When talking music, there’s an important distinction to be made about country music and western music.
There was a time when the genre was commonly referred to as country and western, and songs focused on working the ranch and life on the open range.
Then came a shift and country and western went their separate ways, said cowboy broadcaster Hugh McLennan.
“Country music is now much different than what pure western music is,” he said.
McLennan has hosted the popular radio show Spirit of the West for almost 20 years. The show got its start here in Kamloops and is now syndicated on radio stations across North America.
He’s also a rancher, musician, public speaker and big supporter of the cowboy way of life that Kamloops has its roots in.
New country, with its leanings to rock and roll, is big business, he said. A recent Eric Church concert at the Interior Saving Centre sold old.
But those songs aren’t about the west, said McLennan. Indeed, one of the few modern country performers who touches on the classic western song is George Strait.
Strait closes every concert with Amarillo by Morning, a song that’s a testament to riding on horseback beneath a big Texas sky. That, said McLennan, is a true western song.
“He has roots in traditional country, but he goes right back to western,” he said.
A western song is about saddling up the horse, working the ranch and riding the dusty trail. The archetypal imagery is very much in line with people’s popular perception of the western — or cowboy — movies Hollywood made during its heyday.
That is also the style of music the audience who attends the latest performance by the Thompson Valley Community Orchestra will hear.
McLennan will be the master of ceremonies for Western Tribute and his band, Western Spirit, will be front and centre during the evening.
This is the third collaboration between Western Spirit and Thompson Valley, and it coincides with the start Cowboy Heritage Week on March 3.
“It all honours our ranching traditions and western heritage of this part of the world,” said McLennan.
Conductor Norris Berg said members of the orchestra will dress in cowboy attire to accommodate the style of Western Spirit. This has everyone, young and old, excited.
As for the music, the evening will be a mix of traditional western songs performed McLennan’s band and sweeping orchestra music that portrays the majesty of the open prairie and rangeland.
Western Spirit’s music is guitar heavy, with lyrics that blend of story, poem and song.
For the TVCO’s part, Berg and company will perform a variety of appropriate pieces, including Franz von Suppé’s Light Cavalry Overture and medley of scores from movies like The Magnificent Seven, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly and Hang ‘Em High.
The concert concludes with John Williams’ classic Cowboy Overture from the John Wayne film The Cowboys.
“It’s a great piece. It’s a great ender,” said Berg.
McLennan adapted the song Echoes of the Trail to suit the cattle drives from the Cariboo to Ashcroft. He said its one Western Spirit loves to do.
His song I Hear the Trailer Coming, is an original story using the cadence of Johnny Cash. It’s about a stubborn horse of his, Blazer, who just doesn’t like to be loaded into a trailer.
“We do it the Folsom Prison Blues melody,” said McLennan, referring to Cash’s popular song.
Berg said the evening will be a testament to key part of the region’s history and heritage.
“The whole theme of the concert is based around Hugh and the cowboys and the lifestyle of the cowboys. That’s what I really want to emphasize in here,” he said.
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WHO: Thompson Valley Community Orchestra presents Western Spirit
WHEN: Saturday, March 2
WHERE: Calvary Community Church
TICKETS: Admission at the door. Adults $10, Children $5 Family $25