After nearly three years on the road, Ryan Gullen and his band mates needed a break.
The timing couldn’t have been better, really, because their first gig back on the road is also the first time that the Sheepdogs’ bassist and his comrades will play the Yukon.
They’re one of a number of high-profile bands playing at this Sourdough Rendezvous and, as any Yukoner who has experienced the festival knows, resting up ahead of time is a good idea.
“My dad lived in Whitehorse from ‘72 to ‘77. He tells me stories from up there, but I’ve never actually been up there,” Gullen said. Needless to say, he’s pumped.
The Sheepdogs will take the stage Saturday, Feb. 22 to headline the Party on the Waterfront.
The band, from Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, shot to fame in 2011 when they won a Rolling Stone contest and landed on the cover of the magazine – the first unsigned band to pull off such a feat.
Since then it’s been three years of touring at near breakneck pace, Gullen said. But while the Rolling Stone cover coup netted them some big headlines and attention, it’s the foundation they laid on the Canadian indie-touring circuit long before Hollywood came calling that keeps them on everyone’s radar.
“For us, we had been making music together for so long. It was easier to deal with the pressures of making new music, the whole Rolling Stone thing, because it felt to us we had been a band for a really long time.
“Some of those people (in the Rolling Stone contest) had been in a band for less than a year. We’d been touring around for years, losing money but learning how to deal with each other. We had years where there were no stakes to get mad at each other and sort it all out,” Gullen said.
Now that they have, they’re confident they can keep the good times coming through their well-established sound.
One part Lynyrd Skynyrd, one part The Doors, with a heavy dose of shaggy beards and a whole lot of flannel, the Sheepdogs have earned a place next to Canada’s folk-rock legends. When the cover was announced, Rolling Stone described the band’s brand of southern rock as “groovy, harmonic, neo-psychedelic, easy-going and relaxed.”
Fresh from a Juno nomination for their video single Feeling Good, they’ll play this year’s festival alongside Canadian folk roots rockers Elliott Brood.
“I think it’s really cool. We’ve played with them before. We all hung out at the Dakota Tavern in Toronto,” Gullen said.
The bands won’t be sharing the same stage – Elliott Brood plays the Licenced to Thrill party at the Kwanlin Dun Cultural Centre on Feb. 21 – but the paring gives the festival a distinctly roots-rock sound, especially when you add in the banjos and mandolins of Vancouver’s The Matinee, who play the kick-off Main Street party this weekend.
That suits Gullen just fine.
“What is great about roots music and kind of older music, it was a lot less complicated, you’re not auto-tuning it. It’s about more about a mood and a feeling, and an emotional feeling, or just hanging out drinking beers.”
As anyone who’s been part of the annual festival knows, there will be plenty of that over the weekend.
Contact Jesse Winter at firstname.lastname@example.org