In a divisive world, Blue Rodeo is focusing on the power of community.
The title track from their latest album, 1000 Arms, revolves around the story of a bipolar woman in San Francisco. The woman is a coffee shop owner who can at times get lost.
“The members of the community know her and will help her and take her back to this coffee shop she owns. The chorus of the songs refers to 1,000 arms to guide her back home,” drummer Glenn Milchem said. “So 1000 Arms is a symbol of community and when we were thinking of the title for the record we chose that because we were thinking about the importance of community and about our musical community.”
Milchem and his bandmates felt the same sense of togetherness when the entire nation came together to celebrate the life and music of Tragically Hip front man Gord Downie after he announced his diagnosis of agressive brain cancer.
“They, and particularly Gord, turned it into this incredible poignant moment. It was beautiful and incredibly graceful. I think that was what made the strongest impression,” Milchem said.
The band has a long-standing relationship with the Tragically Hip, going back to the beginning of Blue Rodeo.
“We all know Gord and we all had really strong feelings about the news of his illness and their last tour,” Milchem said.
He and the rest of Blue Rodeo got a chance to see the Hip on their last tour at the Air Canada Centre.
“It was truly one of the top three arena shows I’ve ever seen,” Milchem said.
Blue Rodeo also performed at CBC personality George Stroumboulopoulos’ house for a recorded tribute to the Hip. One of the songs they played, the famed 1999 single Bobcaygeon.
Playing Bobcaygeon was a big moment for the band later on as well during their show at the Molson Ampitheatre in Toronto.
“It was the same night that the Hip played their last show in Kingston and we played Bobcaygeon at that show. While we were playing that, on the screens at the ampitheatre, they showed some shots of the Hip performing simultaneously in Kingston. It was very, very moving,” Milchem said. “It was a beautiful moment. The audience was so emotional and ecstatic.”
There was some trepidation, knowing they were playing on the same night as the last show for Gord Downie in Kingston. After the concert got underway however, those feelings subsided.
“The outpouring of emotion for the Hip at the show was beautiful,” Milchem said.
It was an emotional year for Blue Rodeo in more ways than one, with pedal steel player Bob Egan announcing his departure from the band in August.
“I wasn’t surprised. It was something he kind of alluded to for a while,” Milchem said.
Egan is the first-time father of a one-year-old boy, which was part of him making the decision to part ways with Blue Rodeo.
“I was obviously sorry to hear because I love Bob and he is a delightful person, lovely guy to have in the band. A lovely musician” Milchem said. “I knew it was coming and I knew it was time and I’m really happy for him. I think it’s working out really well for him.”
Milchem said there are times when Egan misses the band.
“I get that because it’s very much like a family after being in this thing for a long time. It does become like a second family. So it would be a tremendously hard thing to let go of. This is my 25th year, I can’t imagine what it would be like to walk away from it,” Milchem said. “Other than my immediate family members, nothing in my life has been more constant than Blue Rodeo.”
It was the most amicable instance of a band member leaving that Milchem can remember, lacking any animosity.
“Which has happened in the past where someone says ‘I hate you guys,’ and he leaves and you go what the hell? What happened,” Milchem laughed. “We’ve had that happen, so Bob’s parting was as lovely a departure as you could hope for.”
Having a 30-year history in the industry Milchem said despite shifts in the music industry things haven’t changed much from the Blue Rodeo perspective.
“We’re an established band who became established in the old music industry. For us, in a lot of ways, things haven’t changed,” Milchem said.
The band is fortunate to be a “nostalgia act” as Milchem puts it.
“So people want to keeping coming to see us, before we die,” Milchem laughed. “Before we keel over on stage.”
Milchem added the nostalgia factor might play a part in looking back to earlier days in Canadian music with rose-coloured glasses.
“Right now is an amazing time for Canadian music. People always look back and go ‘oh man, the ‘80s were so great,’ when people in the ‘80s were saying ‘it sucks.’ I remember the ‘80s I was like ‘this sucks, MTV sucks, Much Music sucks. Everything sucks.’ Now everybody is looking back on that with nostalgia,” Milchem said. “I think everybody looks at the present time with a jaundiced eye and thinks ‘oh it was better 10 or 20 years ago.’ But believe me, 10 or 20 years from now everybody is going to be looking back to the good ol’ days of 2017.”
Blue Rodeo comes to the South Okanagan Events Centre on Jan. 24.
Tickets are available by phone 1-877-763-2849 as well as online at www.valleyfirsttix.com, and in person at the Valley First Box Office (at the SOEC) and Wine Country Visitor Centre
Tickets (including GST) are $33.50, $63.50 and $83.50 (plus FMF and service charges).