For Saskatchewan rock band The Sheepdogs, Prince Albert will always be a city of firsts.
Prince Albert was a regular destination when the band first formed in Saskatoon in 2004. They played shows at several venues, most notably the old Belly Up Pub and Grill. That was the venue where they first performed their hit song ‘I Don’t Know’, which later won Single of the Year at the 2012 Juno Awards.
“We hadn’t even recorded the song yet,” Sheepdogs bass player Ryan Gullen remembered. “We’d just written it, so that’s a memory for sure.”
Multiple albums, awards, and tours later, the Sheepdogs are back in Prince Albert. This time, they’ll be performing at the E.A. Rawlinson Centre as part of their Back Road Boogey cross-country tour.
The trip started with a show in Parry Sound, Ont. on Friday, followed by dates in Sault Ste. Marie and Thunder Bay. The band then heads west for shows in Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, and B.C. before heading back east.
“People are just like, ‘oh, of course the Sheepdogs are touring western (and) northern Canada in January,’” Gullen said with a laugh. “That’s what we’ve done for many years. We’ve always seemingly ended up in the mountains in January white-knuckling it in a van. It’s going to be fun.”
“We’re very happy to be coming to Prince Albert,” he added. “We have many fond memories of playing there.”
The tour focuses on stops in small and mid-sized cities like Prince Albert, Brandon, Moose Jaw, and Medicine Hat. After spending the last two years touring Europe, Australia, and North America, Gullen said they wanted to focus on playing smaller Canadian cities traditionally overlooked by larger acts.
“I think a lot of times in bigger cities people are sort of spoiled,” Gullen said. “They get all the shows. In Toronto, every day of the week you can pretty well go to a concert where a big international artist is playing. For us, when bands would come to Saskatoon—like when The White Stripes came to Saskatoon—it was so exciting. We never thought that band would come and do it. I think we really love the energy.
“As a musician playing live, you get so much energy back from the crowd (and) that gives you energy in your performance,” he added. “It gives you energy in what you do. (In) the smaller centres, when we come and do these shows, everyone’s just so happy to have you there and you really feel that energy.”
The Sheepdogs continue to pile up the honours. Last year they received another Juno nomination for their latest album, ‘Out of Sight’, which was written during the COVID lockdowns.
Gullen said the band wasn’t sure how to move forward when COVID hit, since touring is such a big part of their act. As restrictions on gathering sizes started to loosen, the band started playing music together in smaller settings like apartments or basements.
“We figured if we can’t go on the road, let’s just get together and work on songs and jam,” Gullen remembered. “It was very reminiscent of the early days of the band in Saskatoon and in Sam’s (drummer Sam Corbett) parent’s basement, basically all getting together, having a few beers, and just writing songs.”
The Sheepdogs were able to play a few drive-in and outdoor shows during the COVID outbreak, including one gig in Regina where they performed on the roof of a building and fans booked rooms in an adjacent hotel to watch from the balconies.
When live indoor music returned, they sold out Lee’s Place, a live concert hall in Toronto with a capacity of 600 for four straight nights.
Even though COVID still dominated the news cycle, Gullen and the band didn’t want life under COVID to be the focus of their album.
“We didn’t want to make music that was sort of reflecting on the pandemic, but rather reflecting on what people want to listen when this is done,” Gulen said. “What are we looking forward to when this is done? A lot of the album is really a conscious effort to be like, ‘let’s make music for when all this ends, hopefully soon, and we can get back to doing what we are doing.”
The Sheepdogs perform at the E.A. Rawlinson Centre on Thursday, Jan. 25. The show starts at 7:30 p.m.