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Flyfest: A Musical Tribute to Marvin “The Fly” Kee

In conversation with some of the artists who were closest to the late Calgary music insider.

by Sebastian Buzzalino

Photos by Ainsley Christine

A music scene is nothing without the cool cats and street-walkin’ cheetahs that inhabit stages, ad-hoc green rooms, and late-night alleys. A quintessential example, Marvin “The Fly” Kee was a staple in the Calgary community for more than 30 years, since he first performed live in the ‘80s. In 2023, after a long battle with cancer (during which he may have slowed down, but never disappeared from live stages across town), Kee passed away and left a gaping hole in the hearts of his peers and collaborators far and wide. Kee was the kind of presence at a venue that softened the edges of everything within the subtle glow of his aura, a warm-hearted multi-instrumentalist that loved music irrespective of genre: flamenco, funk, punk, indie, soul, groove, The Fly flitted between it all with practiced ease. 

The only way for those that came after to keep such a flame burning bright is to lean into what has already been started in the scene, and to keep that going for as long as possible. This year, the Snow Melter mini-fest, a late winter thaw out of Calgary’s Music Mile, kicks things off with a day-long, all-out tribute to The Fly on Saturday, April 27. Acoustic performances from past collaborators, including Sydney Zadravec, Chris Van Kier, and Ainsley Christine, alongside full performances from key collaborators from The Fly’s career (Sargeant X Comrade, La Mosca, Deicha & the VuDudes, The Ex-Boyfriends) form the day’s main attractions, while a jazz funeral procession and the reveal of a new mural design by Alex Kwong celebrate Kee’s endless spirit. 

RANGE reached out to several key players in Flyfest — Scott Morin, Music Mile VP and Juno-winning musician; Yolanda Sargeant of Sargeant X Comrade; Sydney Zadravec of Tom Phillips & the DTs, Red Hot Hayseeds, Virago, and the Torchettes; and Michael Paton of The Ex-Boyfriends — to gather around the wood once more and swap stories of a figure that remains a bright light in Calgary’s lore. 

(Editor’s Note: answers have been edited for clarity and brevity.)

How and when did you meet Marvin on the scene?

Yolanda Sargeant: When I was 16 years old, every second Friday I would head downtown after school to go shopping or grab a bubble tea. During my walks, I would consistently see a man who resembled a rockstar, dressed entirely in black with dreadlocks and a guitar case on his back. He always gave the impression that he was en route to a musical performance. I always imagined what the venues he played looked like and what kind of music. I just knew he was special. But what I didn’t know is that he would become a brother to me. 

One night we went to go see some friends perform at Vicious Circle. When we walked in, I saw him. Still not knowing his name and still very shy, I needed an excuse to talk to him. I strolled up to Marvin and asked him if he wanted a chocolate bar. He said yes and introduced himself.  

Scott Morin: I first met Marvin in 1993 with the High Rollers. I believe the very first meeting was when I was asked to join a rehearsal for their Highwood Music Festival 1993 gig, with a substitute horn section that I was a part of. I walked into the rehearsal space and I thought I had just met Terence Trent D’arby. I just remember thinking how beautiful this cat is. 

Sydney Zadravec: I first met Marvin in 2018 when I first stepped into the Torchettes. Our first gig was just Deicha, Marvin on acoustic guitar, and myself at Swans. I was nervous as could be, I hadn’t even turned 18 yet.

Michael Paton: Details are obscured by the mists of time and the fog of drinks. It was the ’90s, a bar where bands were playing. I’m envisioning the Pepper Pot for some reason. Marvin most likely initiated the meet, ’cause he was the most outgoing guy.



What is a special early memory of your time with Marvin?

SM: My earliest real memory with Marvin was playing the previously mentioned Highwood 1993 Festival with Marvin and the High Rollers. As far as I know, this was the first band Marvin was in, and man, they were freaking stars in Calgary in the early-to-mid 90s. There were a few funky bands back then that I remember today so vividly: Difference Engine, Interstellar Root Cellar, and The High Rollers. No one was as cool as the High Rollers. 

What I remember really vividly was that this edition of Highwood, at least on our night, was being hosted by Tommy Chong. Tommy was playing little mini-sets in between the bands as they set up and I remember thinking, “I didn’t know Tommy Chong played music!” I only knew him from the Cheech and Chong movies! Of course, Tommy is originally from Calgary, so it was super cool that he was back, emceeing this big festival. Well, Marvin was the cat that talked me into going out on stage with Tommy. Tommy waved me on, but I was too nervous. Marvin was like, “You’ll never forgive yourself if you don’t jump in.”  So I did, and I played the blues with Tommy Chong in front of thousands at Highwood Festival, before the High Rollers and myself went on stage and killed it. Afterwards, Tommy gave Marvin and I the ultimate 90s honour: we smoked a joint with Tommy Chong! I’ll never forget that night.

SZ: My first memory was my first rehearsal with the Torchettes. Though I’d certainly seen Marv around in the city before, it’s hard to pinpoint an exact time or date. I could tell he was a bit hesitant at first: I was a timid, young gal stepping into a total powerhouse project, so I got it. But it wasn’t long before Marvin became one of my biggest supporters in my journey through music and I’m forever grateful for his friendship and guidance.


What is your favourite memory of playing with Marvin? 

YS: I can’t break down a special moment or show that I played with Marvin because all our interactions were such a miracle. He was truly a light. After he was diagnosed, he continued to play with us. I told him that he didn’t have to play if he was tired from chemotherapy, but he wanted to. He said when it became too much, he would let me know and that performing was vital to his healing journey, because he didn’t want to stay at home in bed and wilt away and become depressed. 

We started putting a huge rose quartz on the stage to amplify the feeling of love in the room in hopes that the energy being collected would heal him. Marvin and I had a lot of inside jokes and we would literally just laugh for hours. He will always be such a positive force in my life. He taught me more than I will ever know. His heart was huge, and he had a love for everyone and accepted people for who they were and could see the potential in others. One of the greatest gifts I have been given in this lifetime was his friendship. I miss everything about him, especially his smile. 

SM: My favourite memory of playing with Marvin was last February 26, when he joined my band PurpleJazz in our monthly tribute to Prince over at The Ironwood Stage and Grill. Marvin and I discussed playing our favourite Prince tunes, “Pop Life,” “Mountains” and “Sometimes it Snows in April.” We had so much fun playing the music of our all-time favourite artists together that night. Little did any of us know that Marvin would pass away three weeks later. Those three songs will always be in our set list, especially “Mountains,” which was Marvin’s JAM. 

To connect with someone so deeply over the shared love for a singular artist like Prince helps build the deepest of all bonds. I’ll never forget the nights we spent listening to Prince’s music and talking about his influence. Those were the best times I ever had with Marvin and formulated my deepest memories of this beautiful, soulful cat that inspired so many people. 

SZ: It’s difficult to pick one, but my favourite memory is probably recording 100 Days, 100 Nights for the Calgary Folk Music Festival Cover Art album. The energy in that room, the lineup, and especially the groove that Marvin laid down took me back in time. Collaborating in that way for such a cool project is something I’ll always cherish. 

MP: We played a New Year’s Eve show at an unlicensed art space. Marvin, of course, showed up with a two-four of cheap domestic beer, his favourite, and spent half the show freely handing out cans to anyone and everyone.


Snow Melter presents FlyFest on Saturday, April 27 | TICKETS & INFO