Live music venues open and sometimes close. Musicians come and go.
But one constant on Red Deer’s music sphere, since the mid 1980s anyway, has been Carl Stretton, a multi-faceted musician, music promoter and now musical talent developer, as well as publisher of the Red Deer Scene entertainment guide.
When Stretton first started gigging in Red Deer nearly 30 years ago, most live music was happening in downtown hotels, such as the Buffalo, Windsor and Arlington.
At the time, Stretton was repairing electronics at The Brick by day and performing, by night, on the stand-up bass, guitar and keyboards in various “party bands” that would often be hired for private functions. One was the now defunct country group Shunda, out of Rocky.
Stretton was grooving with the popular local cabaret band Fill in the Blanks by the early 1990s. Although he held other day jobs after electronics repair became a thing of the past, such as working at a local print shop, “I was always playing,” recalled the musician.
Stretton considers music to be a vital, almost transcendent, experience. “When music is really happening between people, it’s almost like going into another state of existence. You’re in a whole other realm of communication … a higher state of being.”
This happens regardless of whether there’s an audience, he said.
But it occurs even more so when energy from spectators is added to the mix.
While some performers might be all about ego, music for Stretton has always been more about “sharing an experience.”
And over the past few decades, he has shared plenty of experiences with a litany of musicians and local groups — from accompanying solo artists, to being part of classical chamber orchestras, jazz and blues, rock and folk bands.
Stretton will next be seen playing the keyboards on Wednesday with a local David Bowie tribute band. He will appear at Fratters Speakeasy, along with local musicians Logan Murray, Paeton Cameron, Charlie Jacobson and James Adams.
Red Deer’s music scene has expanded and contracted several times over the past few decades — often with the economy. But the last couple of years have been booming, thanks to a profusion of new venues: The Hideout, The International Beer Haus, Fratters, LBG’s, District Eatery and Lounge, Fionn MacCool’s, the One-Eleven Grill, Slumland, and others, have joined The Vat, Velvet Olive Red Deer Legion and Blarney Stone in providing performance space for local, provincial and nationally known musicians.
“I feel like there’s a ball rolling and maybe even gathering steam,” said Stretton, who is loving the local live music Renaissance. “There’s a general feeling, among club owners, that there’s a value in offering live music … and if they’re able to make it financially, it’s because there’s an audience to support it.”
With more local music infrastructure, he hopes young Red Deer musicians can build a following while honing skills that could someday take their careers beyond Red Deer.
Stretton can’t believe how many hugely talented musicians are in our midst. “With the talent level, I see something (big) coming out of Red Deer in the next five or 10 years.”
Randi Boulton, Cameron, Jacobson and Sarah Sandford are some of the up-and-coming local artists Stretton is “developing” through his new reSound promotion company.
This isn’t Stretton’s only project. This March will mark the 10th anniversary of his Red Deer Scene free entertainment guide that’s available at various downtown venues and online.
Stretton admitted he started the listing in 2004 out of personal interest. “I wanted to know what was happening around town.”
It took a while for the bulletin to become a business that produces an income.
But the 58-year-old hopes his entertainment listing will eventually help build a bigger audience for live music in the city he moved to in 1985.
Stretton was born in New York to musician parents who couldn’t make their union work. Following their breakup, he and his brother moved with their Edmonton-born mother back to her native city.
And Stretton didn’t see his Boston-born father again until he was a teenager.
His mother got remarried to a physics instructor, who took the family to Ohio after accepting a teaching job at Kenyon College.
It was a critical time in U.S. history. “There was a lot of unrest, a lot of tension,” said Stretton, who remembers Vietnam protests, the shooting of students at Kent State University and the Watergate crisis.
“I was never really fond of the U.S.” for those reasons, added the musician. After his stepfather died, Stretton’s mother took him and his two brothers back to Alberta to avoid the U.S. draft.
Stretton had played the piano from a young age, then tried and passed on the violin and viola. Instead, he gravitated towards the stand-up bass in middle school. “I guess I was compensating for something,” he joked.
He was so small and the instrument was so big that he remembers having to stand on a step stool for a few years just to play it.
After finishing high school in Edmonton, Stretton took music at Grant MacEwan College, learning jazz. He later played in a country-rock band, a disco band and a western-swing band. But touring took its toll.
Stretton, who got married and was to have two daughters, saw a need to get practical. He went to NAIT to learn to become an electronics services technician. It was employment that brought him to Red Deer, where he worked at The Brick for the next 17 years.
Although this job and his marriage ultimately didn’t last, Stretton’s love of music has never left him.
As a promoter who has occasionally lost money bringing in lesser-known artists, Stretton knows Red Deer is still largely a centre with mainstream cultural tastes.
But when he looks down the road, he hopes more city residents become aware and supportive of various styles of music — not just the stuff of commercial radio playlists.
“There are so many absolutely great people at the mid-range level of Canada’s music scene that I don’t think are playing to as big audiences and they could, or should, be … I’d like to see them more recognized in Red Deer,” he said.
And as for local musicians, Stretton believes they already get great grassroots support from their hometown. After all, it’s their due. “The talent here is as good, if not better, than in most places.”
The David Bowie tribute band performance at Fratters starts at 8:30 p.m. There’s a $10 cover charge at the door. Patrons are invited to “get their glam on,” as prizes are available for best glam-rock costume.