One of Okotoks’ largest concerts is returning to spread cheer for a good cause.
The 16th Annual Okotoks Food Bank Benefit Concert is returning once again on Dec. 13-14 at the Evangelical Free Church.
“The concert exists to provide music and soul for the community,” said organizer Dacy Zacharias.
A favourite project of the late John Fraser, the event blossomed from its humble beginnings into the large production it is today.
“It was born out of grassroots, a bunch of folks sitting around jamming guitars and having fun together,” Zacharias said. “They got together and played Christmas music for everyone, and it’s grown immensely over the years.
“Each year it’s grown and we’ve managed to raise more money for the food bank year over year, thanks to the sponsors and all the people who buy tickets.”
Never missing a beat, the concert still went ahead virtually in 2020 with pandemic shutdowns, returning in 2021 and 2022.
“It’s really important to us that the concert lives on and will continue on whether it had to be online or in person,” Zacharias said. “Because as we’re saying this year, ‘It’s food for the body and music for the soul.’”
With food banks across the country seeing higher demand than ever, the concert is crucial to the Okotoks Food Bank (OFB), said its director, Pamela McLean.
“It is our biggest fundraiser of the year, it always has been,” McLean said. “It’s a substantial influx to our operation here."
Based on statistics from Food Banks Canada, McLean explained Alberta is leading the country in food bank usage.
The most noticeable differences this year – and ones that McLean said make Alberta an outlier in the stats – are that 20 per cent of food bank users are employed, but still can’t afford to cover living expenses, and 11 per cent are homeowners, where across Canada the average is 7 per cent.
“It’s just that perfect storm,” McLean said. “It’s triple what we’re used to assisting, so this fundraiser is crucial.”
Among those set to perform are Brettyn Rose and Chase Morgan, MzBehavin, Dwight Forseth and Jim McLennan, Stuart Kelly and The Little Head Butts, The Foothills Brass, 33 Union, Mike King, Haggis and more.
Joining the set list for their first time in 2021, acoustic country/rock duo 33 Union is one of the many local acts, consisting of Mike Martel and Shaun Cardinal.
“It’s an honour to be asked to come back,” Martel said. “We’re used to going to bars and setting up and doing our thing – we were out of our comfort zone.
“Just when we walked in, all the lighting and decorations, they just do such a great job and the whole production is so well done."
The two originally joined forces in Elmont, Ont., naming it after where they were originally roommates, at 33 Union, and years later reunited in Okotoks, where the two now-brother-in-laws have been raising families for the past 10 years.
“The community here is incredible – it seems like everybody just has everybody else’s back,” Martel said. “It’s a big town with a really small-town feel and we come from small towns, so to have that kind of community here and to know that everybody supports everybody, just makes you feel at home.”
Back with an expanded set list, the duo is once again excited to play alongside some of the region’s most talented artists.
“It was an honour to be in the same group with the other musicians there, because they’re such great musicians,” said Martel, adding they feel right at home with this year’s Kitchen Party theme.
“We have some off-the-beaten track songs in store that maybe people haven’t heard before with some incredible harmonies.
“That’s kind of our thing, melding our voices in harmony – we’re a duo but we like to incorporate another musician at the concert.”
Coming out to help the Okotoks Food Bank is personal, especially for Martel.
“For me personally, we didn’t grow up with a lot of money and there had been times we needed the food bank ourselves,” he said.
“So to give back and contribute to that was just an honour for me to kind of come full circle and be able to do that for other people.”
The concert runs Dec. 13 and 14 from 7-10 p.m. at the Okotoks Evangelical Free Church.
All funds raised will go to the Okotoks Food Bank and additional donations can be given when purchasing a ticket, with amounts over $10 eligible for a tax receipt. Donations and non-perishable items will also be accepted at the door.