Gordie Tentrees is the first person to tell you he is far from being the world's best singer. But he does have a distinctive voice, one that is rough and raw, yet modest and unassuming, a quality that adds legitimacy to his folk songs.
The Whitehorse based resident also more than makes up for any perceived vocal shortcomings by writing songs in the grand tradition of the late Woody Guthrie, one of the most significant figures in American folk music. In addition, Tentrees' unvarnished gift for lyricism and storytelling keeps the listener enthralled and tugs at the heart.
Listen to five songs on any of the northern singer’s eight albums, and no two sound alike as he dips into folk/roots, blues, bluegrass, country, and rock and roll territory. Tentrees’ song lyrics also tend to be topical pushing boundaries that make some feel uncomfortable.
“I play to diverse communities in cities and blue-collar workers in rural areas. While I play, I talk about things like homosexuality, women’s rights, Indigenous issues and friendship. That’s what I find myself doing. I want the audience to like me, but I also want them to think about things,” Tentrees said.
For a singer-songwriter who lives, eats and breathes his craft, the pandemic shutdown led to frustrations especially the inability to tour. One of his 2020 postponed stops was the Arden Theatre. Due to looser COVID restrictions, Arden has rebooked a concert for Tuesday, Jan. 17 of the western leg of the Mean Old World Tour.
“I’m beyond grateful for coming to play a show that was cancelled and postponed three times. I don’t know how they will get us off the stage,” he said laughingly. Tentrees is accompanied by Jaxon Haldane, long-time friend and music partner. Together, the duo has performed more than 1,000 concerts, a decade-long testament to their musical chemistry.
Since his 2004 album release of 29 Loads of Freight, the folk artist has released every CD under Buckaroo Records. The latest 10-track is Mean Old World, a 2021 album inspired by his 10-year-old Indigenous adopted daughter.
“We were her foster parents for two years and raised her as our own before adopting her. The whole experience raised our awareness of what it’s like to be Indigenous, having brown skin and watching the world through her eyes. It’s her journey and we are encouraging her along,” Tentrees explained.
In Mean Old World’s ragbag of songs, there are some wonderful pieces of storytelling that explores Tentrees' checkered life from foster child to five-time Golden Glove boxer to schoolteacher and finally musician.
The title track, Mean Old World, is an ode to his daughter while Wind Walker is inspired by close friends who rediscovered each other while attempting reconciliation. Ring Speed takes the listener to his boxing days and its effect on his life.
“I was an amateur boxer and what I learned in the ring helped me perform. When you’re in the ring, you’re the only one there. No one can help you. When I get in front of an audience, I know I have to make it through the concert naturally and comfortably.”
Train is Gone memorializes a friend who grew up with Tentrees and lost his battle against cancer in 2020 while Far Away Friends is a salute to the many families who hosted him in 2,500 concerts around the world.
The folk artist is following his dreams and if there is one thing living in the Yukon has taught him, is “It’s OK to dream at the window and write poetry. It’s OK to be a musician as well as a potter or painter. It’s OK to be who you are.”
The Mean Old World concert is Tuesday, Jan. 17 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets start at $28. Visit www.tickets.stalbert.ca or call 780-459-1542.