By Genesee Keevil
Cort Delano started out riding wild bucking sheep.
He was only five years old.
“And I didn’t do too bad,” said the Alberta country boy.
The next step was steers and bulls.
But the bristly hide didn’t have the same soft appeal as sheep wool. So at six years old, Delano traded his cowboy hat for a hockey helmet.
Guitars hadn’t factored into the young boy’s dreams.
It wasn’t until he’d given up triple A, travelled the globe and earned a degree in outdoor education that music really entered Delano’s life.
“In college I began a musical affair with the ‘60s,” he said.
After his narrow exposure to small-town radio rock as a youth, Delano ended up knee-deep in The Doors and Janis Joplin.
“When I graduated in outdoor pursuits, my parents wanted to buy me a gift, like a kayak or some climbing equipment,” said Delano.
Instead, he asked for a guitar.
He’s now the best singer/songwriter in the prairie-roots genre.
“That’s because I’m the only one,” said Delano with a laugh.
He made up the genre.
“I used to say I was a country-folk singer,” he said.
“Then people would come up to me after a show and say, ‘You’re not really country at all, you should just say you’re folk.’
“And then someone else would say, ‘Why do you say country-folk, you’re full on country?’
“And at the same show someone else would come up and say, ‘Why do you say country-folk? You’re neither — you’re grassroots stuff.’”
That’s when Delano came up with prairie roots.
“The prairie is where I grew up,” he said. “And you can incorporate prairie into cowboys and the range, and cowboys used play banjos and stuff. So it’s kind of bluegrass, but they also really like blues music, the Americana thing, even gospel.”
With a chugging harmonica and a Dylanesque drawl, Delano sings about “muskeg up to my knees, sopping, slopping wrinkled feet,” and days starting “ before the rooster calls.”
It’s down-home stuff.
But in a province dripping with oil money, down-home sometimes has trouble finding its niche.
Despite having “great musicians in almost every corner,” the province is struggling for culture, said Delano.
A lot of Albertans are “thinking with only one side of their brain,” and it’s not the artsy side, he said.
But Delano has a plan.
“You have to be innovative in how to utilize the amount of money that’s going around and use it for good cultural events, which would, in turn, make Alberta more of an interesting place to go than just for oil,” he said.
“Because, the more money there is in a place, the more money can be put to arts and culture and things like that.
“Hopefully it will inspire other musicians to introduce music in scenes where people wouldn’t be used to it.”
Artists have to be innovative, said Delano.
“I’m not going to be one of these artists that says, ‘I’m poor and starving.’ An artist has to go out and eat and enjoy life and go to plays and see music. The money is out there, I have to just be innovative about it.”
Delano’s thirst for innovation played into his first trip north. It involved roping a bunch of friends into a road trip.
“So we split the driving and the gas costs,” he said with a laugh.
In the Yukon for almost two weeks, Delano plans to spend some time out in the bush writing new songs.
“It’ll give me time to stretch my legs, lungs and heart,” he said.
Delano and his guitar will perform in Whitehorse at the Fireweed Cabin on Thursday, June 19 at 6:30 p.m.
On June 20, he plays Sunstroke Music Festival at 2 p.m. and JR’s Pub at 8 p.m.
Delano is at Bombay Peggy’s in Dawson City on June 28 at 8:30 p.m. And he’s back in Whitehorse for Arts in the Park on June 30 at noon.