Jake Vaadeland and the Sturgeon River Boys

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Well dressed dudes breaking it down country style. Jake Vaadeland

The boys give Regina a taste of ol’ Tennessee

by daniel kemp, contributor

On Friday, March 11, Jake Vaadeland & the Sturgeon River Boys brought a smattering of old-timey Nashville to the Artesian on Regina’s 13th Avenue. The group, led by 18-year-old Vaadeland, treated the packed house to a high-energy mix of bluegrass, country, folk, and rockabilly. The evening’s setlist consisted mostly of original numbers penned by Vaadeland, interspersed with odes to the singer-songwriter’s primary sources of inspiration. This included an instrumental version of the Carter Family’s signature song, “Wildwood Flower,” as well as a few other bluegrass standards, such as “Foggy Mountain Special” and “Pike County Breakdown.” The bluegrass numbers especially got the crowd going. Vaadeland even performed a traditional buck dance during one of the instrumentals, which was definitely an interesting sight to behold. As he put it after his dancing spell: “It ain’t much to look at, but it sure is fun to do!”

As someone who has had the privilege of attending the Grand Ole Opry, I can truly say that Jake Vaadeland & the Sturgeon River boys would more than hold their own on its stage – although they might be a better fit in its previous location at the Ryman Auditorium on Broadway, as opposed to its latest iteration in a mall in the suburbs of Nashville. Vaadeland is a born entertainer. His persona is largely based on some of the Opry’s most flamboyant past performers, mixing old-time music with tongue-in-cheek humour. This lighter side of Vaadeland shines through in quips such as the following: “When I started working with my guitar player here, I told him there was to be no drinkin’ in this here outfit of ours, but that he was welcome to have a little nip before bed if he felt so inclined. Well, wouldn’t you know it, after our first night of playing together, ol’ Joel here went to bed 37 times!”

As funny and as talented a musician as he is, Vaadeland’s main strength lies in his songwriting ability. A newcomer to the Saskatchewan music scene, the singer-songwriter has been prolific in the previous 12 months, releasing two EPs last year and one already in 2022. Listening to his recordings, it becomes clear that he has steeped himself in traditional Americana. The songs are tightly constructed and sound as if they’ve been lifted directly from the Great American Songbook. With the help of the Sturgeon River Boys, Vaadeland delivers these self-penned compositions with the swagger and confidence of someone many years his senior.

One song in particular stood out for its broody reflection on good and evil. “Be a Farmer or a Preacher,” although not the most upbeat or lighthearted number in the set, had us all spellbound. Other noteworthy songs include the two tracks that opened the evening, “Father’s Son” and “House and Pool,” as well as “No More Pain in My Heart,” the title track from Vaadeland’s eponymous EP. The set’s closer, “Retro Man,” or what Vaadeland refers to as “the theme song,” brought the house down, so much so that the boys were vociferously called back for an encore. They obliged by ending a memorable night with the Memphis classic, “Blue Suede Shoes.”

Leaving the Artesian after the performance, I had to remind myself that I was in Regina in the year 2022, and not in 1950s Tennessee. Jake Vaadeland looks and sounds as if he has stepped out of a time machine, with an artistic vision that is laser focused and attitude to boot. Rarely have I seen someone so young know exactly who they are and where they’re headed creatively; Vaadeland truly is an artist to keep an eye on. Amongst other accolades, his EP Retro Man came in second in the Best Saskatchewan Albums of 2021 category of this year’s Saskatchewan Music Awards. Not a bad feat for such a niche performer.

One last thing I need to mention before signing off is the fact that the Artesian really was the perfect venue for Jake Vaadeland & the Sturgeon River Boys to do their thing. Housed in an old church in the artsy Cathedral district, the place has its own retro charm that perfectly complimented the music that was on offer. The interior has been retrofitted as a theatre that offers both musicians and audiences a space in which magic can be created and witnessed – and so it was.

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