For those that grew up in the mid-80s and 90s, Ponoka will be the place to be.
The big lead-in to the 80th edition of the Ponoka Stampede will be a professional bullriding event on Saturday, June 25 with all of the thrills and spills followed by something unique – a rock concert.
Called Ride, Rock & Roll, the event is hoped to bring a bit of a different feel and attract maybe some new rodeo fans by bringing in something they like.
And the concert that follows the bullriding features two of the big Canadian alternative rock bands that many of those 35 and older will remember – Big Sugar and 54-40, both of whom remain extremely popular on what is now called classic rock radio.
Most will know the Vancouver-based 54-40 for ‘I Go Blind’ – which further vaulted their popularity when it was covered by another Canadian band and made the Friends television soundtrack.
As for Big Sugar, their big hits include ‘Open Up Baby’ from 1996 and their 1999 single ‘Turn the Lights On’ that continues to get air play on radio stations across the country. The Ponoka stop is also part of the band’s effort to promote their new album, called ‘Calling All The Youth’, that was released last year.
Kelly Hoppe, who plays harmonica and tenor saxophonist, is also known as Mr. Chill and – along with the band’s founder Gordie Johnson and bassist Garry Lowe – are considered the band’s original members.
“We kind of bridge two or three generations now,” Hoppe said in a phone interview last week from Toronto.
“Even after a six year hiatus, where we kind of all went out and did a few of our own projects, our songs were still getting major play on the radio, so we decided to come back together. However, we didn’t just want to go out and tour, but wanted to get back to making albums.”
And that’s what they did when they returned to the studio in 2010, having put out four albums since.
“The new album is like what we have always kind of done, made it in the moment,” Hoppe stated.
“It is Gordie’s ship, but the song ideas are just out there and we collect them together so there is a lot of stuff to bounce off each other. What came out is more of a conversation that just happens from us being together and a lot of it was just done live off the floor.”
Hoppe has also added keyboarding to his repotorie, something that has helped influence their new music, though it remains a blend of roots, rock and reggae that has kept the band so popular over three decades.
“We can’t help but play as we are and I think that’s why people in that (35-plus) age range continue to soak it up and hopefully it appeals to more people,” he said.
“Times have changed and we all went onto explore different avenues, but when we came back together – it was like we just stepped right back to where we were after our last gig.
“And just like we have our old and new favourate songs, we have our old fans that remember back the early times and we have a lot new fans that found us through our acoustic tour a couple years ago.”
The professional bullriding event gets under way at 7 p.m. at the Stampede grounds with the concert beginning immediately after. Tickets are $40 with children 12 and under getting in for $20. For more information or to purchase tickets, contact the Stampede office at (403) 783-0100 or head to the website at www.ponokastampede.com.