Canadian icons Blue Rodeo return to St. John’s at Mile One Centre on February 27th. Founding member Bazil Donovan caught up with The Herald for a in-depth look in the history of one of the nation’s most celebrated rock groups.
When one thinks of Canadian rock legends, there are a small handful of names that come to mind: Rush, The Tragically Hip, April Wine, and of course, Blue Rodeo.
The Jim Cuddy and Greg Keelor fronted folk rockers have been at the pinnacle of our music scene for decades, and are showing no rust or signs of slowing down. Founding member Bazil Donovan, who alongside Cuddy and Keelor have been with the group since its inception, caught up with The Herald ahead of the band’s February 27th date in St. John’s, the final stop on their cross-Canada tour.
“It’s kind of amazing. You never really know,” Donovan shared, recounting decades worth of Blue Rodeo memories. “It’s amazing to think that you’re going to spend the rest of your life with these people and one day you’re going to end up together for the next 35-40 years. I think at this stage of the game, at least for the three of us, it would take something pretty serious. It would have to be a health thing or death to make us not do it anymore, because it’s our whole life. Our adult life, anyway.”
Blessing in disguise
The band is no stranger to Canada’s most eastern point. Donovan surmised that Blue Rodeo has played in Newfoundland and Labrador upwards of 30-40 times since 1984. Most recently, the band served as a short notice addition to the George Street Festival after a summer storm canceled their performance at the Confederation Hill Music Festival – a blessing in disguise, according to Donovan.
“Personally I love the George Street Festival,” he said. “I wanted to do the show with Rod Stewart simply because it was Rod Stewart, but when I was told that we’re doing George Street, it was like ‘Oh wow, bonus,’ because that’s the most fun festival to play. It really is.
“For me, going east is the most fun, because that’s where I’m from,” he added. “My mum is from Cape Breton and my dad is from PEI. A lot of my dad’s relatives live in Newfoundland. The whole east coast is kind of rolled up and everyone scattered all over the place. I have a lot of relatives in the middle of Newfoundland. I don’t really know them though, my dad wasn’t really good at maintaining his side of the family.”
‘Beyond being brothers’
32 years as a touring ensemble and Blue Rodeo can count themselves among a rare breed of artists that has stayed united, and relevant, for decades. That unity has much to do with the polished on-stage performance fans receive night in and night out.
“When you’re in a band that long with somebody it’s kind of true – you spend so much time and get to know them so well,” Donovan shared. “It’s even beyond being brothers. It’s one of those things that you can’t really explain. Not a lot of people get that in their adult life where they become so close to other people. They’re interlocked forever. That’s kind of how we feel. We don’t hang out as friends or anything like that because we’ve just had so much of each other, but we just have a really strong bond. I have a brother, and I see a lot more of them than I do of my brother.
“In years past, when we were touring the States, we’d be gone for a whole year sometimes,’ he recalled. “You’re on a bus living right beside the person, literally a foot away. It’s pretty intense.”
Those grinding tours are made possible thanks largely to the devoted fan base who continue to turn out in droves whenever Blue Rodeo comes to town. It’s a reality that is not lost on Donovan and his bandmates.
“It continually blows my mind,” he said. “The fact that we keep going back to the same places and playing and we see the same faces and they’re just joyed that we’re there … you think wow, that’s loyal. It’s really fantastic and something I couldn’t imagine.
“When you record something people hear it on the radio and on their stereos or in the car and they get it turned down a bit. But when you get the full impact of a band playing it live and in the moment it’s strong and it’s good,” Donovan added. “There’s nothing like it. There’s nothing like a really good band on a good night, a live band. I think that we have that. We pride ourselves in that, kind of being a good live band, going out and giving it every night.”
Blue Rodeo will be treating fans to a taste of things to come on February 27th, adding upwards to five new tracks to the setlist. Donovan shared that the band is ‘good to go’ on a new album, the follow-up to the critically acclaimed 2013 release In Our Nature.
“We’re pretty much ready to go on a new album,” he shared. “There will be more songs come, but we have enough to do it now. If we had to do it tomorrow we would be OK. Between now and then, there will be more songs come into the fold. Already we have the makings of a record.
“When you’re in a band with two songwriters like Jim and Greg, you can’t really stop those guys from writing songs. It’s just what they do,” Donovan added in closing. “We’re always willing to give it another shot. If it comes out where people love the old stuff, that’s great too. People want to hear that and I understand, but they can take a half hour out of a two hour set and listen to four or five new songs that they haven’t heard before. We’re getting those songs road worthy. It’s nice to go into the studio and to have already played the songs in-front of an audience. I think this audience allows us that, because they’re kind of open to it.”
Tickets for Blue Rodeo are available at mileonecentre.com and at the box office.