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Rainmaker acts perform loud and proud

Country and rock lineups laden with talent

By: Anna Borowiecki

  |  Posted: Wednesday, May 21, 2014 06:00 am

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  • GOING BIG – Big Sugar headlines Rainmaker rock night.
    GOING BIG – Big Sugar headlines Rainmaker rock night.
    Supplied photo
  • GOING WIDE – Wide Mouth Mason, or WMM, will rock the crowd at the Rainmaker.
    GOING WIDE – Wide Mouth Mason, or WMM, will rock the crowd at the Rainmaker.
  • GOING HARD – Tim Hicks headlines a solid lineup of artists who will perform during Rainmaker's country night.
    GOING HARD – Tim Hicks headlines a solid lineup of artists who will perform during Rainmaker's country night.
  • GOING STRONG – Hall of fame performer Michelle Wright is still writing, recording and performing.
    GOING STRONG – Hall of fame performer Michelle Wright is still writing, recording and performing.

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Rainmaker Rodeo
May 23 to 25
Friday Concert with Big Sugar, Wide Mouth Mason, Heavyside and Canyon Rose Outfit
Gates open at 6 p.m.
Kinsmen Park
47 Riel Dr.
Tickets: $39.99 plus fees Gate admission $59.99
Saturday Concert with Tim Hicks, Michelle Wright, Jake Mathews and Sarah Beth Keeley
Gate opens at 6 p.m.
Kinsmen Park
47 Riel Dr.
Tickets: $59.99 plus fees. Gate admission $69.99 Visit or Crown & Tower and Beer Hunter outlets
No minors

Tired of listening to indoor bar music? Just put on your cowboy hat, grab your jean jacket and saddle up for the Rainmaker Rodeo.

Now in its 49th incarnation, the Rainmaker is just the place for visitors to wet their whistles and soak up the sounds of some of the hottest rock and country entertainment.

It doesn’t take much for headliners Tim Hicks or Big Sugar to riff one of their biggest hits from a broad arsenal of music. And to kick off the party groove, they’re bringing a bucketload of secret ammo – spontaneity and a funny bone.

The Rainmaker is traditionally a three-day event for the whole family, with rodeo events, concerts, a midway and market vendors. This year’s popular three-day whoop-de-doo runs May 23 to 25 at Kinsmen Park.

Kicking off this modern twist on the old west are two days of concerts. Some entertainers are fresh faces, others have developed a more iconic stature.

Friday rock night launches the rodeo featuring arena style performers Big Sugar, Wide Mouth Mason, Heavyside and Morinville’s own Canyon Rose Outfit.

The Saturday country night concert plays a central role at the rodeo. It presents breakthrough artist Tim Hicks, Canadian Country Hall of Famer Michelle Wright, Jake Mathews and Sarah Beth Keeley.

Below is a quick roundup of featured acts.

Big Sugar

The brightest star on Friday night is Big Sugar, an outstanding band that has built a reputation for its thundering rock shows.

A Canadian reggae-rock band active from 1991 to 2004 and again since April 2010, the five-piece just released a new full-length CD entitled Yard Style. It is 13-tracks of languidly paced percussion-heavy acoustic reggae.

“In Jamaica or the West Indies, people live in tenements with a central yard. Everyone gathers there for recreation, to have a feast or even to gather water from a well. It’s very social. It’s called yard style. That was the mood we tried to capture. We gathered musical friends, sat in a circle and played our songs,” says founder Gordie Johnson.

“It was so easy to do when you plunk a banjo or bang drums without monitors and headphones. We just sang in our usual form and kept it going.”

When Johnson and his cool Rasta brethren – Willi Williams, Kelly “Mr. Chill” Hoppe, Garry Lowe and Christopher “Friendlyness” Hatton – step onto the Rainmaker stage, they plan to keep fans groovin’ with an explosive blend of spicy rock.

“We have new electric recordings in various states of completion. There will be a lot of energy, vitality and spontaneity. We could have a perfect script, but we’re not actors. Big Sugar always leaves lots of room for improvisation. We allow it to happen. It keeps us in the moment.”

Wide Mouth Mason

WMM as they refer to themselves is a soul power trio composed of Shaun Verreault (lead vocals/guitar), Safwan Javed (vocals-drums) and Gordie Johnson (vocals/bass).

Originally from Saskatchewan in 1995, they earned their chops in Edmonton playing local bars such as Blues on Whyte and The Sidetrack. While in the area, they often visited St. Albert’s Ross Damude, a like-minded guitarist who mentored the trio on the music industry.

Throughout its lifetime, the two-time Juno nominated threesome has released seven albums. No Bad Days, their latest CD produced by Johnson was released in July 2011.

“We called it No Bad Days because we have a calm and constant presence in our lives. We are very grounded.

Since they live in different cities, it creates a hurdle for songwriting meets. And it’s premature to say when the next recording will hit the web.

