Special to the Herald
A near capacity crowd at the E.A. Rawlinson Centre for the Arts was on hand Feb. 1 to witness an energetic set of bluegrass/rockabilly music from touring juggernaut Jake Vaadeland and the Sturgeon River Boys.
Permeating his set with dad jokes and off the cuff dry wit, oftentimes at the expense of his own backing musicians, Vaadeland was in firm control of the evening’s festivities from the outset, with the audience hanging on his every word, and note.
For electric guitarist Joel Rohs and stand up bassist Stephen Williams it was a homecoming of sorts as both permanently reside in Prince Albert and are well known members of the music community. Williams is a highly entertaining performer in and of himself who punctuated his playing with dips and twirls of his instrument as the evening progressed.
“I always love playing to a hometown crowd. The audience really brought it, and when they do that, it makes our jobs so much easier,” Williams said in a brief conversation with the Herald. “It’s always a great time playing at the E.A. Rawlinson.”
Filling out the triumvirate of Sturgeon River Boys was accomplished banjo picker Jaxon Lalonde. Lalonde, primarily known in Saskatoon for being a member of The Local Group, is a capable musical compliment for Vaadeland. The two play a handful of numbers that feature both of them on the banjo, much to the delight of their audiences. Lalonde’s presence in the band also enables them all to lean decidedly in a more traditional bluegrass direction.
The group, however, all boils down to Vaadeland and his extraordinary and rare talent as a multi-instrumentalist (banjo and guitar specifically) and even more so a singer- songwriter. Amidst usual suspect treatises of love, loss, longing and comedy are also words that run deep. Songs like “House and Pool”, “Living Simply” and his signature “Retro Man” tell a tale of a young man and his struggle to find meaning and acceptance in an otherwise harsh and all too often very cruel world.
It’s as if he’s trying to live life on his own humility laden terms whilst also dealing with a meteoric rise to stardom. The juxtaposition of relatable themes draws people in. Over and above his daring and virtuosic musicality, it’s his greatest strength as an artist.
His ability to distill his own personal philosophies into songs has made him a legitimate sensation these days as he sells out venues across the prairies and even into British Columbia. On the surface, he’s the 19-year-old kid that wears a suit and plays music from a bygone era but underneath it all there’s a very subtle but deep passion that underscores everything else. Audiences lap this up with great enthusiasm and vigor.
“I had a lot of fun, (and) it seems that the audience did too,” Vaadeland said when asked about the show at the Rawlinson. “I was able to talk to a lot of people, and they were all smiling and happy.”
Whether or not you ascribe to his outlook on life, the universe, and everything, if you go to a show by Jake Vaadeland and the Sturgeon River Boys, you will laugh, maybe shed a tear, marvel at the musicianship, and, above all else, have a great time. The Rawlinson show this past Feb. 1 was a prime example of a group that is ascending new heights almost daily. The proverbial sky continues to be the limit for them.