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Barney Bentall's Grand Cariboo Opry

The Grand Cariboo Opry took a while to develop and incubate. My band “The Legendary Hearts” had been performing each year at the Clinton May Ball – a tradition that goes back to a time when Jesus first put on chaps and tried his best to ride some rank old cayoose to the buzzer. We would come to town, stay at my ranch and rock the place in our usual way. However, it is a powerful land and the spirits of old mixed blood fiddle players and banjo pickers started to send messages from their sage covered graves. Before we could nod and hold on for dear life, we found ourselves bringing a whole bunch of other musicians up for the weekend and this weekend was becoming some kind of unholy midnight ramble where the devil dukes it out with Don Messer. It was becoming more old time and definitely more country & western.

In 2006, we decided to bring it to the big city. We also wanted to give the proceeds to some charity. I knew some of the people in the Potluck Café Society. They are a great social enterprise operating in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver. I had the idea to have each song sponsored like they used to do in The Grand Ol’ Opry. People or companies could pay money to the charity and I would basically poke fun at them before we started the song.

The first people to take a chance on this rodeo were friends of ours in Winnipeg - Ian and Michelle Rentz. They were the first to take the plunge. They put all of us up in their beautiful house/hotel. We were rehearsing around their piano and I was writing intros right up until the last minute. A sold out crowd in the West End Cultural Centre was waiting. Now, I’m not usually a nervous performer, but I really thought this was going to be a disaster of epic proportions. Backstage was bedlam and we were a little late getting on stage. When we finally made it and we cranked into the theme song, low and behold what had seemed so chaotic, corny and amateurish a few minutes before settled in to what has become one of my favourite things. A pain in the ass always, but so great to be a part of. That show had Winnipeggers Romi Mayes and Ridley Bent along with my son Dustin and many others. Guests have ranged over the last four years from Jim Cuddy to Olympic gold medalist and part time mando player Adam Kreek. You had to be a friend, love C&W and not be too fussy about the back stage arrangements. I’m slowly starting to let go of “I know it worked last time… but this time we’re fucked!” Every year I think “well, that’s probably a good place to stop” but I’ll probably still be doing it when I start collecting my old age pension and need a walker on stage!

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