For the past five years, Allen Banner has had a blast coordinating the music and entertainment for the Canadian Cancer Society’s Relay for Life.
He was first asked because his predecessor was stepping down. Considering his connection with the music industry — Banner is a musician himself — it just made sense, he said, and he’s never looked back.
“It’s a great committee and it’s a great cause,” Banner said. “Very few of us are not affected by some direct or indirect way [by cancer].”
For him, that was 10 years ago, when his father was diagnosed, and passed away, from cancer.
“So volunteering for something in the community just makes sense,” Banner said.
And it fit with his interest in music. Banner is essentially creating a mini-music festival that runs alongside the fight for cancer. And this community, he said, has shown tremendous support over the years, donating from between $80,000 and $120,000 towards a cause that helps so many.
“Calling on people is sometimes a challenge,” he acknowledged.
But the musicians, the entertainers of this community have always stepped up to the plate, and each year is something a little different, but something special.
“People are generally very positive,” Banner said. “A charity like this, I don’t have any problem.”
That’s for the whole event: from the stage, to yoga, to kickboxing and dancing, there’s always a wide variety of things to see, listen, and sometimes try.
“It’s a fun thing to do, it’s a great cause, so there’s very little reason not to do it actually,” Banner said.
The day-time event was praised by Banner, who’s seen his job get much simpler now that he doesn’t have to recruit for a 3 a.m. show.
“We feel that’s a better approach,” Banner said. “In terms of entertainment, you can have someone playing all the time.”
Looking to the future, there will always be a need for volunteers, he said, encouraging all the younger people to come on down, see what happens, and think about what it took to put that together. It’s not just the Relay for Life; volunteers are often the life-blood of any event, but if nobody’s there to fill the committee’s shoes when they decide to retire, they could easily be lost.
The situation is one that has Banner in a conundrum: growing up, volunteering has always been a part of his, and his children’s, life.
“We’ve always volunteered … it’s just something I feel that everybody should do a little bit of,” Banner said. “That’s how things get done.”
And it can be incredibly rewarding, he said. With the relay, often hundreds come down to show support, just an amazing sight for a community this size.
He’s been fortunate, planning this is Smithers he said, where there’s such a wide variety of acts he generally doesn’t have a problem mixing it up. After all, you don’t want two heavy-rock bands next to each other.
“There’s so much diversity, so to find entertainers for something like that is a bit of work.”
This year is already shaping up to be quite the show, he said. Tony Harris will be emceeing again, and Mark Perry, the Non-Prophet Society, Valley Youth Fiddlers, the Local Vocals, Tree Bomb, Twisted String all confirmed, with Elan Farkvam singing the luminary song at midnight.
“We pray for sunny weather,” Banner said.
This year’s Relay takes place on June 4 and starts at 1 p.m. to 1 a.m., with luminaries and an honourary to go through to 7 a.m. the morning of June 5.
Luminaries are a nice way to end the evening, Banner said; with hundreds of white paper bags, often decorated by survivors or family members, lit from the inside that go around the entire track at Chandler. It can be quite dramatic, Banner said.
Anyone who wants to volunteer can contact the Canadian Cancer Society office in Smithers at 250-847-0230. Banner would encourage anyone to help, even if it’s just for a few hours that day, as it’s been an amazing, and incredibly rewarding, experience for him.