Ranch­man’s first up on honky-tonk and dive bar tour

Calgary Herald - - YOU - ERIC VOLMERS

As with most coun­try artists of a cer­tain vin­tage, Gord Bam­ford has a his­tory of cut­ting his teeth in honky-tonks and dive bars.

That in­cludes Ranch­man’s, Cal­gary’s long-stand­ing, west­ern­themed wa­ter­ing hole and dance hall. The 42-year-old per­former, who moved from his na­tive Aus­tralia to La­combe at the age of 5, be­gan check­ing out bands there as soon he was old enough to get in. Be­fore long, he was sit­ting in with acts of the day, such as Brett Bar­row.

“He would play and I would jump up and play with him,” Bam­ford says in a phone in­ter­view from a tour stop in Aus­tralia. “Some of his band­mates are ac­tu­ally in my band now. I used to go in and watch all the acts. Even­tu­ally, when I got go­ing, that was kind of the place you wanted to play.”

The folks at Ranch­man’s, like many oth­ers across the coun­try, were good to Bam­ford when he was com­ing up through the ranks. So it’s fit­ting that he would be­gin his roots-re­turn­ing, cross-Canada tour at the venue on Wednesday.

It’s the sec­ond Cana­dian tour for Bam­ford in sup­port of Neon Smoke, his eighth stu­dio record that was re­leased ear­lier this year. But this leg has a dis­tinct gim­mick. The Honky­tonks and Dive Bars tour will find the artist play­ing smaller clubs over the next two months. Of­fi­cially, it’s in hon­our of his new­est No. 1 hit sin­gle, the Te­bey-penned stom­per Dive Bar.

But it’s also a chance for Bam­ford, who hasn’t played clubs in a num­ber of years, to re­con­nect with au­di­ences in more in­ti­mate set­tings. Not sur­pris­ingly, Al­berta’s honky­tonk and dive-bar cir­cuit will be well-rep­re­sented, with Bam­ford fol­low­ing his Ranch­man’s gig with ap­pear­ances at Ed­mon­ton’s Cook County Saloon (Oct. 18), Medicine Hat’s Ralph’s (Oct. 19), the Brooks Ho­tel in Brooks (Oct. 20) and two nights at Bet­ter Than Fred’s in Grande Prairie (Oct. 22 and 23).

“I think Ranch­man’s is one of the big­gest clubs we’re play­ing,” he says. “Right across Canada, it’s been a great re­sponse. It’s go­ing to be fun. We’re all look­ing for­ward to get­ting into that at­mos­phere again and just hav­ing fun with ev­ery­body. It’s kind of a low-pres­sure gig. I don’t mean to say it that way, but it’s just go­ing to be fun. Some­times you can come to a fes­ti­val and you sit way in the back and can’t see us, or come to a theatre show and the minute you stand up and some­body is up­set. This is just a dif­fer­ent con­cept of com­ing in and just hav­ing a good time.”

Dive Bar is the fourth sin­gle off of Neon Smoke, an epic re­lease that con­tains 15 tracks. But, iron­i­cally, the idea be­hind this re­turn-to­his-roots tour is ac­tu­ally tied to a rel­a­tively mod­ern phe­nom­e­non in main­stream coun­try. It’s the sin­gle, not the al­bum, that’s king these days.

This re­quires some cre­ativ­ity, both when choos­ing what songs to put for­ward and how to pro­mote them.

“It’s dif­fer­ent nowa­days,” Bam­ford says. “Peo­ple aren’t so much buy­ing al­bums, they are stream­ing mu­sic. It’s to­tally op­po­site here in Aus­tralia. They are still buy­ing records. It’s a dif­fer­ent ap­proach nowa­days in the Cana­dian mar­ket and ob­vi­ously the Amer­i­can mar­ket as to how you re­lease mu­sic. It’s so much more sin­gles-driven that you can go deeper and deeper into these records and it’s all more about tour­ing and get­ting in front of peo­ple and hav­ing hits. Typ­i­cally, we would never do two tours on one al­bum cy­cle, but this seems to be work­ing re­ally great.”

Bam­ford fig­ures he writes or cowrites 80 per cent of his ma­te­rial — the al­bum’s pre­vi­ous sin­gle, Ain’t it Grand, was co-writ­ten by Blue Rodeo’s Jim Cuddy and fea­tures him on vo­cals — but never has been ad­verse to bring­ing in songs by out­side writ­ers.

Bam­ford was liv­ing in Nashville when Te­bey — an On­tario singer­song­writer whose work has been cov­ered by ev­ery­one from One Di­rec­tion to Big & Rich, among oth­ers — of­fered him Dive Bar.

“He pitched the song to me and ba­si­cally said, ‘If Blake Shel­ton doesn’t record this song you can look into it,’” Bam­ford says. “I thought it was the per­fect Blake Shel­ton song. Blake did have in­ter­est in it but ended up not do­ing it.”

It’s ac­tu­ally more of an op­po­sites-at­tract type love song than an ode to the dive bar, with Bam­ford croon­ing “she’s Cham­pagne and caviar, I’m a beer in a dive bar.” Nev­er­the­less, the dive bar theme has caught on with Bam­ford’s fans, with a num­ber of clubs al­ready re­port­ing sell­outs.

While it may be a back-to-ba­sics type vibe, Bam­ford says it won’t all be low-tech. He’ll be rolling into town in his tour bus and 13 peo­ple. The stage setup will in­volve ful­l­light­ing and “run­ning video and screens in all these lit­tle honky­tonks.”

“It’s go­ing to be kind of like an arena show in a bar,” he says.

Still, some ad­just­ments will have to be made.

“In some of these places, the stag­ing is so small and the roof is so low that you re­ally have to mod­ify your show,” he says. “That’s the thing you’re deal­ing with. It’s not like you can ex­tend the stage, there’s no room. It is what it is. You go in, do your thing, have a good time and hope­fully peo­ple en­joy it.”

It’s go­ing to be fun. We’re all look­ing for­ward to get­ting into that at­mos­phere again and just hav­ing fun with ev­ery­body.

Gord Bam­ford’s lat­est Cana­dian tour is in sup­port of Neon Smoke, his eighth stu­dio record.

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