How many reasons to dance do you need?
Riva Fisher has a tattoo of Mt Currie running along the length of her ring finger.
“What did your parents say?” I ask.
“They loved it.”
It’s the view from the house she grew up in.
When she was 18, the Pemberton-raised Fisher spent her first year of University in New Zealand, where her father, Dr Hugh Fisher, hails from.
She was crushingly homesick – which surprised her. Small towns can be oppressive to grow up in, and when Riva was growing up here, Pemberton was capital S small. Everyone knew everyone’s business. “I remember getting home one day and my parents saying, ‘You weren’t wearing your helmet when you were riding your bike.’ Someone had seen me and called them.”
But any feeling of oppressiveness lifted when, having just returned from New Zealand, she was diagnosed with a brain tumour. She had just turned nineteen. “Any earlier and I would still have been in the Make-a-Wish Foundation and I could have met Taylor Swift,” she jokes.
There was no chance of hiding away from the world, even after a course of steroids added 30 pounds of water weight, mostly to her face. (“It was amazing. It gave me the nicest skin I’ve ever had.”)
“This community really wrapped us up,” she says. “It’s definitely been a big part of my recovery. It was just staggering to see how caring this community was. It was really beautiful, and I think that’s definitely part of why my mom is putting this show on, as a thank you to Pemberton for doing that, for me.”
Three years on, the tumour has re-presented and another round of surgery and treatment had to be scheduled into this summer.
Imagining the chemo would knock her flat, Riva’s mom Hillary Downing thought to host a little event, conspiring to bring a New Orleans honky-tonk swamp-boogie band, the Deslondes, to play (their only Canadian gig) at the Pemberton Downtown Community Barn, this Friday night.
Riva met the band last year, after Hillary had heard them interviewed on Q. “She said, you have to go see them.”
She did, and that night, after the show, as a result of Riva’s innate friendliness, the band of “perfect southern American boys” ended up in Riva’s boyfriend’s backyard, drinking moonshine and home brew.
When the Deslondes came back to Vancouver in September to open the sold-out Old Crow Medicine Show at the Orpheum, Riva offered them a place to crash, in exchange for tickets.
Now, they’re coming to Pemberton for a one-off, special show, and sleeping (naturally) in the Downing/Fishers’ backyard.
“They’ve just released an album and it’s already hugely successful. It’s such great music. Really fun to dance to,” she says. “I’m excited for this event and to give back to the community, so I’m really hoping everyone will come out. ”
The event is being supported by the Pemberton Canoe Club, who are just back from another rousing Alcan Dragonboat Festival.
One surprise victory from the weekend saw an alumni team of former paddlers come together. Riva organized the reunion crew as a birthday surprise for her dad, the coach and instigator of Pemberton’s paddling scene. “It was a crew of kids from the last 20 years of his coaching. Some of these kids hadn’t been in a boat for 15 years. The boat was steered by the original steersman from the very first year that the team ever existed. And they won! My dad was so happy. It was, actually, I think the nicest thing I’ve ever done.”
Such acts seem to run in the family. Long may it be so.
The Barnstorm with the Deslondes takes place at the Pemberton Community Barn on Friday, July 10, from 7:30pm – 10:00pm. Food vendors, beer, wine. Tickets are $10 from Mt Currie Coffee Co (in Whistler and Pemberton), the Pemberton Esso and the Bike Co. Donations welcome. Proceeds will go to the Brain Tumour Foundation of Canada to support their ongoing research.