Ezra Cipes and his daughter Ruth of Oots n’ Oots enjoy entertaining festivalgoers at the 2018 Salmon Arm Roots and Blues Festival. (Martha Wickett/Salmon Arm Observer)

Youthful singer infuses lyrics with soul at Salmon Arm Roots and Blues

Okanagan family-band Oots n’ Oots, featuring 11-year-old lead singer, delights festival audiences

The Oot n’ Oots, an upbeat, fun-loving family band, was born three years ago from the vocal splendour of an eight-year-old girl.

Truly a family band, they are made up of four adult brothers – Matthew, Ezra, Gabe and Ari Cipes – and 11-year-old Ruth, Ezra’s daughter. The family has a farm in Kelowna.

Ezra explains that the family’s first professional gig with Ruth took place in 2015. Matthew, the oldest, had played in bands and was the inspiration for the others to pick up instruments and play together. Ezra and Gabe had since been working as recording artists and touring and session musicians.

The brothers invited Ruth to join them near the end of the set.

“We did our set and the last three songs, she got up with us. She completely stole the show; it was like nothing before that mattered,” Ezra smiles. “That was the start of the band. It was undeniable.”

The Oots n’ Oots delighted both young and old at this year’s Salmon Arm Roots and Blues Festival. Although it was the band’s first time playing at the festival, they’ve attended several times. Ruth has been going to music festivals since she was a baby.

Related: Roots and Blues fill out their roster

Theirs has been a musical family throughout the generations. Ruth’s Grandpa Steve would play boogie woogie piano and get all the children jumping around.

“It was like a magic trick and we wanted to get in on that magic trick,” says Ezra.

Ruth began her appreciation for music as a wee one. She had a thing for Elvis, then Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Wanda Jackson and Patsy Cline.

“When Ruth started singing, she started singing with a real swagger at a very young age,” Ezra smiles. “When she was really little it would crack everybody up, because it was coming from such a little person. She would sing Twinkle Twinkle Little Star like a blues singer.”

When she was seven, she started doing open mic, with her dad accompanying her. Not only did she have a rich, deep voice, she would write her own songs. At six or seven she wrote “Where the Purple Geese Fly” and “Saturday’s a Sadder Day.”

Ruth explains the latter song: Her mom Rio (who loves music but doesn’t perform) would go to the farmer’s market on Saturdays, so she and Ezra would have “Dad and Ruthie day.” The song title refers to the times they weren’t able to have their special day.

“Saturday’s a sadder day when I’m not with you.”

Related: In Photos – Roots & Blues Day 1

Ezra recounts the Roots and Blues Festival in 2014 when Mavis Staples of the Staple Singers headlined.

The security guards took a couple of kids, including Ruth, inside to visit.

“Mavis Staples was singing to her. It was almost like she bestowed her blessing on Ruth,” says Ezra.

Adds Ruth: “I hadn’t heard of her before and now I love her music.”

All of the Oots n’ Oots write songs, and sometimes they write together. Ruth says she takes guitar lessons and practises almost every day.

Ezra notes that in their mud room sits an organ and a piano.

“We’ll start a jam when we’re trying to get our shoes on.”

The song “I Like it Saucy,” in the style of David Bowie early-’70s glam rock, came to life at the dinner table when Ruth was asking her mom for more sauce. She and her dad created it.

Ruth is an only child but has lots of cousins. She says she enjoys playing music with her dad and uncles.

“We’re always being silly. That’s what we do, that’s what our band is… We’re always making jokes, coming up with silly songs.”

Related: In Photos – Day 2 and the Salmon Arm Roots & Blues Festival

Asked if such a close family gets along well, Ezra says most of the time.

“Our dad tells a story about – he was an ambitious young man – he had an idea to broker peace in the Middle East.”

His rabbi told him that if you want peace in the world, first you must have peace in your family, Ezra explains.

“So you work at that every day.”

The band took time off touring recently so Ruth could attend summer camp. She says kids treat her like anyone else, although at camp she told someone about the band and they asked her to sing a song. She sang, “I Like it Saucy.”

“Then the kids were singing it – older kids, younger kids, the counsellors, they were asking me to sing it.”

At the festival she was on crutches, after injuring her foot jumping off a bunk bed. She was also dealing with a cold, which meant singing was difficult with her sore throat – so she did less than normal. One good friend told her she is his hero, because he knew everything she was going through.

For the future, Ruth says she’d like to be a musician – a singer, a songwriter, a performer. But she might also like to try working as a producer or a recording engineer.

“I would say she’s on a path in music, however that unfolds,” says Ezra. “We’re just enjoying the journey, it’s so much fun, it’s great. We meet so many amazing people along the way.”


@SalmonArm
marthawickett@saobserver.net

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