When contemplating the release of his album, The North Country,Mike Tod endeavoured to seek out the perfect location for its debut. A firm believer that the environment is the fifth or sixth (or seventh, or eighth) instrument in a live music performance, he looked eastward to the Alberta Badlands, focusing his attention of the village of Wayne, Alberta.
On May 5, The Coal Miners Retreat was born, giving life to a musical experience, far from the beaten path. The hauntingly beautiful landscape, scattered with relics from a coal mining past, was the inspiration. Although the date for the release of The North Countryhad been pushed back, it did not stop a small, but mighty, CJSW-centric crowd from making the trek across the Badlands to the Last Chance Saloon for an incredible line-up, consisting of Calgary gems Nathan M. Godfrey, Luke Thompson and the Howl, No River and Mike Tod, to provide the soundtrack for a whiskey passin’, boot stompin’, hollerin’ good time. No amount of wind and rain was able to dampen the spirits of these folks, as guests began to arrive in the early evening, each of them commenting on the breathtaking drive into the valley.
Uncertain of how the night’s events were going to unfold, the saloon was soon filled, resembling a busy night in Wayne during the boom days. Although a slo-pitch tournament was the initial plans, everyone opted out for cribbage and cards, as there was no sign of the rain letting up. Locals entertained us with stories of crazy nights at the saloon and were quite content settling in amongst a group of Calgary folk music lovers, one gentleman commenting, “I just want to sit here all day and do nothing,” raising his jar to us as a toast.
Each performance, unique in itself, contained old time musical elements of the banjo, upright bass and guitar, with a twist of the organ, banjuke and stroh violin. With arms hung across the shoulders of new friends and old, a whiskey-induced sway swept the saloon, and it seemed hard to imagine that hours before this experience seemed so foreign. Familiar friends in unfamiliar spaces helped remind us of the features of the past and present that connect us.
review and photo by Sarah EricksonAB, Alberta