Many of us were first exposed to Troy Cook through his multiple artistic murals found throughout the town of Fernie, at Rip N Richards (now the Bridge Bistro), Jamochas Coffee shop along the highway (now a residential home), in the Central Hotel Bar (now Himalayan Spice Bistro), and next to the Raging Elk Hostel. They were hard to miss, unlike anything else you had ever seen. So alive, colourful and captivating.
Around the time I first got to know Troy’s art, The Gathering was taking place at Island Lake Lodge - a small music festival still held dear in all who attended’s hearts. I recently met with Troy to learn about his long involvement and commitment to Fernie’s music and art scene and was surprised (but not) to learn of his being a big part of this as well. It made me far more intrigued to learn just how Troy became the Big Bubba Cook we all know and love.
“I think I was about 13 or 14 when I got into music,” Troy tells me. “My buddy got a guitar and wanted me to play with him, so I picked up a bass. I’ve always been a big fan of music since I was a kid, collecting records from garage sales and such. It was my thing.”
Troy grew up in Fernie, and asks if I remember Album Alley. I don’t, but he so vividly describes it I feel like I do. “We used to live in there, there were so many records. You’d save up your money and buy 45s, it was cool.”
He admits that at the time it was tough to buy instruments in Fernie, and there weren’t any opportunities at school. So it was when he went to College that he really dove into music. “I got into writing songs and becoming a song writer, bought a B.C. Rich guitar and practiced and practiced.” Troy was in school for journalism, but ‘like a lot of us’ he had a summer job at the mine and ended up staying longer than intended. “I became a miner by accident,” he says with a laugh.
Where Troy went, music happened. He started a trio called the Green Winos. “We were kind of acoustic punk rock. We toured across BC a couple of times. Then we started getting to know people in the music scene, and would rent the Elks Hall and get music there.” Not long after, Jeff Samin who was with the Arts Station approached Troy for help with their own musical bookings. “I’ve been there twenty years now, booking the Concert Series,” he says.
Next the Rocky Mountain Festival took place which he helped with, and then Scott Schmidt and Keith Greeninger approached Troy with a festival they were looking to host at Island Lake. “So we built The Gathering, created the Meadow for the stage, and people camped over the weekend. It was magical… Keith is such a soulful guy, and he brought soulful people with him. It rubbed off on us, we learned from him.”
The Gathering got ‘full on’ as Troy remembers, and sadly ended before many of us had the chance to experience it (sigh). But Troy’s musicality continued, convincing a friend who was nervous to join him and his brother to form Big Bubba Tres, which toured across Western Canada and still performs.
When a new festival was on the horizon in Fernie, of course Troy played a part. He and his good friend Kevin McIsaac were ‘dreaming it up’ and Kevin got more people involved to make it happen. “I helped out more in the beginning, but now I’m a worker bee and help with the stage and MC.” While he loves being a part of it, and the music scene in general Troy is focusing on his visual art. “I want to get to the point where I can make a living at it,” he tells me. Recently diagnosed with Cancer, Troy dedicated himself to producing a piece of art every day which he posts on social media. “It’s my cancer gallery,” he tells me. “It’s how I’m coping. It’s therapeutic. I’m raw all of the time, kind of like how honesty strikes you. You become way more present, the internal clock is reset and time slows down.”
Troy believes that art adds a dimension to a person, allowing them to share a part of themselves through a medium. He also feels as though it betters the community. “Music and art drag people out,” he tells me. “It becomes part of what you do. The Wednesday Concert Series, Wapiti… it becomes more than about the music.”
While Troy is being faced with one of the most intimidating moments of his life, he is showing his true colours and producing work reminiscent of what first drew us to him. And he has more in the works. While ‘creating a war chest of visual art’ is at the forefront, he also albums to finish recording and art shows and music shows on the horizon. Like me, I don’t think you’ll be surprised to learn Whitney Houston is the inspiration…
Thanks, Troy. For bringing music to our ears and brightening our days in Fernie.
1. When did you first arrive in Fernie and what brought you here?I was born here in 1969, so birth brought me here. And I was born where the Pub is now. So when I’m in the Pub and people ask where I’m born, I say right here!
2. Who did you first meet in town? My first friend that I can remember… Fred Nohels. We grew up together. Grade two! I don’t remember grade one much, but that’s a lasting friendship for sure.
3. Do you remember your first general impression of Fernie? Well growing up here it was a coal mining town, so it had hope. When something new came to town, you could see potential and cool things happened.
4. What keeps you here? Well I mean the people and the beauty of the town, and it’s still a hopeful place. I couldn’t live anywhere else. There’s no way. Unless I could afford to have two homes, as I always need to be here. Especially after what I’ve been through. It’s cemented me.
5. Do you have a favourite Fernie memory or pastime?Seeing the Rheostatics play on The Gathering stage. That was magic. I don’t think I could have blowed my mind better than that.
6. What time of the year do you love most in Fernie, and why? I love the fall. The colours, the leaves, the temperatures right for me. Wood chopping weather.
7. Where do you see or hope to see Fernie in five years? Oh I think a bit of growth but the continuation of what we’ve been seeing. Slow, thoughtful growth in all kinds of ways. I don’t long for much.
8. How do you start your day or what is one of your daily rituals? Well I usually get up and write or draw for about an hour, or play music. Have a bite to eat and go to work. Sometimes I work out when I’m not riddled with cancer.
9. Tell us something people might be surprised to learn about you. I collect Kentucky Fried Chicken memorabilia.
10. Quote to live by:Face death, then walk back into life. Got it from Paul Dewar.