Gary Fjellgaard is still in amazement of what can come from just a single voice and acoustic guitar when amplified.
What he doesn’t mention is the importance of the person standing behind those things, and when Paul Valdemar Horsdal (Valdy) and himself get together it is a magic combination and remembrance of days gone by.
“People always say, ‘What do you have new coming out?’ and we respond, ‘Well, what do you want us to do stand on our heads?’” said Fjellgaard, who is performing with Valdy in Summerland Oct. 27. “We just do what we do and we are keeping that tradition alive of the travelling minstrel, vagabond troubadour or whatever you want to call it. It is nice to do the kind of music that people can just sit and enjoy.”
While music trends come and go Valdy and Fjellgaard, known together as the Contenders, stick to singing about Canada’s frontier spirit and rustic roots.
“I think everything that I write has always been influenced by my surroundings. I came from the Prairies and we still farmed with horses and I have lots of songs about that day and age. In B.C. I worked with a chainsaw for many years working out in the bush as a logger and raising our kids out there and have songs about that,” said Fjellgaard, who is a Juno award winner.
Their songs are as Canadian as they come. Farmers, roughnecks and loggers are what Fjellgaard croons about in Colour of Your Collar.
“I think with songwriting there has to be an element of truth in your songs otherwise it has a hollow ring to it. I sang about life on a little prairie town when I was 10 years old barefoot catching gophers and selling them for a penny a tail and the tobacco can I stole from the hired hand and smoked the whole thing in one morning.”
Fjellgaard said it is one of the highlights of his year to share the stage with Valdy when they reunite each fall as The Contenders for an annual tour through the Okanagan and Interior. Valdy is a Juno award winner, has received seven additional Juno nominations and four of his 14 albums are certified gold. Valdy appeared on the CBC television show The Beachcombers as the environmental activist Halibut Stu, but his career began in the early 70s when he released Rock and Roll Song as his first mainstream single.
“It is such a privilege and pleasure to work with a grand master of showmanship. He is such a professional in such a humble way is my friend Valdy. We have so many things to say and so many stories to tell and we don’t take ourselves that seriously so a lot of them are quite funny,” said Fjellgaard.
One of the ultimate experiences as a songwriter came together for Fjellgaard recently as he played at the Pacific Coliseum for thousands of First Nations people during the B.C. Truth and Reconciliation Week in September. Fjellgaard performed his song I Apologize.
“There was so much power in the room it was absolutely awesome. It was so humbling to be invited to play,” he said. “Moments like that are the ones you treasure.”
Fjellgaard can clearly remember the day when Prime Minister Stephen Harper said the words “we are sorry,” and was listening to accounts from residential school survivors on the radio. Driving at the moment, he was so touched by the survivors he had to pull over and stop.
“It was so incredibly moving. At the time I thought, is that it? The federal government makes the apology and that is it? It should surely last longer than that, so I wrote the song from the perspective that it was my fault and I would take all the blame. It was so truthful and from the heart,” said Fjellgaard.
“One woman told me that my song meant more to her than Harper’s apology. If it touched that lady it probably touched others too. That speech Harper made was just a few minutes long, this song will keep going and maybe help change a few lives.”
The Contenders kick off their 13th annual tour through the Okanagan/Interior in Summerland at Centre Stage theatre on Oct. 27 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets ($20) are available at Martin’s Flowers and Dragon’s Den.