailing down to Central America and building homes in the trees with his friends. Their second last song is called “Open Road,” about the exciting first stages of a relationship, and is dedicated to every first date in the audience. Their friend Michelle joins them on stage for their last song, to play the cello with them. Brandon hands out song sheets so that the audience can sing along, floating them off the stage one page at a time. It turns out that the sing-along part is the tune of You Are My Sunshine, and it is the best ending they could have planned. I look forward to more great beachy tunes from The Arbutus Collective.

Chris Velan is a one-man band. Using a loop pedal, he records each section live and then uses foot controls to play, repeat, and pause the various parts as he builds his acoustic set. Much like driving standard, it requires both hands and feet, and dedicated coordination. It’s like playing three guitars at once, and creating the rhythms normally played by a bass and drums. He plays in his socks, so as to better navigate the small pedals. He opens his set with a song called “Shiver,” one I’ve never heard before, but Chris Velan’s acoustic music is guaranteed to be good. I find myself entranced by his guitar playing, and he engages the crowd with his stories in between songs.

Chris VelanChris Velan is from Montreal, but he has lived in Vancouver for many years. His next song, “A Year Can Change A Lot,” is very fitting for the evolution his music career has seen. He’s spent a lot of time on the road, and things are definitely changing. One of his most interesting life experiences is the time he spent in refugee camps in Africa, where he learned about making music, and what it means to make music. He also learned much about the commonality and fragility that we all share as human beings. Chris continues to open up to us by telling us that the last three months he has spent touring around the States have been rather lonely. He’s met some interesting people along the way, but it’s nice to come to a place like Vancouver where he knows people. His next song is one of my favourites: “Hunting Season.” He even records his own harmony! Next on the set list is “Go Easy,” which is written for someone who has a tendency to beat themselves up. He then plays one of his two songs about bad habits: “Hard Way Learner.”

As a tribute to his friend’s house in Laurel Canyon, L.A., Chris wrote a song for the house in which he wrote many others. It’s called “House Upon The Hill,” and receives many cat calls, perhaps because it’s a little more of a dance number than his previous songs. In keeping with this change of pace, he also plays “Out of Rance,” which definitely has a spacey feel with a very soothing chorus. It really showcases his talent on the loop pedal, because of the number of layers it uses. He mixes things up by playing “Best of Me” from a previous album, but the song is still very true to this latest release. It featured a large section of reggae rap, and Chris is the man for it. His intriguing blend of acoustic folk and reggae music is perfect for the summer weather.

Chris Velan Solidago coverChris rocks my socks by breaking out a cover of Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean.” It is great, and I find my jaw still open by the end of the song. He really lets loose after the final verse, creating a stunning interlude by layering and weaving the guitar melodies into something mesmerizing.  Back into story telling, Chris announces with glee that this is the start of his month-long Canadian tour. His new album Solidago officially launched in Canada yesterday. His next song, “Same Clothes,” was written when his van broke down in Ashville, North Carolina (not to be confused with Nashville). He was at the end of his laundry cycle, and instead of doing laundry, he wrote about wearing the same clothes. It’s funny how inspiration can come from the most random things in life. His last song is his second song about bad habits, and features some beat-boxing. It’s called “Oldest Trick.” Because it’s his last song, and because it works with the song, he really rocks out with complex guitar riffs and solos, instrumental epilogues that you’d never hear on his album. There’s something magical about Chris Velan’s live music. Maybe it’s something in his voice, or his spell-binding guitar picking, but I’m hooked, and so is the rest of the crowd. We stamp and cheer for this guitar genius, and he treats us to an encore. It’s a song from his old band Equalizer, which he formed with his two brothers. It’s an amazing song about taking things for granted, and I don’t know what it’s called, but it’s really good.

You can listen to songs from Chris Velan’s new album Solidago on his Myspace page, and it can be purchased from iTunes and CD Baby. Once again, don’t let his delightfully pleasant album distract you from the depth of his artistry and song writing abilities. Stayed tuned to Backstage Vancouver for a feature on Chris Velan’s performance at the Virgin Festival, as well as an in-depth interview with the man himself.


1. Shiver
2. A Year Can Change A Lot
3. Hunting Season
4. Go Easy
5. Hard Way Learner
6. House Upon The Hill
7. Out of Range
8. Best of Me
9. Billie Jean (Michael Jackson cover)
10. Same Clothes
11. Oldest Trick


As a special treat, Chris played a song from his old band Equalizer, which he formed with his two brothers. It’s an amazing song about taking things for granted, and I don’t know what it’s called.

Comments (2)


  1. […] other person I’ve encountered who can perform solo yet maintain the same level of music is Chris Velan. Their trick is using a loop pedal. In Woodpigeon’s case, Mark brings the bird whistle into […]

  2. […] easy-listening country music with the easy, breezey tropical twang I’ve encountered in The Arbutus Collective. It’s a beautiful touch to have a female back up singer, which is usually something you […]