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Rock, country and headphone disco land at Rainmaker Festival

Up to 4,000 fans expected this weekend for long-awaited outdoor fun

James Barker Band, Steven Lee Olsen, Jacquie Daniels and Sparrow Blue are just a few acts announced for Rainmaker Festival on Friday, May 24 and Saturday, May 25. 

Traditionally, Friday night is booked as rock night and Saturday as country music night. However, this year, organizers are trying a new format that introduces a different way to party. 

Friday night is not just rock music. Rainmaker is dipping its toes into Headphone Disco, the silent party spinning music with three DJs. And no, it’s not a cacophony of music. 

Clubbers are given a wireless set of three-channel headphones. The loudspeaker system is switched off and music is piped into headphones. Three DJ’s spin three totally different styles of music. Clubbers can flick between channels to pick the music they’re in to. The silent disco channels vary from classic rock to reggaeton to techno/hip hop. 

“We’ve been trying to get a younger crowd to come out on Friday night and one of our younger members suggested Headphone Disco. It’s something we’ve never done before. I don’t think it’s even been done at Klondike Days. And we thought ‘why not?’ We have the headphones and we’re pretty pumped,” said Patrick Dower, Rainmaker concert chair. 

Every year Rainmaker leaves a slot or two for homegrown talent. This year Sparrow Blue, a St. Albert rock band with a loyal following, gets the opportunity to strut their stuff. 

“They’re really pumped. They’re engaged with the audience, and they put on a good show. For me, part of seeing a good show is having a fun time and they deliver,” Dower said. 

Sparrow Blue released their first eight-track, self-titled album in 2018. In addition, the six-piece has dropped several singles and is due to release a 10-track sophomore album titled No Lies, No Tricks in June. 

And as a love letter to fans, Sparrow Blue is releasing their newest single, Jack, The Stranger, at their Rainmaker performance this coming Friday night.  

“It’s a song about a guy who comes to town, and he could be the devil. He wins money and makes deals. It’s a bit funky, but it quickly switches to rock,” said Jon Dombroski, Sparrow Blue guitarist. 

While the band’s first album was a collection of straight-ahead rock charts, the second album promises a more nuanced approach to songwriting.  

“We’re more experienced and this is the best of the last few years. It’s a very loose album and it’s about a guy who grows up on a frontier and journeys through life. He gets advice from his mom, but he doesn’t listen. He goes out on his own, gets into trouble and meets the hangman at the end or the road,” Dombroski said. He added the band’s one-hour set is slated to start at 8:30 p.m. 

Opening the Friday night concert is Chronic Rock, a high energy rock and roll five-piece. The dance band plays strictly covers from heavyweights including Bon Jovi, AC/DC, Heart, April Wine, Lady Gaga, Pink, Def Leppard and more. 

“You always need a good party band to start. Chronic Rock has some good covers, and they know how to get a party going,” Dower said. 

Country Night 

James Barker Band (JBB), a platinum-selling country four-piece, returns to the Rainmaker this Saturday with its infectious camaraderie. In the past decade it has grown from playing dive bars for peanuts to becoming a household name that invites listeners to connect on a personal level. 

“They have three songs in the Top 50 and two songs in the Top 20,” Dower said of their current standing on the charts.  

The band weaves together traditional country elements like acoustic guitars and heartfelt lyrics to explore the innocence of first love and the bittersweet memories of lost love. While the band started its career in Ontario, it now spends much of its time in Nashville, and in Oct. 2023 released Ahead of Our Time, a carefully crafted six-track collection.  

Steven Lee Olsen, who directly opens for JBB has his own story to tell. Ten years ago, he was grinding it out and making sacrifices eating Ramen noodles and stealing toilet paper from his publishing company just to get by. 

Today, his song Blue Ain’t Your Color became Keith Urban’s biggest hit to date, spending 12 weeks at No. 1 on a pair of Billboard Music Charts. The double-platinum certified song won CMA Single of the Year and the Nashville Songwriters Association International Song of the Year, a writer’s dream prize. 

Since Blue’s success, Olsen’s prestige as a co-writer has landed his songs on albums by Garth Brooks, The Judds, Kip Moore, Dallas Smith and Brett Kissel to name a few. After making his Grand Ole Opry debut last year, Olsen is eager to take on the Rainmaker and sing his brand of country. 

Opening for Olsen is St. Albert’s own Jacquie Daniels and The Blank Slates making their Rainmaker debut. Daniels, a multiple award winner who dubs her song style “outlaw” country and delivers an energetic “kick-ass” performance never holds back. 

Her 2024 hit, Small Town Beauty Queen, hit No. 1 on the Indigenous Music Countdown streaming on Sirius XM. In addition, she’s recording a 10-track of originals slated for release in November. 

“For me that was a monumental moment,” said Daniels speaking about Beauty Queen. The Métis recording artist spent years developing her stage credentials in musical theatre, rock and metal before settling into country music.  

Just this month, her powerful vocals and gritty musical style were nominated for three Josie Music Awards to be celebrated at the Country Music Hall of Fame in Nashville in October.  

With a laugh in her voice, Daniels describes her band as a cross between Whalen Jennings and Dolly Parton.  

“We’re very energetic. We get the dancing going. We’re like an old-time, hoedown honky-tonk. We’re the spice everyone is looking for, but didn’t know it was there,” she said. 

One standout feature of her band is the horn section, musical instruments rarely grouped into country bands. The Blank Slates feature Nathan Connelly (trombone), Mike Jensen (trumpet), Kyle Donohue (electric guitar), Jacob Brassington (bass) and Kolby Poitras (drums). 

“The horns add an energy reminiscent of Johnny Cash. The world needs more Johnny Cash, the realness, the experimental part and the ability to stand out. The horn’s energy and tone is different from any other thing.” 

Justin Sutton and North of 49 are a Sturgeon County-based band playing whatever name you choose to give their music – Americana, roots or plain ole’ country. 

The live band includes Sutton (songwriter), fiddle extraordinaire Chris Leslie, bass player Mat Patenaude, drummer Jason Berg, keyboardist Adam James and guitarist Josh Ruzycki. 

The band is starting to get its feet off the ground and their upcoming LP features songs about trains, troubadours and turmoil in the land.  

“We looked for an exciting new band to start the show. From what we saw, this band has a good heart and people were dancing to their music,” Dower said. 

Both concerts take place at Kinsmen Park, 47 Riel Drive. Tickets for Friday’s rock concert and silent dance party are $38.10. Admission to Saturday’s country concert is $66.68. Both are available at

Anna Borowiecki

About the Author: Anna Borowiecki

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