Every time singer-songwriter Jake Vaadeland, 20, kicks off a concert dressed in his normal attire — a flashy vintage suit, tie and slicked-back hair — it's like watching a 1940s broadcast or attending the old-time opry.
At first glance, most people think the retro look, a stage costume you’d expect Johnny Cash or Flatt and Scruggs to wear, is a gimmick. Far from it. Nothing is contrived. The look stems from Vaadeland’s values, how he views himself and a powerful passion for rockabilly, bluegrass and old country music.
Even his two-story home in Cut Knife, Sask. reflects aesthetics from the 1940s. It is painted in vintage colours and filled with antiques, pendulum clocks, gold-framed pictures, chandeliers, an old-fashioned piano and an old gramophone.
Not only does the musician write songs with deep musical connections to the past. As an old soul, he lives and breathes it, and hopes audiences will share his deep abiding appreciation.
“I was never interested in rock or metal. I didn’t understand it. What we do is real music. It’s clear. You can hear all the words. That’s one of the big compliments we get. Our sound is bluegrass, rockabilly and old-time country. It’s traditional and simple. And each member of the band brings his own style,” Vaadeland said.
Throughout the month of January, Vaadeland and the Sturgeon River Boys are on the 20-stop Small Town Prairie Tour of Alberta and Saskatchewan, which includes a concert at St. Albert’s Arden Theatre on Saturday, Jan. 27.
Accompanying Vaadeland is his right-hand man Joel Rohs on electric guitar, Stephen Williams playing upright bass and Jaxon Lalonde strumming banjo.
“They all have their different styles. Joel has an old-time country feel and he’s added to the 40’s and 50’s rockabilly sound. Stephen has his own style with lots of slapping and percussion. Not just rhythm. And he does lots of dancing on stage. Jaxon does things with his banjo that are out of the ordinary. It’s almost as if there are no rules when he plays,” said Vaadeland.
He was born in Saskatchewan’s Big River area and is the son of ranchers. While the land was the family’s livelihood, music played a major role in their lives. His father was a musician and his mother a singer who performed with several bluegrass bands before starting a family.
He recalls his first performance at his grandparents' 40th wedding anniversary. He was about three or four years old, wore a cowboy hat and button-up shirt and sang a Johnny Cash number.
Currently, Vaadeland is recording his fourth album, which is being released in the spring. His previous albums are Retro Man (2021), No More Pain in My Heart (2022) and the multi-award-winning Everybody But Me (2022). Although the singer was unprepared to release information on the upcoming 2024 release, he will be test-driving some of the newer songs on tour.
Vaadeland is more than an old soul. He is also a deep thinker. In Town of Blues, he speaks about small town loneliness and through Retro Man, he shares his personal struggles with bullying and acceptance. His rebellious attitude pops up in Father's Song and his struggles in escaping farm life are laid bare in Be a Farmer or a Preacher.
As someone who was bullied by both students and teachers for being different, his advice to anyone in a similar situation is to "take criticism lightly. You have to be yourself, and if people don't like that you can stay or speed up and go someplace else. No one can stop you from doing what you want."
During a typical concert, the foursome strives to always keep the audience’s attention.
"We never want dead air. There’s always noise whether we’re singing a song or telling a joke or a story. We do comedy. We have a gospel section and sometimes a silly song section. We all dress up on stage and we have old-style microphones. We put on a good visual performance.”
The concert starts at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $36.75. Call the Arden box office at 780-459-1542 or online at tickets.stalbert.ca.