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A quarter of a century of Spirit

Spirit of the West joins the nine-band line up at the Campground C Country Rock Music Festival
Spirit of the West returns to Whistler Spirit of the West will Save This House at the Campground C Country Rock Music Festival in Whistler.

How many bands can say they survived a quarter of a century of album making and global tours?

Not many.

Spirit of the West continues to be a Canadian household sound with maple leaf anthems such as And If Venice is Sinking, Sadness Grows and Save This House. Who hasn’t spent an evening bouncing around to Home for a Rest at one time or another?

Even though the fivesome has moved onto solo projects, production management and families, the strength of the Canadian dollar and collapse of the West Coast movie industry brought John Mann, Spirit of the West frontman and now working silver screen star, back to the land of the silver birch with steady touring, including a guest appearance at the inaugural Campground C Country Rock Music Festival on Saturday, Aug. 25 in Whistler.

“It’s one of those things where we spent so much time and so much time and so many albums – I think 12 albums in 15 years – with constant touring and recording and a multi-album deal with Warner Canada,” said drummer Vince Ditrich from his Vancouver Island home. “We worked really hard and established ourselves firmly and permanently. We can no longer pound away at this pace any longer. We are going to explode. We all have kids, a little village of people. We value this connection we have more than we value just simply doing records and shows.”

Ditrich, Mann, Geoffrey Kelly, Hugh McMillan and Tobin Frank always keep their suitcases packed, or at least Ditrich does. He can still wake at 8:15 a.m., pack and make a 9 a.m. flight.

He chuckles at how his wife packs for a trip days in advance carefully organizing and selecting the perfect wardrobe.

“I never truly unpack,” he said. “To this day, my briefcase is always packed methodically. The passport goes in a certain pocket; my wallet is always in the same place. If you end up (performing) three times a day in three different locations, you learn to be organized. I’m kind of like Rainman, a little loonie.”

Doing the Colombo check of phone, wallet and ID every time he stands up from a restaurant, hotel or airport has become like breathing. Spirit of the West has shuttled around everything from clubs in the sticks to grand opera houses all over the globe.

Ditrich, a southern Albertan, now calls Nanoose Bay home. While his music collection doesn’t boast all of the Spirit of the West’s 12 albums – he kept giving them away to friends – the band’s gold and platinum records adorn his home, reminding him of both his commercial and personal successes.

When asked what album he takes greatest pride in, he differentiates his reply. Weights and Measures may have been commercially unsuccessful, but the album recorded in Britain was a high point both musically and artistically for Ditrich. Guest talents included the likes of Martin Bell, formerly of the Wonderstuff, and Shave the Monkey, who shared stages with Page and Plant. Home cooked meals and daily trips for pints at the Kingfisher Pub made the album experience memorable.

“We were just so damn happy to be there,” he said. “We had such a good time, did such good work and it sounds damn good.”

Facelift was the album where Spirit of the West first hit their stride. The signing of Warner Music to the album was what Ditrich called a crapshoot. He added discussion on the red tape of the music industry was at least a three-pint conversation.

Even though careers have edged the boys in new directions – Ditrich managing new bands such as Quinzy and House of Doc (coming to Whistler Dec. 7), Mann acting in blockbuster movies and Kelly sharing his Celtic flute capabilities on countless tours and albums – the Spirit of the West dream continues on and Ditrich’s briefcase remains packed and waiting.

For more information about the Campground C Country Rock Music Festival, visit

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