Updated: May 17
by Scott Roos
*Prince Albert's Blues Bandoleros members Kelly Kawula and Benoit Richard
It was hotter than hell this past Saturday, July 10th with temperatures exceeding 30 degrees but that didn't stop a modest group of music starved fans from making the trek out to literally the middle of nowhere (aka a field near Meath Park) to take in the inaugural Jeep Fest Band Aid Benefit Festival. Kicking things off with Red Deer's Ten02, the event, in general, was an entertaining affair that featured artists from a wide swath of genres.
Prince Albert's own Blues Bandoleros, fronted by scene stalwart and industry veteran Kelly Kawula was up next and delighted onlookers with their signature set of blues and classic rock covers. The Bandoleros have a chill vibe which was much needed on this hot day. Kawula's signature, slower, more contemplative guitar leads in concert with his raspy vocals were welcomed and supported by the crowd.
*Weyburn expat Brayden King backed by members of Regina's Dead Levee
Next up was the hulking 6'9 frame of Weyburn expat Brayden King and his rootsy country songs including the soon to be released "Bad Night to be a Beer". King was backed by his friends in Regina's Dead Levee to add some extra weight to his sound. Dead Levee's signature classic rock approach proved to be a capable foil to King's soaring tenor vocals. King only started his solo sojourn during the pandemic so this was his first chance, other than some smaller acoustic shows and livestream events, to literally air out some new material.
"I've gotten to play a little bit of stuff but this definitely my first big thing back and my first big thing as a solo artist because before the pandemic I was with my band (Weyburn's 7th avenue), then the pandemic hit and I was writing a lot of solo stuff and that's kinda what made me decide to start recording and doing things as a solo artist," explained King in a conversation with NSMZ earlier in the day.
King's set was fresh and invigorating proving that he is one to watch as his solo career begins to take flight.
As the day wore on, some of the heavier acts were were given the opportunity to do their thing. Grim, essentially a band akin to Leslie West's Mountain if they were on steroids, were followed by the metalcore mayhem of Scarlet Serenity and the punk musings of Boo Radley. Rose Valley then performed a truncated set of mellow alt-country. It's important to note that due to a few issues that the organizers had been having in the morning the schedule ended up being close to three hours behind so many of the opening acts were operating under shortened sets to get things back on track. If this was an issue, most of the artists did their best to not let on. In truth, most of these acts seemed just grateful to be able to play a show after many months away from the game.
*Brock Andrews and band
"It's really bizarre. I think the default that everybody's been having is 'Oh my god so many emotions. So nice to get back on stage after 18 months.' And it's incredible. To be honest I'm more happy for us as a group to be able to hear the loud kick drum again and to see smiles on peoples faces. They make you realize this is why you do this," remarked Saskatchewan country singer-songwriter Brock Andrews after an inspiring set.
Andrews seemed unfazed by the elements, the size of the crowd, and also a shorter set time he was afforded. He's a consummate professional that permeates a positive outlook and it showed in his performance.
"As soon as you can have fun and realize that half of the entertainment gig is the guys in the bands having fun entertaining each other then if it's five people or five thousand people in the audience everybody has fun because they see you having fun," Andrews explained.
*Regina's Dead Levee energized the crowd with their unique blend of retro rock
Fun was definitely the order of things to come as Regina's Dead Levee played next. Vocalist Dane Von Hagen aka Remington prowled across the stage like a reincarnation of a 60's Mick Jagger as guitarists Buck and Sweet Baby Ray shredded capably over the solid rhythm section of Izzy on Bass and Miami on drums. The group's "what's old is new again" vibe was a blend of Zeppelin, the Stones, The Black Crowes, The Allman Bros, The Doors... The list goes on. But it was when the Levee broke out an inspiring cover of the Glorious Sons "S.O.S" that the crowd really started to rock.
