This year’s Canadian Rockies International Rodeo and Music Festival (CRIR)
is doing everything it can to get you to share their view of diversity in Alberta’s rodeo world. From June 26 – 28, Strathmore will have the likes of George Canyon, women calf-roping, Leann Rimes, gay bull-riding, Tim Hicks, barrel racing and a lot more: Canadian country music giants and Calgary’s longest-running drag show, just to add to the mix!
The diversity mandate that the ARGRA (Alberta Rockies Gay Rodeo Association) has been pushing for 24 years is not the main goal of two of the new country stars that I spoke to: Kira Isabella and Tebey are just happy to be playing country music out here in the west (where it belongs, after all!).
Tebey mentions “It’s been a long, and kind of winding road for me. I went to Nashville when I was 15 . . . and ended up getting a record deal with RCA in Nashville when I was 17; doing country music; made a record with Bob Rock (Metallica, Bon Jovi, Aerosmith).The first single came out in 2003, (and at 20) I moved back to Canada and became a songwriter: I wanted to stay in the music business.. . . And then about 3 or 4 years ago I decided to start making my own records again.
“2 singles ago, (we did) a country cover of the Avicii song ‘Wake Me Up’. It was a massive hit for us, a top 5 single and went gold in Canada.”
More recently, “(cosongwriter Kelly Archer) had a particular title in mind (‘When the Buzz Wears Off’) and I thought it was killer! And we just started telling a story about this guy who broke up with his girl, and just went out and tied one on, in the hopes of forgetting about it.
“It’s a pretty common theme, especially in country music: we’re not reinventing the wheel here! But half the battle as a writer is to say it in a different way that hasn’t been said before.. . . . Last night (June, 2015) we did a show in Toronto, with the Eli Young Band, and it was the first time I’d ever played (‘When the Buzz Wears Off’) live.
“(That song) is the most (traditional) country song I’ve ever done, but that’s because that’s how I felt like singing that day! My voice doesn’t change; we just like to mix it up.”
And while Tebey has been broadening his experience above and below the border, in and out of country music, Kira Isabella has been knocking the socks off of her fellow country-men, having been both the Canadian Country Music Association’s Rising Star and Female Artist of the year (twice).Don’t think that ‘Made in Canada’ means ‘Wilting Lily’, however:
“I just got back. I was in Nashville for about 2 months, pretty much writing every day, so now I have lots of new stuff. I’m going to get together with my band, and we’ll (tour) through the summer. I’ll probably sit down in August or September, look at the new stuff I’ve written, and we’ll decide what we’re going to go into the studio with.”
Kira’s voice gets excited when we talk about her sharing an evening’s stage with Tebey and Tim Hicks (and we don’t even get to Ty Herndon); it begins to sound like she’ll have more fun than the audience. And the album she released last fall is stoking the fires even more.
“It’s amazing, especially with (the first single) “Quarterback”. I’ve never experienced anything like with “Quarterback”, where the whole audience is singing along with the words, and in the (quiet) parts, you could hear a pin drop. Everyone is so taken with the song itself! I’ve had a couple of audiences where, on the ‘Monday morning when the word got out’ line, I put the mike out, and I don’t say anything, and literally the entire audience, hundreds, thousands of people are singing along to this song.”
Remember, she’s just turned 21!
“I’ve grown so much, in my opinion, just as a writer, and as a performer as well. I’ve been onstage performing since I was 7 years old, and I feel that last year and this year, at 20 and 21, is when it finally clicked for me: I finally understood it.. . .
I finally found it in myself to be able to connect with (the concert audience), and to be able to really make contact and feel what other people are feeling. To make as much connection as you can, being 5 feet away on a stage.”
I mention the audience connection of the Saddledome Niclelback Singalong, and she heartily agrees, that this is the goal of what she’s doing. “I found a way to make the stage my happy place. I don’t think about what people are thinking, or what I’m wearing: what people are thinking at all! That’s just my world. “