Blackie and the Rodeo Kings (and their extended Canadian musical family) treated the Commodore Ballroom to an exceptional show, as expected! Opening for BaRK was Tom Wilson’s son, Thompson Wilson. Some might say he’s got it easy in the business – son of a legacy, opening gigs handed to him, etc. I’d wager that these ‘gifts’ pale in comparison to the pressures of having such a famous shadow to play in, not to mention the absolute bravery of standing in front of a half interested crowd with nothing but an acoustic guitar and your voice. He did the former proud while getting stronger throughout the latter. His soul-baring, beautifully vocalized
Blackie and the Rodeo Kings started as a fun project for Tom Wilson, Colin Linden and Stephen Fearing and the three have been adamant that it should remain fun. The moment it wasn’t fun, the group stated that they’d call it quits. Twenty-one years later and it is still clearly fun for the trio with no evidence that it’s getting less so. The guys seem themselves as a (musical) family and have included many other Canadian artists in their family ranks. There appears to be no ego, no superstar, and no interest in either. They are clearly thrilled to work with their extended family, as indicated on their past two albums (Kings and Queens, and Kings & Kings), with every track featuring a guest artist.
Blackie and the Rodeo Kings live show was no different. The band brought ex-Junkhouse drummers, rocking Mandolin players, Barney Bentall and son Dustin, and Thompson Wilson out to join them for various songs throughout the set. They happily played Bentall’s hit “Come Back to Me” and seemed positively overjoyed to sing “around the kitchen table”, as Tom Wilson put it. You could see the mutual respect from all musicians on stage – no one was bigger or better than the other, regardless of whose show it was, who has the more famous name, or who has the most recent hit. It just didn’t matter – it was all about the music, as it should be.
Having never seen them live before, I didn’t know what to expect from their show especially given their somewhat Mariachi band-like outfits. I think I expected a slower, lower-key show, with more blues and less rock. Boy, was I (happily) wrong! The show had incredible rock-concert energy which was absolutely contagious in the crowd. There wasn’t a still body in the house, everyone swaying and singing along to favourites like “Secret of a Long-Lasting Love”, “Stoned” and “Remedy”. They covered classics from Willie Bennett (of course), Murray McLoughlin and Tom Wilson’s alter ego (Lee Harvey Osmond) in the form of “Beautiful Scars” as well as a few of Stephen Fearing and Colin Linden’s own solo hits. I had never seen them before in concert, but would certainly see them again.
The Commodore provided fantastic acoustics to allow fans to fully appreciate BaRK’s talents. Colin Linden’s slide guitar is unmatched and mesmerizing – fans stood almost dumbfounded during a couple solos and you could see his bandmates in a similar state. Stephen Fearing’s smiling energy and vocal range add a beauty not often found in the blues. Tom Wilson’s gruff baritone was built for the blues, perhaps more so than any of the other genres he’s written in.
BaRK was founded as a Willie Bennet cover band and a fun project to cover songs by artists they respected, kind of how every band in every garage ever started. The difference is that Blackie and the Rodeo Kings have continued that same fun style and just expanded on the number of artists they’d cover from one to innumerable, as well as writing originals. Most bands have dozens of issues, breakups, splits and general drama in a quarter the time, without near the success or acclaim. BaRK keeps ticking along, not looking for success or acclaim, but receiving both, while avoiding the issues that plague so many other bands. This sense of fun, respect, family, and general love of music shine through in concert. You can really feel this respect and love and can’t help but join in – we were all invited to be part of their musical family and should be honoured to have said invitation.
written by Chris van Staalduinen
photos Donna Mair (Kelowna show the next night and just as incredible!)
all rights reserved