Featuring a compelling blend of bluegrass, roots, country and Celtic tones, the Wheatland Band will be featured at Entertainment in the Park on July 29th.
The trio is made up of the veteran Alberta comic folk duo Lewis & Royal with the relatively new addition of balladeer Travis Friesen.
Royal Sproule will be unable to attend the Stettler show, but Friesen promises a great concert packed with versatility, good humour and fun with him and Lewis Frere.
“Lewis and Royal have been playing together for 25 years now,” explained Friesen during a recent chat. “They’ve traveled all over western Canada playing music, and it was six years ago that I joined the band. They liked my singing and they thought that I could add a whole new layer to the band,” he said, adding that the signature ‘stacked’ harmonies really injected a whole new sound to the group.
As to the Stettler show, Friesen said that even though Royal is sitting this one out, he and Lewis will bring their very best to the stage.
“Lewis is a human jukebox; he loves interacting with the crowd. And that is really the nature of our group. Not necessarily trying to give off a polished, formal presentation – we are well-rehearsed – but we like to have a lot of fun!
“It’s a blast, and people love that kind of stuff. We play beautiful music with beautiful harmonies, but it’s accessible,” he explained. “I’ve had such a good experience playing with these guys over these past six years – we’ve traveled through Saskatchewan and all through Alberta as well.”
As to his own musical journey, Friesen said it surfaced later in life.
“I didn’t know I could sing – I was way too shy. I went to acting college when I was 22 and I thought, you know what, if I’m going to be a performer I should try singing! So it turned out I was a good singer,” he added with a laugh. “I just never did it growing up. I had wanted to be a pilot – and I still kind of do. So I would sing in the shower and that kind of thing, but I never took it seriously – I was way too insecure and way too shy.”
Thankfully, those days are in the past.
Today, Friesen finds being onstage a joyful and inspiring experience all its own.
“Sometimes when you just choose to go in a direction, the feeling and emotion will follow,” he said of his decision to sing.
Friesen hails originally from Manitoba, and now calls Rosebud home.
“I grew up on Stan Rogers and Steve Bell – very folky stuff. I also listened to a lot of Cat Stevens growing up, too. It’s not really the music of my generation but my mom listened to that stuff in the house, so it really rubbed off on me. The balladeers are really who I was attracted to.”
But back to the band and Friesen’s coming onboard. “Royal lives in Rosebud as well, and so I knew these guys from day one in moving to Rosebud. Lewis has been really connected with the theatre community there as well and all musical aspects of Rosebud, too.
“I was doing a performance at a fundraiser, and Lewis and Royal were there,” he said, referring to his officially signing on. “We sat down and they said, ‘Hey, we want you to play with us’. They had a conversation about it, so we just started. They were also doing the Lewis, Royal and Friends Christmas concert and they invited me along. They said, ‘Why don’t you be one of our guests’, and I ended up playing all the songs with them – I was up there onstage for the whole evening.
“So that’s where the conversation came from.”
Today, Friesen describes the band’s style as being that of a ‘Celtic balladeer’.
They have recorded one ‘live’ album but not a studio album as of yet. They are busy with other pursuits, so time is a bit limited. “We play as much as we can, and we find a way to make it work.”
But there is no question they men are having a terrific time each step of the way.
“Playing with these guys is always an adventure. You never know what to expect because they just will say random things. Depending on the audience, it’s always different. It’s unlike anything I have ever experienced.
“It’s also so fun with the audience. Depending on who is in the crowd, it’s just so unpredictable. And that is such a draw.
“And of course, singing the harmonies for me is a necessity. Singing is a compulsion of mine – that is the best way that I can explain it. It’s not something that I should do – it’s something that I feel like I have to do.”
Also scheduled for Entertainment in the Park is Drew Gregory on Aug. 5th followed by Devin Cooper on Aug. 12th, the Genuine Cowgirls on Aug. 19th and Tracy Millar on Aug. 26th.