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- Our Town
Expect your JulyFest loud, Big and Wide
The East Kootenay's rock event of the summer is taking place this weekend approaching, as two top Canadian rock bands — Wide Mouth Mason and Big Sugar — take the stage Saturday, July 19, at the Kimberley Civic Arena as part of JulyFest celebrations. Expect it loud. Expect to be transported.
Big Sugar, formed by singer, guitar player and producer Gordie Johnson in the late 1980s, are renowned for their heavy blues-rock-reggae stylings, Johnson's mindbending guitar work, and high volume, marathon concerts.
Wide Mouth Mason draws its style from electric blues, and was last featured in the area opening for ZZ Top in Cranbrook in 2010.
Big Sugar's Johnson spoke to the Townsman last week, from somewhere on the road, where he and the band usually are. Big Sugar is no stranger to the area. Though this will be their first Kimberley performance per se, the band has played Cranbrook several times, Invermere, Fernie ... Johnson is asked if he's partial to this area.
"Not be to be impartial," he responds, "but I play everywhere at lot. Big Sugar's been to Europe twice this year. My other group, Sit Down, Servant!!, has been to Europe once, and we're going back in the beginning of November. Big Sugar's going back to Europe at the end of November. We've got a cross-Canada toured planned for January and February next year — Man, I play everywhere all the time.
"I thought I might slow down at some point, but that doesn't seem to be in the cards right now."
The two bands together can be expected to provide a charismatic display of rock, a perfect capstone for a hot summer Saturday night, and the centrepiece event for the summer party that is JulyFest.
"We call these shows Big and Wide," Johnson said, "because it's Big Sugar and Wide Mouth Mason together. And by the time Big Sugar takes the stage we bring all the Wide Mouth Mason guys in us with too, so there's eight of us on stage."
It should be noted that the two bands are also old pals.
"I produced a record for them back in 2000," Johnson said. "And Wide Mouth Mason's first cross-Canada tour was opening for Big Sugar, back in the mid-90s. They're like our baby brothers. We've always been very close, these two bands."
The synergy between Big and Wide is only increased by the fact that Johnson is currently serving as Wide Mouth Mason's bass player, and has done so for the past several years. He was last seen here with Shaun Verreault (lead Vocals, guitar), Safwan Javed (drums), playing bass as they opened for legendary Texas rockers ZZ Top in Cranbrook.
"Their original bass player left the band, and they were kind of in the lurch because they had been offered the ZZ Top tour. I know Billy Gibbons (ZZ Top's founder, guitarist and vocalist) quite well — and I thought, 'Man, what a great opportunity for you guys, I'd hate to see you miss it. I'll try to think of a bass player who can fill in for you.' And they were like, 'Uhhh, well, what about you?' That sounded like a nice way to spend the summer, so I filled in with them for a while, but now it's been four years! I think I might stick around for a bit."
So in Kimberley, Johnson will hit the stage with Wide Mouth Mason, play that show, switch immediately to six-string and perform another high octane set with Big Sugar. Does one work a sweat that way?
"It's pretty natural for me," Johnson said. "That's what I do — I play music. For anybody else that might seem excessive or exhausting, but that's just what I do. It's the other 20 hours of the day that are exhausting.
"When I'm on bass, that's where I'm supposed to be, that's where everything feels just about right."
In other Big Sugar new, the band has a new album out — "Yard Style."
"It's our first all acoustic record," Johnson said. "There's about a dozen of us, guys who've been in and out of Big Sugar over the years, and other collaborators that we've worked with. Songwriters like the guys in the Trews, Meredith Shaw, the Rastas that have been a big influence on us in Toronto.
"All these people in one room, and without really being too aware of the recording process, we just played and sang live. We sat in a circle and recorded about 20 songs, and narrowed it down to the ones that are on the album. But it was a very informal get together, just singing and playing. It was pretty magical recording it, and think it really comes through on that record."
Big Sugar and Wide Mouth Mason play Kimberley's Civic Arena Saturday, July 19.