Sam Roberts Band delivers the goods, gets its reward

  • Aug. 26, 2015 2:00 p.m.

By Quinn BenderHaida Gwaii ObserverIt’s one show he won’t forget.Shortly after touching down in Sandspit, the Sam Roberts Band found themselves speeding up the eastern coast of Haida Gwaii, soon transferring into a fishing vessel and dropping lines, reeling up a feast of salmon one by one-including an impressive 34 pounder on the hook of tour manager Denton Fraser. Suddenly their show at the music festival the following night wasn’t merely the purpose of their trip, but the nucleus to an experience rarely enjoyed by a touring band.”For what we were able to do yesterday was a rare gift for us,” says band frontman Sam Roberts.We’re talking behind the greenroom and stage at the Tlell fairgrounds, seated on wooden school chairs beneath low-hanging branches. Around the corner, stage crews fill the air with sound checks as fans jostle for positions at centre stage. Mr. Roberts is sipping a beer reminiscing about his day of leisure.”We brought all our fish here and they cooked it up and passed it around,” he says, laughing. “It’s the only time at a festival we brought dinner. That, in and of itself, is an experience we’ll never get again. Yeah, we brought dinner!” After years of failed planning and conflicting schedules, the Sam Roberts Band at last made their debut appearance on Haida Gwaii with a powerhouse headline act at the Edge of the World Music Festival Aug. 8. Long before Mr. Roberts became title holder of one of the best-selling independent releases in Canadian music history, The Inhuman Condition, and then the leader of a six-time Juno-Award-winning band, Sam Roberts attended McGill University as an English literature major-just in case the music thing didn’t work out-where his attendance at this year’s festival got it’s startAmoungst his friends at the time were several students who are now resident islanders, including festival organizer Janet Rigg. That connection eventually planted Haida Gwaii on his mind and kept it rooted there as his success grew and the touring options opened up. As the show last weekend unwound, the band’s appearance seemed as much a thrill for the hundreds of cheering fans as it was for Mr. Roberts, fulfilling a decades-old dream to visit these islands and connect with its people through the most sincere means available to him. Music.”It’s been on our radar for a number of years now. And there’s been a lot of reasons to make it happen, in part because they were close friends of mine [who invited the band], and in larger part to make good on that and thank them for giving me the opportunity. Part of the spirit of this band is to go to places that we’ve never been before with our music, and to be able to see it through our music.”If we could go back in time and someone were to say, ‘here’s the journey you’re about to embark on; where do you think it’s going to take you?’ The unexpected parts of that, the most memorable, are the ones where you get to go to these out-of-the-way communities. I can’t say that otherwise I would have ever found my way here. I know I wanted to come here but I’ve got a wife and three kids at home. This [touring] allows us to jump at all these great opportunities and open up to the moment.”In the moment last weekend the band unleashed a powerful stage presence, an achievement thanks in part to years of relentless rehearsals and touring-certainly-but also a very intentional decision to deliver their very best. Meeting the Haida Gwaii crowd for the first time was like a first impression on a first date.”We’ll have to lay it bare on the table-this is who we are,” Mr. Roberts says minutes before the show.”There are life-long friends out there for one, and for every single other person too we’ll have to win them over. We’ll do that in the most honest way we possibly can.”And that they did, punching through the hits of a near-15-year career and lobbing out new sounds from their latest album, Lo-Fantasy. For a band accustomed to arriving, performing and departing a festival all on the same day, Mr. Roberts says this stop was anything but a routine performance. “To be able to have this time to actually meet people and see the land, to see where all these old friends of mine have ended up-which happens to be in this incredible community-this festival seems to have it’s own set of wings. It’s been something special.”

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