Barney Bentall gives a warm hello from aboard the Cariboo Express

By Graham Mackenzie
Barney Bentall says the Cariboo Express will go on until he has to come onstage in a walker. Photo: Courtesy of Barney Bentall

Barney Bentall says the Cariboo Express will go on until he has to come onstage in a walker.
Photo: Courtesy of Barney Bentall

CALGARY — From a rodeo dance in the Cariboo region of B.C. came a musical idea that has turned into a fundraiser tour de force in Western Canada. From Barney Bentall, a musician that can milk a wild range cow when he needs to, the man behind several classic Canadian rock staples like “Something to Live For,” and “Life Could be Worse,” comes the Cariboo Express Tour.

Before talking about the latest edition of his celebrated annual tour, BeatRoute checked in about what Bentall has been up to.

Barney Bentall: Once a year I go on a trip with Adventure Canada, a company that really pioneered adventure travel, primarily ship travel through the Canadian North. They have a wonderful collective of resources: writers, filmmakers, Inuit culturalists, geologists, musicians, zodiac drivers, and bear guards. You find an amazing collection of people usually going on the trip. It’s been a wish list thing to do this; it’s amazing to be up there, 17 days from the Western Arctic through to the coast of Greenland.

BeatRoute: You also played at Hardly Strictly Bluegrass in San Francisco recently with your other project the High Bar Gang, and this tour the Cariboo Express has a more country and western tone as well. Do you find you are adopting this style more and more and transitioning away from rock ‘n’ roll?

BB: When I first started in the ‘80s I think we were very much a rock ‘n’ roll band. I think the further I go along, I like so many facets of popular and modern music and old time music, I get something from all of it. I still love to go out with my band, the Legendary Hearts. We still play shows each year, and those shows are back to that more primal rock ‘n’ roll experience. I delve into bluegrass with this new hobby band that is actually doing quite well, the High Bar Gang, and that’s been a real wonderful journey. The Cariboo Express, yeah, its kinda country western but when Ridley Bent gets going on “Suicidewinder,” it rocks out full bore. There’s a real variety in the night at the Cariboo Express and that’s what we are going for, its not strictly old time by any means, its more an old school variety show, we didn’t know what it would be exactly or how it would develop but I didn’t want to control anyone’s material choice. We go from Leeroy Stagger, who has an old time feel but is very current, then all of a sudden we switch into a traditional bluegrass number, we just keep mixing it up and it always seems to work, right from the first show ten years ago. We also adopted from the beginning, after watching those old Grand Ole Opry shows, these announcements, like, “coming up next is Mel Tillis brought to you by Gillette, closest shave you can get.” I thought me and co-host Matt Masters could write skits and poke fun with these type announcements and get sponsorships and raise money for charity.

BR: How does that work? How can someone sponsor a song for the Cariboo Express show?

BB: Normally, the promoter in each town has paired with a charity, and the charity goes out and offers song sponsorships, but you can go through the Cariboo Express website and contact the publicist Joelle May for the whole tour and she will help you contact Heather O’Hara, who is the liaison with the charities.

BR: Will the Cariboo Express ride on indefinitely?

BB: Yeah, some years I’ve thought maybe it was done but then you realize that the shows have provided 50,000 meals for the Downtown Eastside in Vancouver each year. In Cranbrook we support an organization called Friends of Children that helps families with sick children fly to bigger centres for care, these things make a difference so it becomes pretty hard to stop. Then there’s the other part of it all: the players. Whether it’s my son Dustin, or the regular cast of characters – Ridley, or Leeroy or a revolving door of guests, it’s become a highlight of my year playing with them. When the music starts, its so much fun and the hang is spectacular. We’re all really good friends and it’s multigenerational too and quite interesting so I am sure we will be continuing until I have to go out on the stage with a walker.

BR: Where is Barney Bentall going next?

BB: A new album in May. I have never wanted to be a nostalgia act. I like to keep doing what I do, it’s been very inspirational hanging around my son Dustin, and Ridley Bent, and Matt Masters – all these people have really given me a shot in the arm as time goes by. We all hang out together, it never feels ageist, they’re all a bit wild but respectful. They are everything I love and embrace about music. It’s been real inspirational to connect with these guys through my son, and we joke about the family business with Dustin but he’s really just another troubadour, another person that decided to follow that kind of pathway. He’s a great songwriter and entertainer, and I love watching him play and its nice to have this month to play together. I know it would drive him crazy if we toured all year together but I think it is one of the aspects that makes the Cariboo Express special.

Barney Bentall’s Cariboo Express Tour comes rolling into Southminster United Church in Lethbridge on November 2nd, the Max Bell Centre in Calgary November 4th, and the Vogue Theatre in Vancouver on November 26th. There are plenty of other stops in B.C. – check for listings.

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