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Nashville of the North: How Country Music is Thriving in Canada’s Heartland

A new generation of roots musicians are taking the Canadian Prairies by storm.

Credit: Jasmine Strachan

Country, roots, and Americana music is currently thriving in Canada’s Prairie provinces of Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba.

Canada’s influence on these genres has been massive, with artists such as Neil Young and Joni Mitchell leading the way. Today, a new generation of Canadian musicians are crisscrossing the Prairies, playing to anyone who’ll listen. These guitar slingers are belting out songs on par with anything their American counterparts have to offer.

In the city of Saskatoon, Mitchell’s old hometown, a community of young country artists keep the old traditions alive. The Local Group is a progressive bluegrass band with tunes like ‘The Information Age Frustration Rage’. They form the core of the city’s country community.

Amigos Cantina, a legendary Saskatoon live music venue, hosts regular honky-tonk jamborees. The house band is called The Salt Licks, and features players from various different groups.

Folk singer-songwriter Ellen Froese is another integral component of the Saskatoon scene. Froese can be classified as a modern Joni Mitchell. With complex melodies and achingly beautiful lyrics, her music is timeless.

Mention should also be made of Jake Vaadeland, who refers to himself as the Retro Man. His on-stage persona is based on 1950s-style country singers. The music itself is as retro as his look, and includes rockabilly, bluegrass, and folk influences.

Lastly, folk duo Kacy and Clayton bring an international flavor to the Prairies. Having signed with New West Records, they collaborated with New Zealand-born singer-songwriter Marlon Williams on 2020s Plastic Bouquet. Williams himself has been a supporting act for Lorde. This means there’s only one degree of separation between the famous pop star and Saskatchewan’s most well-kept musical secret.

Crossing Boundaries

Going global, however, is nothing new for musical acts from the Prairies. The Dead South’s video for ‘In Hell I’ll be in Good Company’ went viral with 330M views on YouTube. This made them overnight sensations. Today, they regularly tour the United States and Europe.

Another artist who’s made it big on the international stage is Colter Wall. Wall’s ‘Sleeping on the Blacktop’ features in the Oscar-nominated films Hell or High Water and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. The song now has over 120M streams on Spotify.

The country singer is renowned for his deep baritone voice that reminds one of Johnny Cash. He also once turned down Joe Rogan because he was working as a ranch hand in Texas. There were no hard feelings, however. In talking about Wall, Rogan said, “…I love his music…I love his authenticity.”

Hometown Heroes

But not every artist from the Prairies makes it on the big stage. Zachary Lucky; Mariel Buckley; Del Barber; Belle Plaine; Blake Berglund; Bree & Brown; Wolf Willow. These are names hardly anyone in Canada, let alone the world, have heard of. Yet, they continue to play their music in small venues across the vast open plains, usually only to a handful of people.

The adoration of millions of fans might not be there yet. But those who are there to listen find great joy and comfort in the music these talented artists produce.

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