Pushing the comfort zone 

A large hole will be left in Whistler's musical community this week as Karen Thirlwall prepares to move on to other parts of the country.

Thirlwall has been a staple in the flourishing local music scene in the more than five years since she arrived in the resort from London, Ontario. Like most of us, it was the call of the mountains that lured Thirlwall west, but she recalls it wasn't long before she was exploring her musical callings.

"When I first arrived here, I had wanted to be close to Vancouver, but heard that there was work to be had in Whistler," says Thirlwall. "I was working at Dusty's. JJ Belanger was the manager at the time and wanted me to sing, even though he'd never heard me. The GLC had just opened... and he asked if I wanted to play Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday of the following week. I had to scramble to get songs together! I only knew about 30 and that wasn't nearly enough. I had a bunch of originals as well as covers and well, I wasn't that good!" she laughs.

Perhaps The Beatles' With a Little Help Form My Friends was on the set list that night. Thirlwall may have sung just a shade out of tune, but thanks in large part to two other pioneers on the scene, bar managers continued to flood her with gigs.

"I remember hearing about Pete and Chad playing at the Cinnamon Bear, and I was thinking 'That's what I want to do, that would be the best! If I can get into the Cinnamon Bear then I know I'm getting better.’

"And it was actually Chad who really helped me with vocal techniques, learning new songs. My ability to play guitar really wasn't very developed yet because I had just started playing. Chad was so supportive and really helped me with who to talk to, what to do and what my goals should be. Pete also helped me a ton over the next few months."

Thirlwall also owes Chad big for one particular night about four years ago when she attempted to do a Garf’s gig with laryngitis. Half way through her first set her voice decided to quit entirely and the microphone was silent. Chad just happened to finishing his show upstairs at La Brasserie, and without hesitiation, came to Thirlwall’s rescue, filling in for her on vocals for the rest of the evening.

Since then Thirlwall's sultry vocals have graced every live music venue in town, sometimes 10-15 times a week in peak periods. She recorded her first CD locally in Robbie D's studio. And her talents and career have continued to improve as Whistler has rapidly expanded in size and tourist numbers in just a few short years. She says she'll take a lot of positive lessons from such a challenging time in the country's fastest growing municipality.

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