For over a century, singers and songwriters have found inspiration in the ranching lifestyle and mountain scenery of Alberta. In the 1930s, Wilf Carter, a cowboy by trade, began singing on Calgary radio. Within three years he had become a star in the United States as “Montana Slim,” the yodeling cowboy. More recently, Albertans Terri Clark, Paul Brandt, Carolyn Dawn Johnson, and Adam Gregory have hit the big time south of the border. They followed the path carved by k. d. lang, of tiny Consort, who has more recently tended toward a mainstream dance/pop style of music, but who in the late 1980s became a country superstar with Grammy-winning albums pushing the boundaries of country music toward pop. Less known outside of Canada, George Fox and Ian Tyson have also made their mark on Canadian country music.
Large outdoor concerts that span over several days are popular venues for country music in Alberta. The biggest of these is the Big Valley Jamboree, at Camrose during the first weekend of August.
Although most cities have dance clubs and rock-and-roll discos, Alberta’s heritage lives on through the night in the country-music bars. Those like the Ranchman’s, in Calgary; Cook County Saloon, in Edmonton; and dozens of small-town bars across the province keep the Western image alive. Many Western-style venues attract a more mainstream crowd by offering a wider variety of music, such as Wild Bill’s, in Banff, or a party atmosphere complete with scantily clad shooter girls, such as Cowboys, in Edmonton.
© Andrew Hempstead, from Moon Western Canada, 3rd Edition