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Ontarian singer brings West Coast soul to Willows Park in Oak Bay

London-born Sarah Smith falls for B.C.’s peaceful folk scene
Musician Sarah Smith, who performs both as a solo acoustic artist and with her rock band, chose to relocate to the West Coast for its peaceful vibe and folk scene. (Photo by Lani Sanders)

Vancouver Island singer-songwriter Sarah Smith tunes her guitar for Oak Bay’s next summer concert at Willows Park 6 to 8 p.m. Thursday (Aug. 4), bringing a love for West Coast folk amid her roots in Ontario’s rock music scene.

Smith, who grew up in London, Ont. and recently relocated to Pender Island, took a particular liking to Victoria despite touring regularly across Canada, the U.S., Europe and the Caribbean.

“It’s always had this vibe about it that’s peaceful,” she explained.

“Why am I going to wait until I retire?” Smith, 44, recalled asking herself. “Why not make the plunge now?”

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The major musical difference she notices between her old and new home is that, while rock seems to drive Ontarians, Victoria thrives on folk.

“It’s OK for me to show my less rocky side here,” she reasoned, adding she’s been able to enjoy the best of both worlds so far in her career as both a solo acoustic artist and electric guitarist backed by her band.

COVID-19 initially bringing life to a grinding halt has served as an important artistic theme for Smith, who in 2021 released a series of tracks on a USB titled Songs From When The World Went Still. A career highlight for her was performing mid-pandemic on the Melissa Etheridge Cruise to the Bahamas in front of mostly women.

She credited longtime bass guitarist Lonnie Glass as her “staple in the Victoria music world.” Initially taking Smith on the road when she was 20 to perform around Sweden and Finland, Glass would later reconnect with her in B.C. and become a “built-in band partner” for her act.

Another local musician and longtime friend, percussionist Brad Hawkes, joins Smith at Willows Park this week as the newest addition to her band. Born and raised in Prince George, but now based in Victoria, Hawkes has supported Smith throughout her musical journey and not only performs with her on occasion but also writes lyrics for her songs.

“It’s always great when we can get together and perform the songs we wrote,” she said.

But for Smith, the music itself matters most, rather than the words. If you find yourself around Willows Beach this Thursday evening, keep an ear out for “(Meet me at) The Crossroads,” which she composed with Hawkes in 2021.


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