Canadian stalwarts like their place in the Boots and Hearts lineup and their place in the country-music game.
Music, Thurs., August 10, 2017
Although they’re sharing headliner status this year with Keith Urban, Luke Bryan and Brantley Gilbert at this year’s Boots and Hearts celebration of country music, Manitoba’s Doc Walker is more than happy to be kicking off the festivities with a first-day appearance.
“We did the kickoff party in Dauphin’s Countryfest — a big festival in Manitoba — and the kickoff parties for me are a lot of fun because the people haven’t been there for three days in the sun, drinking — so you get a fresh crowd,” chuckles co-founder, co-songwriter and singer Chris Thorsteinson, whose band delivers what he calls “heartland country” music.
“We’ve played at a lot of festivals and you’re kind of playing to the walking dead by the time Sunday rolls around.”
Calling the band — which includes co-founder, guitarist and songwriting partner Dave Wasyliw, bass player Brent Pearon and drummer Steve Broadhurst — “Boots and Hearts virgins,” Thorsteinson says he really enjoys playing to large crowds that have gathered to see a big lineup of acts.
“For a lot of people that’s their week off, and that’s what they look forward to all year,” Thorsteinson explains. “They take a week off, pack up the camper and head out to Boots and Hearts or any of the festivals like Havelock that we’ve played.
“That’s when people really let loose. For music to be a part of their life in that way, we should all be honoured as artists that they’re taking that week off and enjoying it with music. It’s our time to take them away and let them have a blast.”
He’ll certainly get that experience on Thursday at Boots and Hearts, now in its sixth year and located at Burl’s Creek in Oro-Medonte, near Barrie. The band can enjoy the fest and an anniversary at the same time: for these 12-time Canadian Country Music Award winners, 2017 marks 20 years of thriving and surviving in the country-music trenches.
Since 1997’s Good Day To Ride, the Portage-La-Prairie-based band has enjoyed a steady stream of hits including “Beautiful Life,” “Put It Into Drive” and “That’s How I Like It” and released 10 albums, including their most recent released in March, Weathervane.
“We’re really proud of the longevity of the band,” Thorsteinson declares. “That’s something we wanted to do from the start. Like I said before, we’re not cheating our fans. They’re smart — they know what they like — and as long as we’re putting out the best that we can do, we’re happy.”
It hasn’t been an easy ride: unlike Grande Prairie, Alta.’s Emerson Drive, U.S. record labels have bypassed them in the past, but that particular market hasn’t been the be-all and end-all of Doc Walker’s quest for success.
“During the ‘Beautiful Life’ era, we had some interest, but a lot of what we’ve done hasn’t been what Nashville’s been looking for,” says Thorsteinson. “Emerson Drive got a big U.S. record deal because they were a ‘poppier’-sounding country act at the time, and we were releasing stuff like ‘Rocket Girl.’ For us, it was all about creating a fan base in Canada.
“We’ve always been huge fans of Blue Rodeo, for example. And we haven’t made it to that level — I would love to — but having 20 years of making music and still being able to go out and play was sort of the goal of this band.”
What Thorsteinson is particularly proud of is the maturity of writing that is evident on Weathervane, with such straight-talking songs as “Heart of the Heartland,” “Dollar Store Cashier” and “Just Fine” that tackle issues and observations rather than simple “bro country” escapism.
“Dave and I have really come into our own as writers over the years,” states Thorsteinson. “I look at songs like ‘Beautiful Life’ and ‘If I Fall,’ which were big hits, compared with some of the songs on the new album like ‘Just Fine’ and ‘Dollar Store Cashier,’ where you don’t know if they’re going to be radio singles or hits.
“But we’re not just a band that gets eight or 10 songs from Nashville and tries to get a Top 10 single: we’re a band that’s been concentrating and writing our own brand of music for the last 20 years. As writers, it’s becoming easier for us to pen our emotions — and that’s gratifying. I think Weathervane is one of our better records — lyrically and as a performance.
“We’ve just always wanted to put out good music, and we’re getting to that point now where whether the song is true or not, we’re finding a way to say the right things.”
Sharing the Boots and Hearts bill with such domestic artists as Chad Brownlee, Jess Moskaluke, Lindi Ortega, J.J. Shiplett and actor-turned-musician Kiefer Sutherland causes Thorsteinson to marvel at the amount of country talent Canada is churning out at the moment.
“You look at the charts and every two weeks there’s a new act coming out with a wicked-sounding song, and they’re Canadian,” he notes. “It’s gotten a lot more competitive. It makes us proud to see the amount of talent coming out.”