Birthdays deserve big celebrations. And nobody celebrates Canada Day quite like St. Albert, one of the oldest settlements in Alberta.
Canada’s 149th birthday bash is just two days away with activities, a free evening concert and dazzling fireworks.
The celebratory evening concert is expected to rock the downtown core highlighting an eclectic lineup of three family-friendly bands.
The concert features headline act, Vancouver based Odds, one of the West Coast’s most popular alternative pop-rock groups in the 1990s. Yet with all the projects band members have basked in, Odds continues to reinvent itself.
This year’s marquee band is Edmonton based The Dungarees, a hot provincial country act with nominations at Edmonton Music Awards and the Alberta Country Music Awards.
Opening the concert is Scenic Route to Alaska, another Edmonton hometown prairie indie band returning after its success at the inaugural Seven Music Fest in 2015.
The probability of a band surviving a decade is pretty slim. Creative differences, crappy gigs, burn-out tours and life changes all contribute to breakups.
Odds has survived three decades, an achievement that’s rare in a business that chews musicians up and spits them out. A big part of staying unified is playing other ventures to stay fresh.
“Every time I work a new project, I have those guys with me. Essentially we work different projects, but in varying capacities,” said vocalist/guitarist Craig Northey.
Rounding out the band is Pat Steward (drums), Doug Elliott (bass) and Murray Atkinson (guitar). All contribute to vocals.
The band was originally formed in 1987 consisting of Northey, Elliott and Stephen Drake and Paul Brennan, all from different Vancouver bands.
As the story goes, the name “Odds” was chosen when Brennan asked Drake in a small town somewhere on the B.C. coast, “What are the odds of us ever escaping bullshit gigs like this?”
In the late 1980s, the band under the moniker of Dawn Patrol played four nights a week as a ’60s and ’70s cover band. On weekends they gigged as Odds to fund a demo.
Hoping to score big, they headed to Los Angeles and signed with Zoo Entertainment spawning radio hits Love is the Subject and King of the Heap.
Their Bedbugs album lead single Heterosexual Man became a head turner especially after their video featured band members costumed in drag.
By 1995 Brennan left the band and moved to Toronto during the recording of their third album. Stewart, a friend of Elliott’s, replaced Brennan
Odds most commercially successful album featured several Top 10 hit singles including Truth Untold, Eat My Brain and Satisfied. Eat My Brain was later added to the Northey produced soundtrack for the The Kids in the Hall movie Brain Candy.
Through the years, in various configurations, band members have pursued projects with Bruce McCulloch, Barenaked Ladies, Tragically Hip and Brent Butt’s Corner Gas.
The band’s last recordings were two EPs released in 2014. Within the last year, they worked closely with Steven Page, former songwriter/lead singer of Barenaked Ladies on his March 2016 album release Heal Thyself Pt. 1: Instinct.
“The album took a lot of work, but it’s really well put together. It’s emotional and spiritual, and we had a good time,” Northey said.
On Canada Day, the experienced road warriors will show up ready for fun. Unlike bands that prepare a fixed set list, Odds success is based on fluidity.
“We look at a situation and write out our song list. But we’re always listening for someone to shout things out and we usually try to go there. We try to keep playing as long as we can so our last downbeat is when the fireworks explode and it sounds as if it was planned.”
Sandwiched between Odds and opening band Scenic Route to Alaska is The Dungarees. Although only four years old, The Dungarees have developed a definite musical style popular with teens and young adults.
The fivesome has borrowed good old classic country song styles, a twangy Telecaster and a pedal steel guitar blended with a 21st century energy and a pop mojo to create a formidable act. It sounds like a band plucked from 1988 and dropped into 2016.
“We’ve taken the best elements of older music and we bring energy and modern tonality to the mix,” said singer-songwriter James Murdoch.
Rob Angus (guitar) and Darrek Anderson (pedal steel/mandolin) also contribute to the songwriting fusion while Ben Shillabeer (drums) and St. Albert’s Kiran Jhass (lead guitar) provide support.
The last six months have posted several events that signal they are on the right track. The band’s single Ain’t Through Being Happy Yet was played from coast-to-coast.
They’ve just returned from a song-writing trip to Nashville and recorded two new singles. In addition, each musician is on a shortlist for Canadian Country Music Award nominations in their respective instruments.
To top everything else, The Dungarees are in the Top 12 for Project WILD, a professional development program designed to promote and launch the careers of Alberta’s emerging country artists. Top prize is $100,000.
“This is an incredible opportunity. They provide remarkable attention to details in the industry, vocal coaching and performance.”
As for their singles, the band is excited to release their two new singles: I’m Down and Dizzy. Both will be crowd tested on Canada Day.
“I’m Down came about because when we were down in Nashville, we were all in a room spit-balling ideas for songs. Somebody said ‘whatever ideas people come up with I’m down’ and that became our tagline.”
I’m Down is a romantic song about a guy happy to spend the day with his lady reinforced with Anderson playing the main line on mandolin and pedal steel and Jhass delivering a throbbing guitar solo.
Dizzy is also a romantic song about a guy who gets weak at the knees when the object of his affection is around.
“It’s exciting to be part of the trajectory we’re in. Every year we set goals and every year we meet our goals. This year we’ve gone from playing regionally to playing across the country. Our last single developed a little bit of traction and we have high hopes for the next.” I’m Down will be released in two weeks.
Scenic Route to Alaska returns to St. Albert almost exactly a year to the date at Seven Music Fest.
“It was a great experience. We were thrilled to make money and watch Sam Roberts play,” said Trevor Mann. The trio also includes Shea Connor and Murray Wood.
As the Canada Day opener, they tend to carry a heavy load revving up the audience for coming bands.
“It’s our job to make people feel comfortable. Instead of viewing it as a hindrance, we like to view it as an opportunity to get fans on our side,” Mann explained.
The trio has received a lot of mileage from their moniker borrowed from a sign on Highway 16 that points to the northwest.
“We used it as a joke. We thought it was a funny name for an indie band. We’re amazed at the number of people that come up to us and say it’s either crazy or they love it.”
So far Scenic Route has released three records of what reviewers call prairie-indie pop, something Mann describes as more of a vibe than a sound.
And a fourth album, Long Walk Home, with producer Howard Redekopp (Tegan and Sara) is due for release later in the year. Its first single Coming Back has a planned broadcast date for August.
To give the fans a taste of what’s to come, Scenic Route is releasing Younger, a teaser on July 8.
“Long Walk Home still embraces our prairie indie pop. It still encapsulates our music, but it will be a lot bigger.
As for Canada Day, Mann says, “Bring your sunscreen.”
Fireworks follow at 11 p.m.