A few years can make a huge difference in a musician’s life. Take the experiences of the alt. country, guitar-wielding, yodelling crooner who calls himself Petunia.
It wasn’t that long ago that he was a transient busker, wandering the highways of this great country and points beyond with his guitar in one hand and his thumb stuck out on the other.
Petunia has literally been everywhere, and has the stories to prove it — from thumbing his way along the Trans Canadia (as he puts it) to playing for crowds in the New York subway station to the cobbled streets of Paris.
And his troubadour, hillbilly musical style hasn’t waned even though he now has the luxury of a set touring schedule and pre-booked venues.
It’s garnering him even more attention.
About to tour through B.C. and Alberta, Petunia is stopping through Vernon, where he has found himself a few times on his excursions through the country. He returns to play Gallery Vertigo Saturday after a successful show there last year.
“Things have been going well,” said Petunia, calling from his home in Vancouver, which he shares with his wife and musically-inclined four-year-old daughter. “It’s been a slow process. It didn’t happen all at once, but I’ve had five-to-six years of doing both (booked shows and busking).”
Since the release of his 2012 album, Petunia and the Vipers, The Laval, Que.-born artist has played some major festivals. He and the Vipers just came home from touring England, Ireland and Scotland, where they performed at Glasgow’s famed Celtic Connections festival.
“We were headlining on the Old Fruit Market stage and blew their socks off. We received wonderful reviews from the show, and (radio host) Bob Harris with the BBC really liked us and wants to bring us on his show,” said Petunia.
Although Petunia has played the U.K. before, this was his first actual tour there, and he says it was a different experience.
“You hear stories of being in England and then coming to America and becoming famous. This time I think it was the other way around,” he laughed. “They dug it, but they literally don’t dance. They just stand there and watch the show. They intently listen. I think it’s part of their culture. This was more in England than in Scotland and Ireland.”
Petunia, however, did strike up a few dancers when he had the opportunity to play with famed Irish fiddler Maurice Lennon in some pubs around the Emerald Isle. (Lennon’s music has been covered by the likes of Canadian fiddler Natalie MacMaster.)
The tour across the Atlantic came on the heels of Petunia and the Vipers’ live recording in a bar in Phillipsville, Calif., which is coincidently located in the Emerald triangle, just north of Redwood National State Park.
Petunia often ventures to the Golden State, and in particular L.A., where he and the Vipers have quite a following.
It was there two years ago that he made a connection with two legends of L.A.’s punk/roots-rock scene: Phil Alvin of The Blasters, who has recorded with the likes of Sun Ra and Big Joe Turner, and Exene Cervenka of seminal art-house/punk band X and rockabilly, country-folk band The Knitters, and he continues to perform with them.
“We back them up with whatever they want to play and then we get up and perform. It’s great because they have thousands of fans, and so it brings packed houses to see us,” said Petunia, adding he and Alvin often do yodelling duets, which may lead to a recording.
Besides their countrified ode to the old west, Petunia and the Vipers interpretation of old-time jump, swing and ragtime tunes, with songs such as Irving Berlin’s Let’s Have Another Cup of Coffee, have proven popular.
“You see this resurgence of that music in the movies,” he said. “There’s a huge scene for this kind of music down there.”
Now back in Vancouver, Petunia is about to embark on his next project, and it involves a bit of jumping and swinging as well. It’s a dance project with the Machine Noisy Dance Society called Bamboozled.
Petunia, whose wife is a dancer, is not only writing the music for the show, he will be shuffling his feet as well.
“I don’t dance,” he laughed, adding he met the company’s artistic director through his work with Caravan Farm Theatre when he wrote the music for the 2008 winter sleigh ride production, The Secret Sorrow of Hatchet Jack McPhee. “The show is about the commodification of celebrity personalities, but is going to be like a wild west show; think Buffalo Bill Cody…They are approaching it with a vaudeville angle. I am looking very forward to that.”
Petunia takes the stage at Gallery Vertigo, #1-3001-31st St., Saturday at 8 p.m. Opening for him will be Vernon’s very own musical chameleon, guitar master Les Copeland.
Tickets are $10 each, available at the Bean Scene. For more info., visit www.petuniamusic.com.