Métis youth 'super excited' to perform at Dauphin's Countryfest

Years of performing in rural communities around western Manitoba have paid off for Caleb Rudkewich, who will be performing on stage at Dauphin's Countryfest in Dauphin, Man., for the first time this year.

21-year-old Caleb Rudkewich inspired by family's love of music

Caleb Rudkewich sings and plays guitar and harmonica at the Manitoba Métis Federation Northwest Regional Meeting in August of last year. (Northwest Métis Council/Facebook)

Years of performing in rural communities around western Manitoba have paid off for Caleb Rudkewich, who will be performing on stage at Dauphin's Countryfest in Dauphin, Man., for the first time this year.

Rudkewich, 21, grew up in the small Métis community of Reedy Creek, around 200 km northwest of Winnipeg in the province's Parkland region, with his mom, dad, and two younger sisters.

"Métis culture was programmed into me from such a young age," said Rudkewich.

"Everybody's a community and a family and we sort of work together for the good of all the households."

Rudkewich grew up listening to his family sing and play guitar which helped to spark his passion for performing.

"We'd all get together in grandma and grandpa's living room and sit in a circle and take turns singing songs."

He started to play guitar at the age of eight and started writing his own songs at 15. So far, Rudkewich has written close to 16 original songs as well as 11 currently unfinished ones. They consist of feel-good tunes, songs about girls, and songs about small town life.

Rudkewich's first public performance was at 14 when he was asked to play at a Remembrance Day ceremony where he sang If You're Reading This by Tim McGraw. He has been asked to perform at many events since then but getting a call from Dauphin's Countryfest was something he wasn't expecting.

"Holy man, I was super excited," he said. "It's a huge opportunity for me that I've never even anticipated."

Some performers that Rudkewich is excited to see at Countryfest include David Lee Murphy, Nitty Gritty Dirt Band and Platinum Blonde.

"It's crazy, Platinum Blonde is playing on the same stage as me," he said.

Athletic wins at NAIG

It hasn't always been easy for Rudkewich, however. In his teenage years he had Sever's Disease, a condition associated with puberty where the different growth rates of bone and muscle cause swelling and pain in the foot.

Rukewich was diagnosed with the condition at 12. This prevented him from playing sports for long hours or from walking barefoot for too long. Despite it, he did track and field in school and in Grade 10 and 11 became one of the top eight in the province for long jump.

"You're not supposed to exert yourself too much," he said.

"It was tough on my ankles and my feet and my legs and lots of times after track I'd have to sit down and take it easy to stop it from hurting pretty bad."

Rudkewich went on to win two medals at the North American Indigenous Games in 2017 for Team Manitoba — a bronze medal in High Jump and the silver medal with Team Manitoba in the 4x100m relay.

Caleb celebrates at the North American Indigenous Games (NAIG) in 2017. NAIG is a multi-sport event involving Indigenous North American athletes ages 14-19. The 2020 games will be held in Halifax. (MMF Northwest Métis Council Inc.)

Rudkewich is also a youth member on the Manitoba Métis Federation's Northwest Youth Advisory Committee. In many of his performances around the Parkland region, Rudkewich can be seen wearing his Métis sash.

Rudkewich is interested in learning Michif and someday performing a song in the Métis language.

"I've heard Métis musician Ron Burwash play and I'd be interested in learning some songs off of him and learning more about the Métis way of life back then."

When he is not singing, Rudkewich does mechanical work on vehicles with his dad and yard work around the community but he said his dream is to be performing music for a living.

"I know it's a long shot and is every teenager's dream to live off your music but that would be the perfect thing and I would have a good time doing it," said Rudkewich.

"For me, I sing everywhere I can. Like when people ask me 'Caleb can you do this?' Absolutely. I play anywhere I can and I play as much as I can."

After his debut at Dauphin's Countryfest on June 29, Rudkewich hopes to make an album this summer.