The Departed are about to cross into Alberta for the very first time to perform at the Texas Connection Music Festival at the Daines Ranch near Innisfail on Saturday afternoon.

Band bringing ‘red dirt’ country-folk to festival

Cody Canada grew up in Yukon — Yukon, Okla., that is.

Cody Canada grew up in Yukon — Yukon, Okla., that is.

Despite his last name, the founding member of the Texas-based country band The Departed has never set foot north of the U.S. border. Until now.

Canada and the rest of The Departed are about to cross into Alberta for the very first time to perform at the Texas Connection Music Festival at the Daines Ranch near Innisfail on Saturday afternoon. The two-day festival that starts on Friday night also features the Cody Johnson Band, Mickey and the Motorcars, the Casey Donahew band and others.

Canada is pretty excited about this northern foray — and a bit nervous as well.

The 36-year-old admitted, “I always wondered how much trouble I’d get into at the border” with his last name being Canada. “But it’s 100 per cent my last name,” having belonged to his father before him, he stressed. “And I’m really glad that after all my years in the music business, I’m finally going to see Canada.”

Canada was actually born in Texas, but his family moved east when he was young and he was raised in Oklahoma.

At age 16, the young musician migrated from Yukon to Stillwater, Okla. There he met songwriters Tom Skinner, Scott Evans, Bob Childers and the Red Dirt Rangers — and in the process, discovered his musical home. Something about the “red dirt” country-folk music created in Stillwater left an indelible impression on Canada.

The songs were definitely influenced by the hardscrabble history of that state, where tornados and droughts pushed pioneers to their limits, he mused. “It’s true and honest music that people were writing from the heart.”

Canada tapped into those sounds during his 16 years as frontman for the alternative country group Cross Canadian Ragweed. Four of the band’s nine albums charted into Billboard’s Top 10 Country Albums, and the musicians played to thousands of devoted fans over the years.

When Cross Canadian Ragweed broke up, Cody resurfaced with a new band and a fresh mandate.

“I wanted to put out an album that paid tribute to all of those guys (Oklahoma songwriters) I grew up listening to. . .. This is the music I needed to play.”

The Departed’s debut album, This Is Indian Land, was one of the best-selling alt-country/red dirt albums of last year, with three tracks reaching the No. 1 spot on the Texas Music Chart, which covers radio stations across Texas, Arkansas, Oklahoma and New Mexico.

Canada included songs such as The Ballad of Rosalie, by Randy Pease, on the release. The tune initially sounds like a love song about a woman, but turns out to be about a guy who’s smitten by a pawn shop guitar. “Musicians will understand that song,” said Canada, with a chuckle.

Face on Mars, by Randy Crouch, is another song on the CD, chosen because of its “cosmic,” retro vibe that Canada believes recalls the wonder of the moon landings and the hub-bub that resulted when a photo of Martian terrain was thought to resemble a human face.

Following the successful debut album, The Departed — including bassist Jeremy Plato, guitarist Seth James, keyboardist Steve Littleton, and drummer Dave Bowden — has already recorded a second CD of all-original material, which is due out this fall.

The new release, Adventus (Latin for arrival), is being produced by Joe Hardy, who helped shape some Ragweed albums and ZZ Top efforts.

Canada said the 14 new tracks are still heavy with the red dirt sound of Oklahoma, where Woodie Guthrie was born and raised, where people struggle to eke out a living through depressions and droughts — and now a recession.

“It’s not as bad as it was. (In the past), you couldn’t just buy a 29 cent taco, or walk down to the 7-Eleven,” said Canada.

But that won’t stop him from carrying on the Oklahoma tradition of writing heartfelt country-rock songs about human travails.

The Daines Ranch is six km north of Innisfail. There’s onsite camping and a beer garden at the Texas Connection Music Festival. Ticket are $95 ($85 seniors) from Ticketmaster. For more information, visit www.txconnection.com.

lmichelin@bprda.wpengine.com

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