Paul Brandt rocked the house in a concert held to recognize small town heroes in a perfect marriage of art and community.
Ponoka was the first stop in Brandt’s 2012 Small Town Heroes Contest Tour. The event was an appreciation concert held for the eight runners-up and also made history as the first concert held at the Calnash Ag Event Centre.
Brandt ended his tour on Oct. 28 with a private concert in Teepee Creek, home of grand finalist Mack Erno. Smokey Lake, home of Ed Boychuk, also received a private concert.
“This is a great year to be doing Small Town Heroes,” said Brandt in an interview with Ponoka News. “This is the third year we’ve done Small Town Heroes and it’s just been an incredible success.”
“It’s just been a great experience for us. We’re so glad the legacy of Small Town Heroes is continuing,” said Amanda Bates, director of communications and brand strategy with UFA, after she thanked the small town heroes for their time and passion.
Brandt, who’s teamed with UFA for the project, believes the Small Town Heroes Tour is a great way to showcase how important it is for people to step up in their communities. “We’re celebrating the people who go above and beyond, namelessly. They’re willing to do it even if nobody notices.”
The Small Town Heroes top 10 finalists are: Alex Halat of Chestermere, Angela Henley of Falher, Nick Ruigrok of Okotoks, Abe Crawford of Olds, Nathan Hardy of Devon, Mandeja Sargent of Alix, Marilyn Wolfe of Champion, Erin Steeves of Rimbey, and grand finalists Ed Boychuk from Smokey Lake and Mack Erno of Teepee Creek.
“In the last couple of years we’ve done Small Town Heroes we’ve met a lot of amazing people,” said Brandt. “These are people who’ve built their community right from the very beginning and a lot of times it’s hard to get them up on stage to even accept the award because they’re usually just really humble, behind-the-scenes kind of people.”
Before the concert Brandt made no effort to hide how excited he was to meet the small town heroes and personally thank them for all their efforts.
“For me, there’s one thing that I hope they get out of this is a general, overwhelming feeling of respect. We had to dig to find these people, they had to be nominated in their communities. I think that’s incredible.”
In 2001 Brandt released the album Small Towns and Big Dreams. He feels it was that album and the title track that initially attracted UFA. “We started talking about how much we had in common,” he said. “It’s just a perfect marriage of art and community.”
Brandt knew his work with UFA was going to lead to a long and wonderful partnership when they transported him to a 2010 Small Town Heroes concert in a UFA convoy.
Many crowd favorites were worked into the concert, including Convoy, My Heart Has a History, I Do and Alberta Bound. “I don’t think I’d make it through a night if I didn’t play Alberta Bound.”
Brandt also sang a few new songs. His latest album was released Oct. 16 and takes a different direction from his other works. The album, Just As I Am, takes Brandt back to his gospel roots but retains the country flavour he’s known for.
“It’s been really well received so far. But you never know what to expect when you put out a new album, whether people are going to get into it or not,” said Brandt. “It’s fun, these are the songs I grew up with. It was a real labour of love for me to get the chance to get that out.”
During the concert Brandt once again took the time to not only recognize the winners of the contest but all small town heroes, including overseas troops.
Brandt told the crowd how the Ponoka show brought back many memories of this first concert. “That Small Town Hero Tour, the very first one that I did, is probably the fondest memory I have in my entire career.”
Brandt feels blessed to have the opportunity to play for people in small towns. “It was a real decision for me. I’d just come off selling one million records with Warner Brothers and we were trying to figure what the next move was.”
He decided he wanted to try and recreate a genuine process of discovery and country music and believed the best place to do that was small towns. “I’ve made a lot of good memories and tonight I’m hoping to make many more.”
“You always get inspirations when you do things where there’s a story.” Brandt believes people in small towns are the best, most authentic fuel for county music.
Brandt says it’s the people in small towns who wave and honk and visit during the Small Town Heroes Tours, which he’s thankful for. “That’s really what county music is all about and I think it’s a perfect fit for what we do.”