By Will McGuirk
It’s been over a decade since the Rural Alberta Advantage played Oshawa. It was at the Velvet Elvis, where, as part of the show, the trio played unplugged outside on King Street.
“If I remember correctly that was in the fall of 2006 for Jonas Bonnetta's CD Release,” says singer Nils Edenloff “and I'm quite certain that was the only time that we've had the privilege of playing Oshawa.”
The RAA are returning Thursday, Apr. 4 2019, to play the Oshawa Music Hall, an event organised by students in the Music Business Management program at Durham College. It is part of the program’s annual Oshawa Music Week activities.
The Toronto-based percussive driven folk band went quickly from impromptu street busking in Oshawa to sold-out tours, a global audience and coverage in the major music papers, Rolling Stone, Pitchfork and the NY Times. They have been nominated for two Junos, long-listed for the Polaris Music Prize and they won the CBC Music Prize for Best Independent Artist in 2014. Four albums have been released, the most recent in 2017.
The RAA, along with Edenloff, are drummer Paul Banwatt and keyboardist Amy Cole. They share a label, Paper Bag Records, with Oshawa alt-country outfit Cuff The Duke and beyond stories from C.T.D., Edenloff says he has no first-hand knowledge of the city.
“That being said having spent my early years between Edmonton and Fort McMurray, and growing up in a solidly industry driven town, I definitely feel for Oshawa especially with the plant closures,” he says.
Mappe Of (aka Tom Meikle, from Whitby) will open the show. Edenloff says he has seen Meikle a couple of times and likes what he hears.
“There is a delicate beauty to the songs that he's created,” says Edenloff, “it's something that we've always struggled to achieve. Over time I think Paul, Amy and I have constantly been moving towards sounding bigger and louder, so I think the OMW show is going to be an interesting juxtaposition, sort of like Fire and Ice. Perfect for an early Spring show.”
Mappe Of returns the compliment, “There’s a palpable energy to their live shows,” he says, “and a charming Canadian identity thats goes beyond their name.”
Songs of seasons, geography, weather, are common across their albums, from their debut, “Hometowns” released in 2010 to their most recent, “The Wild’ issued in 2017. The route, between those titles, is one familiar to Canadian bands. From the Rheostatics to the Sam Roberts Band, they all travel across Canada, driving from big city to small town, leaving their homes driving into the wild blue yonder, writing of the experience. For The RAA, the road too is a muse. The people and places, past and present, they encounter, find their way into the songs. Restlessness, homelessness, search, belonging are also themes but as the band moved from hometowns to the wild they have ironically gotten closer to a place to call their own, musically and physically.
“Well at this point I've been calling Toronto home for a little over 17 years, which is definitely the longest I've ever stayed in any one place without moving on, so I feel like I've put down some roots at this point,” Edenloff says..
“I will say though that we've done a fair amount of touring since you first saw us at the Velvet Elvis and the life of a musician inherently involves embracing a certain amount of placeless-ness. So as long as we're still playing shows I feel like there will always be a healthy mix of restlessness and longing for home.
Edenloff says it’s the wilderness where he perhaps best allays the longing.
“I honestly can't think of a more calming feeling than having some time to yourself out in the middle of nowhere,” he says.
Fellow Albertan Jann Arden once called Oshawa the middle of nowhere so Edenloff should find himself quite at home here.