"When the pandemic started we were on such a roll," stated bassist Tayler Morgan aka Izzy in an interview earlier that morning, "We had good momentum going and then all of the sudden it came to halt. We had just got back from a tour to Charlottetown and back in February 2020 when March 12th hit and the world shut down. To get back on stage and get that camaraderie back, that "it" that thing: that's what rock n roll is all about. That drive. You can only get that on stage in front of an audience that's fueling you as you're fueling them."
As the Dead Levee's set raged on, the audience began to forget about all the quarantines, restrictions and lockdowns of the past 18 months. Von Hagen and band created more of a rock n roll love in. The good people of Jeep Fest were partying like it was 2019. Their guards had been lowered and that's likely one of the most important takeaways from this event. It's okay to safely and cautiously do some of those things that we used to do. It's going to feel weird at first, but life HAS to and WILL go on.
*Econoline Crush's Trevor Hurst
"I was afraid, man, I was afraid we were gonna fall into another thing and we weren't gonna get to play for another year. It's hard. It seems when you play a show, it rights the wrongs in your day. It makes you feel better. It's how you get your frustrations out. When you don't have that outlet, oh my gosh it's tough," reflected Trevor Hurst after fronting Econoline Crush in the waning evening hours.
Hurst was in his element fronting Econoline Crush during their punishingly heavy industrial set that hearkened the crowd back to the "Big Shiny 90's". He jumped, pranced and pounced across the stage with vigor and enthusiasm. In short, the Canadian metal mastodons were in fine form. Hurst had obviously been missing the chance to play in front of an audience with the band having been on hiatus since the pandemic hit. Like most of the artists at Jeep Fest, he was grateful for the chance to perform again. That being said, it really looked like the band had not missed a beat since being down for so long.
"I gotta tell you I felt a little winded but it feels great. Oh my gosh just to play music live again is so cool," Hurst gushed.
Independent country artist and former Tupelo Honey frontman Dan Davidson took the stage next as the second to last act of the evening (the show was closed out by Dirty Garden). His backing band was a well oiled machine as they cycled through his signature brand of twang. Like Econoline Crush, this was also Davidson's first show in front of a live audience in18 months. Gratitude was once again the order of the day.
"It's great man. I cant think of a better way to shake it off and get back into the swing of things," Davidson explained.
Just like Hurst, Davidson's vocal chops were none the worst for ware and he played an energetic and entertaining show. Davidson's career has been largely in the indie world. He's not tied down to a label and that has enabled him to play fast and loose with his country music career. He's achieved a lot of success as a direct result. Davidson's indie mindset has given him full creative control as he's expertly charted a course through the pandemic. It's this mindset that's been able to see him through to this point as things begin to open up around North America again.
"You gotta get creative. You gotta swivel. It's the indie mindset. So I was sorta ready for (the pandemic when it hit). It'll be interesting to see how we all come back from COVID. Shows are getting booked with shorter times between booking and show dates. Bands are just hungry to play so here I am... Hungry," Davidson said.
At the end of the day, Jeep Fest's inaugural Band Aid concert was a bit of a mixed bag. Musically, the headliners were top notch and can likely go toe to toe with many of the small festivals that will be running in Saskatchewan this summer. However, the fest did suffer some of the setbacks and growing pains of a festival's infancy and will have some kinks to think on and work through for next time. YES there should be a next time. If the past 18 months of COVID have taught us anything it's to help and support music and the arts. Many of us took the arts for granted pre COVID. Let's never take them for granted again. Fans need festivals like Jeep Fest to succeed and so do artists as we hack and slash our way into that "new normal" the powers that be keep referencing and telling us about. Well, God willing that new normal is finally here and also God willing we'll be able to live our lives a little again. Festivals like Jeep Fest Band Aid reminds us that we need to keep the faith. We need to keep our proverbial heads up and our eyes open. Stages are being set across the province now and Jeep Fest, at least from a musical perspective, proved to be a solid opening act for a summer that will hopefully be full of music as we all make up for lost time.
*pictures by Deanna Roos of Contingent Colours Photography