“We’re continually writing new material. We amass a bunch of ideas and then get together for a few days and we write quickly. We play it in front of people and see if it works and then go to the studio and record it live off the floor. When we record we want to be more like a documentary than a blockbuster,” Verreault said.

WWM often tag teams with Big Sugar and they are promising an energetic show.

“We’re bringing a mix of album tracks and surprises. We give lots of room to respond, not just to each other, but also to the audience.”

Canyon Rose Outfit

Canyon Rose Outfit has been a local mainstay for a decade, however Rainmaker 2014 marks their debut on the Kinsmen stage.

“I’m excited. I haven’t been there, but I heard bands I liked had a good time playing there,” said vocalist Christan Maslyk.

The fivesome, with Justin Perkins (guitar), Mat Harrison (bass), Alex Pelletier (trumpet) and Jesse Gauthier (drums) has recorded two full-length albums and an EP.

The band, which started off with a rootsy vibe, has shifted away from country. Their last album, Wilted Rose, is a mix of old and new songs capturing a harder rock edge.

“I feel like the first album was a mix of musical styles. We’re a collection of different musicians, so it’s hard to be on the same page. We have different personalities and we listen to different music. It can be hard to focus our sound. That’s where we’re at – trying to focus our sound.”

Since January, the band has been on a temporary hiatus and the Rainmaker will be their first show of the spring-summer circuit.

“Having different musicians allows for more sonic possibilities. I like that we keep surprising each other on stage. We like to keep it loose and leave room for improvisation. It keeps us on our toes when you hear someone doing something different.”

Tim Hicks

It was 10 years of the bar circuit before two-time Juno nominee Tim Hicks was plucked out of obscurity.

“I’ve played every chicken wing bar from here to Ottawa singing everything from Garth Brooks to the Beatles,” said Hicks, the feature headliner at Saturday’s country night.

“I know 20 guys who go play every week. I’ve just been lucky to have the sound people like.”

The hardworking family man based out of St. Catherines, Ont. garnered a lot of industry and fan attention after his debut single Get By hit the Top 10 at Country Radio in less than eight weeks.

A follow-up debut album Throw Down in August 2013 debuted as the No. 1 Canadian Country album on the Nielsen Soundscan Album Chart.

“After Get By came out, my Twitter feed lit up. I had just got Twitter and it was a real eye-opening experience in my career – the interaction between me and my fans.”

To date he’s released four singles from his album – Get By, which reached gold certification; Hell Raisin’ Good Time; Buzz, Buzz, Buzzing and Got A Feeling.

Hicks will ride to the Rainmaker with a five-piece support band. His posse includes Andrew MacTaggert (guitar), Chris Altmann (banjo-steel guitar), Doug Elash (bass), Rob Wells (drums) and Graham Mallary (guitar).

He dreams of one day leading a big band similar to Paul McCartney’s Wings.

“But it’s always important to remember where I came from and keep it real.”

Michelle Wright

Even though Michelle Wright has lived most of her professional career in Nashville, she is one of the most recognized and awarded female country artists in Canada.

She was inducted into the Canadian Country Hall of Fame in 2011 and her primary success has been in her native country where she charted more than 25 singles including six No. 1 hits.

“I’m in a great place. I have a happy, fulfilling life with a beautiful husband and great friends. I don’t like to suggest it’s a walk in the park, but I have a lot of gratitude about life and my career,” said Wright.

Her latest world release, Strong, is the sum of experiences that have formed who she is today. It reflects an inner confidence and sense of empowerment from overcoming struggles.

It’s about grabbing a quick bite and putting gas in the tank before hitting the next gig. It came from performing for soldiers in Afghanistan and learning that just behind her Capt. Nichola Goddard was the first female soldier killed in combat.

It reflected the pain of being told her good friend and business manager has contracted Lou Gehrig’s disease and there is no cure. And it’s about being a humanitarian; travelling to Zambia and joining World Vision to help the AIDS-ravaged population.

“I had just started to write and I found it positively overwhelming. As my writing evolved, the song Strong became the title song. It was a feeling I had.”

Wright has earned her spurs many times over. Today she views herself as an interpreter of music and the universal human understanding.

“We are interpreters of life and its experiences. And we all have very similar life experiences, needs, wants, desires and disappointments.”

Jake Mathews

Singer-songwriter Jake Mathews may be Gil Grand’s younger brother, but he’s blazing his own country trail.

Primarily a pickup musician, he’s also spent three years in Nashville’s publishing industry flying back and forth from his Calgary home.

“Working for a publishing development company really focused my songwriting,” Mathews said.

Riding the crest of single-by-single releases, Mathews has dropped two fun songs with a laid-back vibe from his six-song EP. Beer Necessities is pretty self-explanatory and A Woman and a Song wanders into relationship territory.

At the Rainmaker, Mathews’ support team includes Morinville’s Chad Melchert (drums), Darcy Johnson (bass) Denis Dufresne (fiddle) and Robin Pelletier (guitar).


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