Corb Lund Plays the Calgary Folk Festival
At first, I thought Corb Lund was joking when he told me that he was nominated for this year’s Americana Music Awards Emerging Artist category. Emerging? I asked him what constitutes emerging in his case. “I know,” he responded. “Six records in, right? The new record is the first one that’s had a proper US release. My other ones were available as imports, but the new one is out on a full American label.” Losin’ Lately Gambler has anchored Lund a permanent home on New West Records, giving him a shot at long-deserved recognition south of the border. Some of his heroes are labelmates: Kris Kristofferson, Steve Earle, and Dwight Yoakam are among Lund’s early influences.
It seems wherever Lund goes, he is surrounded by both his predecessors and admirers. Saturday afternoon at the CFF found Lund in two workshops: one with alt-country contemporaries Baskery (who unabashedly declared their excitement about playing onstage with him), Ox, and the United Steel Workers of Montreal, where he bravely tested the waters with a new, no-chorus-as-yet tune about a gun that accidentally takes the life of its owner. Following that, Lund hosted what was probably the most popular workshop of the day, introducing a generation of troubadours, Geoff Muldaur, Tom Russell, and Ian Tyson, to an eager audience anticipating the collaboration that was inevitably going to materialize over the hour. I asked Lund if he was at all intimidated by playing with them: “No, it’s always fun, I’m friends with them, especially Ian. And I’ve known Tom for quite awhile. This one is particularly cool because it’s our hometown, here in Calgary and they’ve got a history together. Geoff was really fun too. It was easy to host it because I know their music. It was comfortable and fun.”
What about the role that has been thrust upon him by the media and industry as Tyson’s successor? “I don’t know, that’s not really for me to judge. People have said that, whether or not it’s true, I guess we’ll find out in 20 years. I certainly relate to his writing, I think we’re in the same universe as far as where we’re coming from. I feel like I’ve learned a lot from him.”
Lund belongs to a small coterie of what might be branded as “western” singers, those who speak directly of the harsh conditions of the prairies, the uncertain and unforgiving work of the cowboy, the ability of a cold winter night to intensify a broken heart. Lund tempers his tales of western life with a dash of urban sophistication and a left-leaning view on political matters, endearing him to an audience far removed from rural prairie life. But he claims what he is doing is nothing new: “Americana or indie country or whatever you want to call it, it’s always bubbling under the surface. It’s basically story-telling, acoustic music and that’s always going to have an audience, whether it’s hip or not at the time. There’s always a core audience for it.”
Do 10,000 audience members anticipating his headline show in downtown Calgary’s Prince’s Island Park Saturday night have a different set of expectations? “This one’s especially meaningful,” he said. “When we took the show, I didn’t know they were going to let us headline tonight. So being from around here, that’s quite meaningful to us. I’ve been coming to this festival for years and years…We had to choose this year between playing the Calgary Stampede and this, and it’s funny because we kind of straddle—like half our audience is rural, country radio listeners, which is what I came from as a kid, and the other half is the Steve Earle, roots songwriter world. We straddle both, so we had to pick. We wanted to do the Stampede again but it was important for us to stay in touch with the artistic side of what we do. The audience here is tuned into some of the more subtle stuff that we do.”
Lund will be joining top Americana players such as Emmylou Harris, the Avett Brothers, and Roseanne Cash this September at the Ryman when he heads down to the Awards in Nashville. As the only international artist in the Emerging Artist category, this will be an opportunity for him to show Austin what Western-Canadiana is all about.