Sometimes you learn of new music from the most unlikely of places. Sometimes those places are unlikely because of your hidden prejudices. This is a folksy tale of how the former revealed the latter and awakened me to a wonderful world of music I most likely would still be ignorant of were it not for one fateful afternoon football game.
Many moons ago (dear god it’s been almost 20 years!), when our ages were lesser in number and our bodies were greater in energy, I, along with my aunt and uncle, my cousins, and several friends of theirs and their children, engaged in a Thanksgiving touch football game. For a time afterwards, this became somewhat of a tradition before the aforementioned ages grew too numerous resulting in bodies that were far too fragile for such activities. But for a few sweet years in the late nineties and early naughts, this football game was an eagerly awaited event on our collective calendars.
With the possible exception of “The Catch” game, it’s fair to say all participants would agree that the inaugural game remains unsurpassed in pure joy and memories. And while initiating a tradition is certainly what that first game will forever be remembered, it also represents the weekend that a dozen people, young and old, learned of a new musical artist.
The game itself took place on an abnormally warm, sunny Saturday afternoon in rural Alberta somewhere east of Red Deer on a quarter section farm that was home to good friends of my aunt and uncle’s. I don’t recall there being any specific call to arms as it were, the game just sort of happened thanks to the unseasonable weather and a football showing up. What started as a few guys tossing the ball around eventually morphed into a full-fledged touch game in a fenced pasture complete with gopher holes and cow patties. ‘Cause that’s how rural folk roll.
Now, our hosts also had family visiting, namely a brother from Fort McMurray a place not exactly renowned for its left-leaning populace nor loved by the left-leaning populace located elsewhere. And this guy was HUGE. His arms were bigger than my legs and this was twenty years ago when I was still A) young, B) healthy, and C) active. Even touch football with a man of this muscular fortitude was a risky proposition.
I’ll spare you a play-by-play recount of the game and fast-forward to the post game celebration. With everyone in joyous spirits from the game but equally exhausted, we settled down to a well-deserved BBQ and an even more well-deserved cooler full of ice cold beer. With food and beverages accounted for, it was time for some music and that was when our brawny compatriot stepped forward with a suggestion and my unfortunate prejudices poked up from their slumber.
There are only two types of music you’re typically going to hear from the good ole boy, blue collar types; country or classic rock, sometimes alternating between the two. Or at least that is what I was prone to believe based on my short couple years of living on the Prairies. So when Mr. Beefcake, who was proving to be an incredibly friendly person, popped in a cassette for our listening pleasure with the blessing of his brother, the host, I internally (and possibly externally) cringed. I had no idea what was coming but in my mind it couldn’t be good, destined to be either incredibly cheesy or dully repetitious. My habitual stereotyping had already labeled this guy’s musical tastes as an embarrassing mix of kitsch and cliché (ironically, much like I’m exposing my own to be in these blog posts).
Well, the truth was anything but what I or anyone else present expected. For myself and my aunt and uncle, this would become our first encounter with a folk music icon, under-appreciated by the public but well-loved in the greater musical community. We proceeded to listen to John Prine for the next couple hours in what turned out to be a fantastic climax to what became one of the best days of my adult life. All thanks to a man who was far more than my biases led me to believe.
In the days and months that followed, I eagerly acquired some John Prine music for myself and what I found was a deep catalogue of wonderfully melodic, and funny folk music. I still bring this stuff out when we’re camping as I find it the perfect music for when I’m cooking out in nature. Right now we’re camping our way through Saskatchewan as I tour my kids around my first stomping grounds after I moved West. No doubt I’ll soon crank up the John Prine as I prepare supper at one of our many prairie camping destinations. If you’re doing likewise, or even just prepping the barbeque in your backyard, take a moment to enjoy some great music courtesy of a true troubadour. I’m kicking off our weekend with my personal favourite among many wonderful choices. This is “You Got Gold” from the 1991 album The Missing Years by John Prine.