When Sandy Dunkley returned to Langley from Nashville following the tragic death of her son, the long-time songwriter and entertainment guru told her husband she was done with the music business.
“My heart was not to do this again,” she said, explaining that the years of travelling, long nights and constant meetings had sometimes taken away from her time at home.
“But the Lord had other plans.”
With a voice much bigger than her 15-year-old frame lets on, Kaiya Horvat fills a small café in Walnut Grove with the sounds of Christmas — carols and festive classics — in three-part harmony courtesy of brother, Cole, and father, Ron.
The Horvat Family Band has been playing together virtually since birth, but only recently have started to see their success grow, locally.
“The main thing I wanted these children to have was the experience of being on stage a lot,” said Ron, who is part of a local pub band himself.
He wants them to be ready to go solo — musically or otherwise — with the confidence that comes with getting over stage nerves and learning that the show must go on.
Less than a year ago the family was playing one or two shows a month, busking, singing at weddings and school performances.
Then they met Dunkley.
She and her Lang ley talent agency, Just Great Sights ’n’ Sounds, work with local entertainers to raise their profile, while helping local groups find stellar local talent for community events, fundraisers and anything in-between.
Now the Horvats play six to eight gigs a month. When Dunkley calls, the family has the gear packed and ready to go, knowing that the next show could be anywhere from a month to days away.
“We brace ourselves,” quipped 13-year-old Cole, making Kaiya and Ron laugh.
If there’s opportunity out there, Dunkley wants to give them a shot at exposure, and the Horvats are always ready to jump at the chance. Since meeting Dunkley, through Kaiya’s involvement with the local amateur Shakespeare company, Bard in the Valley, they’ve played bigger and bigger events, from the Christmas tea fundraiser hosted by the wives of Langley Township and City mayors, to Fort Langley’s landmark fall Cranberry Festival last October.
Dunkley started Just Great Sights ’n Sounds last spring in a tiny office inside the house she used to call home. She sold the house to her son, Langley firefighter Ron Dunkley, when she and her husband moved to Nashville in 2000. There, Dunkley worked as a downtown business manager for a local tour company, drawing off her own experience as a songwriter, entertainer and driving force behind the Nashville Songwriter’s Association and B.C. Songwriter’s Showcase Association.
The couple returned to the house in 2011, after Ron was struck by a train in Seattle in November 2010. He succumbed to his injuries two months later in Harborview Medical Center. The couple gave away almost all their possessions in Nashville, as they rushed to Seattle to be by his side, and the home has remained largely untouched ever since, with Ron’s sports memorabilia filling nearly every wall and his white pickup — the last place Sandy was together with her son before his death — still parked in the driveway.
“By being in this house, with all of Ronnie’s things around, it just always makes me feel like he’s still around us,” she said, explaining that her faith has kept her grounded throughout the last few difficult years.
But all those memories can be overwhelming as well, and Dunkley knew she had to stay occupied.
“I have to be busy, I cannot just sit around and think about Ronnie. And that’s all I ever did, I’d go over to the cemetery a 100 times a day.”
Then came Just Great Sights ’n’ Sounds, which Dunkley started after volunteering on several Langley City committees and seeing the potential of the area’s young performers which wasn’t being showcased.
“I’m sitting there and I’m thinking, ‘Man, these people are good. They have to be seen.’”
“Where that was going to happen, I had no idea,” said Dunkley. “I just knew I had to do it.”
Through her community involvement and a desire to make things happen, events and acts started falling into place.
Dunkley now has a three-page roster of local acts to call on, some of which are now headed for recording contracts, with more requests for her services from event organizers coming every day.
The one thing she won’t do is give herself a payday. For Dunkley, being paid “ruins” the experience, one that for her is all about giving back to the community and giving young talented people a chance – something she said defined Ron at his core.
She hopes to keep this spirit alive through her talent agency work and through the Ron Dunkley Memorial Society which, among other projects, runs a yearly blood drive in his memory.
“My reward is seeing people who I believe in have a chance to move forward and become what they dream of being rather than just sit and hope that something might come their way,” Dunkley said.
“I enjoy trying to make things happen for people. It is probably my greatest joy.”
Just Great Sights ’n’ Sounds can be found online at justgreatsightsnsounds.com.
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