From a vantage point of 18 years in the music business, Jesse Roads can look back at a trail of “awesome” highs and some excruciating lows.
And he’s only 34 years old.
The popular Red Deer-based musician, who performs with his Jesse Roads Band on Saturday, Aug. 15, at the Alberta’s Own Music and Arts Festival at the Tail Creek Race Way in Nevis, dropped out of high school to become a full-time performer.
“It’s probably not the smartest decision,” admitted Roads, who grew up in Raymond and Taber, Alta.
But having thought of little else since getting his first guitar at age eight, he believes music was the only real choice he had.
Roads was called into his school guidance councillor’s office at age 15 or 16 and told he’d better decide what he wants from life. “He told me I’d better pick school and guarantee I wouldn’t be absent anymore, or pick the music side.”
It was no contest, said Roads.
He remembers his teenage self feeling that playing for audiences is “life-changing in its awesomeness… I thought it would get me the girl and a new world of popularity … although it didn’t exactly work out that way…”
As a 15-year-old, he recalled thinking he’d be a rock star by the time he was 20. “When I was 20, I thought, by the time I was 25 it would all work out,” Roads added.
“But by the time I was 30, I thought maybe I need to adjust what I consider to be success…”
After almost two decades of slogging in bars and at festivals, Roads can still go from playing for a couple thousand fans one night to performing for a handful of listeners the next.
He realizes very, very few talented musicians make the big-time. And he knows that pursuing music has exacted a high personal cost.
“There’s a toll. You have to choose music over your friends and sometimes even over your family,” said Roads.
The twice-divorced father of four frequently signs on for gigs that take him out of town, even on his children’s birthdays. “My kids tend to have two Christmases and two birthdays, one with their mom and one with their dad, and that works because they know we love them and that’s the way it is…”
The pay-off is Roads gets to do what he loves.
“I’m not working in the oilpatch, where I’m gone for a month at a time and making money at a job I hate doing,” said the guitarist, who also does event promotion with his Green Goose creative consulting company. He knows that not everyone who plays music is lucky enough to make a living from it.
“I’m very thankful that people come and see us play, and I’m very thankful to have fans.”
Roads, who hasn’t given up on his personal life, having a live-in partner and stepdaughter, counts the City of Red Deer and local bar owners among his biggest supporters. The municipality has hired him to perform on the Ross Street Patio, and his band has regularly played at local venues.
“Red Deer has been awesome. There isn’t this kind of camaraderie in other places. Other (artists) have said they can’t believe the support in Red Deer. It doesn’t exist in other cities.”
Roads has released various singles, as well as a 2013 full-length album that receives some local radio play.
The melodic tunes No Love, One More Time and the groove-driven Buffalo Run show different facets of his alt-rock band, which includes bassist Carl Stretton and drummer Sam Leszczinski.
Roads’ band members really look forward to their first headlining gig at the three-day Alberta’s Own independent music festival. It goes from Aug. 14 to 16 and also includes performances from Northern Pikes, Honeymoon Suite, Prism and many other groups.
“It’s like playing at a reunion — with family you didn’t know you had,” said Roads, describing the close fraternity that springs up between musicians. He credits Alberta’s Own organizer Rob Bouvier for being a huge supporter of indie music, and for “providing us with such a great place for independent bands to play.”
For ticket and scheduling information, visit www.albertasown.ca.