It’s sometimes the unexpected opportunities that lead you down the most interesting paths.
Shelley Chase’s opportunities over the past six or so years seem to be endless and varied — just the way she likes them.
“Whether it’s sitting on the floor with my friends, stuffing envelopes to do mailouts for The Once, or singing for 1,000 kids, I just roll with it and count my blessings,” said Chase, singer, producer, talent manager and co-owner of Garrison Hill Entertainment with Great Big Sea’s Bob Hallett. “I don’t question it too much because I’m worried it’ll go away.”
One of Chase’s most recent opportunities saw her producing “Spark” earlier this month, a speaking event featuring celebrity businessman Donald Trump, former New York mayor Rudy Guiliani and businessman and former Newfoundland and Labrador premier Danny Williams in St. John, N.B.
She hosted a similar event in Moncton, with KISS frontman Gene Simmons as keynote speaker, earlier this year.
The latest event, attended by more than 3,000 people, saw Trump, Guiliani and Williams sharing their stories of failure as well as success, stressing the importance of persistence.
It also saw Chase — a native of New Brunswick — and local musicians Chris Kirby and Karen and Maureen Ennis take to the stage to perform alongside New Brunswick artists.
Williams, the first to speak, was introduced with a medley of Newfoundland and Labrador songs, sung by Chase, while the two Ennis sisters, already on tour in the Maritimes, introduced Guiliani with a song they were commissioned to write after the 9/11 attacks called “So Many Angels.”
Chase and Kirby were among the group which brought Trump to the stage with a performance of “For the Love of Money,” the theme song to his TV series, “Celebrity Apprentice,” complete with pyrotechnics.
“When we started the event, he was still in New York City,” Chase said, adding Trump arrived in Saint John on his private jet and made it to the venue with just eight minutes to spare.
“The doors rolled up and the car drove in backstage and he hopped out of the car. It looked like something out of a movie.”
After his speech, Trump asked Chase and event organizer Brad LeBlanc if they’d like to come see his plane.
“It was white leather and gold, everywhere,” Chase said. “There were rooms. It was amazing.
“All three of them were just lovely men, so gracious and so sincerely interested in what we were doing and in the music and the place.”
Chase has been living in St. John’s for six years, having previously worked as an early childhood educator, day camp leader, entertainer and musical theatre instructor in New Brunswick.
Along with her brother, Bryon, Chase fronted the double-East Coast Music Award-nominated Celtic rock group Banshee, recording three albums and touring the continent.
The group’s last album was recorded at Great Big Studios in St. John’s in 2005, and that’s where Chase met Hallett, who encouraged her to move to St. John’s to form an artist management company.
“He said, ‘Look, I’ve got this idea. Nothing like this exists in Newfoundland for artists, and if we combine your skills and my skills and both our connections, we could create something really special that could serve as a launching pad,’” she explained.
The pair established Garrison Hill in 2005, with Shanneyganock and Snook as their first clients, and Chase made the move to St. John’s about a year later.
“As much as I love New Brunswick, for the type of music and things that we were doing, I feel that the best place is here in Newfoundland,” Chase said. “My brother was having children at that time and the whole Celtic rock thing was starting to die out, so I feel like it was a fairly natural progression, although I did have to cancel some gigs.”
These days, Garrison Hill has a roster that includes some of the province’s most high-profile comedians and folk artists: Shanneyganock and Snook are still there, as are The Once, the Dardanelles, John Sheehan and Jonny Harris. The company has a mandate to work with any artist that needs help, Chase said.
“If we can give them a hand, even if it’s just for the short term or for some advice or putting them in touch with the right people, we will. I’m not a lot of good for rock bands, but I can help them find a person who is,” Chase explained. “We totally take very seriously the fact that we’re here — we’re not a Toronto agency, we’re not a Halifax agency, and we want to be accessible.”
Garrison Hill’s newest addition to the roster is Shelley Bean, a.k.a. Chase, performing with The Duckety Muds, a band of folk musicians that includes Ennis, Kirby and Sherman Downey, among others.
As Bean, Chase has performed a number of gigs so far, including shows in St. John’s, at the Ontario Council of Folk Festivals last week and at the Stan Rogers Folk Festival in Nova Scotia in July.
She’s been invited to play at other Canadian folk festivals over the next year and the Children’s Festival at the Woodford Folk Festival in Australia, and will present a Christmas concert for children at Gower Street United Church the second weekend in December.
As Bean, Chase performs songs written by Darrin “Dill” Eck, a friend of hers from B.C. with whom she previously recorded three children’s albums. Eck passed away in 2010.
“There’s a children’s group out of B.C. called The Kerplunks, and their 2007 Juno-nominated album featured three songs by Dill,” Chase said. “I was the original singer with him on those, 20 years ago. When he passed away, I hadn’t done music in a while, and his family contacted me and asked me if I’d handle his catalogue of songs and if I would perform them again. That’s what’s happening.
“It’s neat because it’s family entertainment. I don’t like calling it children’s music. It’s fun for everybody. It’s really a beautiful body of work.”
There are about 60 songs, written by Eck, that Shelley Bean and the Duckety Muds are planning to record and release on albums.
They’ve received a grant from the Newfoundland and Labrador Arts Council to work on the first one, which Chase said they’ll start recording this winter.
After that, she said, they might throw in a few traditional tunes.
“That’s about four albums’ worth, so after that we’ll be Shelley Elderly and the Duckety Muds,” she said, laughing. “We also do traditional East Coast music, so we might do a ‘I’ll Tell Me Ma’ or ‘Fella From Fortune.’ The band definitely has that feeling, with fiddles and the flavour.”
Chase admits she’s got a lot going on, but said she loves how her life balances between wearing high-top sneakers as Shelley Bean or stilettos when attending business events, and how she’s comfortable in both. Her brand, she said, is herself.
“I told my mom that, and she said, ‘Ah, yes. I am what I am and that’s all I am. Who said that again?’ I was like, ‘Popeye?’” Chase said. “I thought that was a perfect example of the family I came from. We never take ourselves that seriously. You live everything that comes to you because it’s come to you.”