Country music veterans Sawyer Brown perform at the Centrium on July 19 as part of this year’s Westerner Days entertainment line-up.
The concert is free with gate admission. The guys have been raising the roofs of venues for decades now – garnering hit records and singles and plenty of awards along the way.
“We came out of the notion we were there to entertain people, to make sure everybody had a good time,” explains frontman Mark Miller of the band’s early days.
“You’re looking at a bunch of blue collar people here, who were raised to put the work in, to make sure the people are satisfied and who really love being on that stage and seeing the people letting it all go,” he said.
The band has amassed a string of hits that defined the worldview of regular people living between the coasts. There have been plenty of big records including Betty’s Being Bad, The Café On the Corner, All These Years, Used To Blue, Heart Don’t Fall Now, and Treat Her Right as well as fearless attacks on classics like George Jones’ The Race Is On and Dave Dudley’s 6 Days On The Road.
“It was a different time,” remembers bassist Jim Scholten. “People thought we were too different, too outside the box. And it took a lot to get us happening. But we were about playing, five sets a night anywhere they’d let us, until Star Search happened. Even then, we were signed out of L.A.
“But we knew one thing: we knew that the people, especially the country music fans, loved what we were doing.”
Whether the little band who auditioned for Star Search solely to get the videotape to send to prospective buyers, but then went on to win the whole thing – becoming the original ‘American Idols’ in the process — were unlikely country stars or not, they had a lot of heart and they never gave up.
“The energy onstage is what keeps the fans coming back – and their energy is part of what keeps us rocking so hard,” says drummer Joe Smyth.
The seeds for this unlikely intensity were sown in some equally unlikely places. Miller was raised Pentecostal, where the music in church threw down every bit as hard as what they do onstage.
“People look at me offstage, and think it’s an act. But that’s how me and my brother were raised. Be good, do right, but when you get to church you let it go.”
Music wasn’t an obvious companion for the boy jock, but what was set ablaze in a largely black grade school through the sounds of the Jackson 5 would reignite through the complex arrangements of the Beatles, the lush harmonies of the Beachboys and whatever he found on his radio dial.
Not long after, Miller decided to give up life on the University of Central Florida basketball team – and strike out for Nashville. His pal Greg Hubbard decided to join him. The pair soon found another Florida boy in Smyth.
A rocker from Michigan named Scholten signed on and original guitarist Bobby Randall filled out the band, which was originally named Savanah – and renamed for Sawyer Brown Road.
“We figured it was easier to get work if people thought we were a person,” said Miller. “And we wanted to work.”
Turned down by every label in Nashville – the only glimmer was Lyn Shults, working at Capitol, who also spotted Garth Brooks, who advised, “You’re different, but you’ve got something. Different is hard, but when it hits, it sticks.”
Along the way, they have worked with the best producers and writers Nashville can offer: Grammy-winner Randy Scruggs for five albums, songwriter Mac MacAnally for four more – and embraced topshelf writers from Bill Labounty and Dave Loggins to rockers Marshall Chapman, Jaime Hartford and Steve Earle.
Meanwhile, there will be plenty of action, fun and thrills to dive into during this year’s Westerner Days Fair and Exposition, set to run in Red Deer July 18-22.
As to the other main live music performances, rockers Hedley perform July 18. Tickets are $45 and can be purchased online at Ticketmaster.ca or at the Centrium box office.
Scottish rockers Nazareth perform July 20. And wrapping up the mainstage shows will be country star Terri Clark, performing July 21. As with Sawyer Brown and Nazareth, these shows are free with gate admission.
The Association of Country Music in Alberta (ACMA) and Westerner Park have also partnered to provide some of Alberta’s aspiring country musicians with the opportunity to play at this year’s fair. Country musicians will be given the opportunity to showcase their music on the Midway Stage over the five-day event at 7 p.m.
For complete details, visit www.westernerdays.ca.