by J. Kathleen Thompson
When you ask local musician Dave Soroka what his goals are, they sound pretty simple: stay alive, and keep making music. Until you learn that his “keep making music” goal may involve 24-hour long stretches of it.
Which is what he did this summer at the Music on the Mountain Festival in Fort St. James, where he lay down one original song after another, with a few short breaks, from 1:30 p.m. Friday, Aug. 19 to 1:30 p.m. the next day.
Luckily he had 380 songs at his disposal, though he only needed 253 of them. Any originals that didn’t get played may be added to next year’s now infamous “Sorokathon.”
He characteristically downplays his achievement.
“I don’t know of anyone who has done what I just did, only because I have so many songs right handy that I can play. Possibly the American songwriter Dan Bern could do it— he’s written way more songs than I have. Whether or not my feat qualifies for the Guiness Book of Records, I have no idea!”
The project began almost as a dare when two friends listening to Soroka performing non-stop for three hours at the Station Pub suggested to him that 21 more was likely not out of his reach. He subsequently pitched the idea to the organizers of the Music on the Mountain Festival, with the intention that it act as a fundraiser for the festival, and a deal was struck.
Dave Soroka would be returning to the festival but this time instead of a two-hour set, he would be doing a 24-hour one. Despite a friend calling it “the best stupid idea I’ve ever heard,” Dave delivered, and recounts the experience:
“I remember getting to hour 22, and my fingers were numb, my arms were sore, but my voice was still holding out. Luckily I had a few other musicians—Joey Only, Scott Cook, Twin Peaks, Wax Mannequin, Aaron Goodwin and local musician Gary Cuthbert who helped to keep me going. Gary stayed up the entire 24 hours with me, handling my sound and also for many hours backing me on guitar.”
Soroka considers the Sorokathon a success but wants to replay it next summer so that the festival can capitalize on its fundraising potential. With more promotion, technical support (like having an Internet feed right on the festival site stage) and a continual live feed of the event with someone keeping up a continual calling for pledges between songs, he feels his efforts could really make a difference to a festival, which, like all others across the land, struggles to stay financially viable.
In the meantime, between “training” for his next musical marathon, Soroka continues to do what he feels he was born to do: write songs. For him, the call to the vocation came early.
“At the age of 10, I decided I would be a songwriter, and quit school when I was 15 to live a life writing songs. I figured, since we leave behind the world we come back to, it behooves us to leave it a better place. I hoped that maybe a thousand songs could be my contribution.”
The writing came easily enough, but the opportunities to share his songs—via venues that supported live music—became increasingly rare. After returning to Grand Forks with his wife, artist Nora Curiston, in 1989, Dave got to work creating a vehicle in which independent musicians could debut their material, hone their craft and connect with other musicians in the B.C. Interior.
Coaxing proprietors of pubs and cafes to host “a guy with a guitar” in return for a meal and tips, Dave carved what became known, by musicians who followed in his path, as “The Mythical B.C. Coffeehouse Circuit.” Due to Soroka, road musicians were welcomed into pubs and cafes from Squamish to Elkford, Clinton to Troy, Montana, throughout the 1990s. It was a fruitful time for the developing musician.
“I like to think all that work was never lost, that it might have provided some spark to what is now a full-blown artistic renaissance in B.C., centered around such festivals as ArtsWells, Music on the Mountain and Tiny Lights in Ymir.
“The many friendships made on the cafe circuit was the best thing that came from playing the Mythical. Some of those Mythical players are still out there touring, and through the current festival scene I’ve met many more. One player has recorded an album of my songs and several others are planning to do the same, and I’m often asked to split the bill at a local house concert when these great players come to town.”
Soroka is making an MP3 compendium of songs from his coffeehouse days which he anticipates will amount to eight hours of recorded music. You’ll be able to buy a memory stick of these MP3s from him directly. Included in this collection will be all the songs from The Ladies of Summer, the classic Dave Soroka album masterfully performed and recorded right here in Grand Forks at Cactus Music (now Odyseey Sound). And should you wish to give a shout out to the saints behind the music festivals all over this province, you can still donate online to Dave’s “Sorokathon” by going to momfest.weebly.com.
And if you would rather check out a Grand Forks legend live, you can find him “on stage” at the Station Pub most Tuesdays, starting at 6:30 p.m., or hosting the Open Mic Nights at Happy Days Diner first Saturdays of the month.
Who knows, you might be there to witness the humble crossing into the thousandth song!