Hometown girl will bring her musical gifts to this year’s salute to Canada — a “full-package entertainment show” called Together.
It’s told as if it is a deep, dark secret.
Or at the very least, a true regret.
But Jann Arden is apparently in a good enough mood on this gorgeous Thursday afternoon to open up to a handful of assembled media and onlookers, and to admit that one great life’s disappointment.
“When I was 14, I tried out for the Young Canadians,” says the artist. “I didn’t make it.”
She did, naturally, pass the singing portion of the tryouts and was given a call-back before falling short in other elements of the audition process.
Well, now 40 years later and a good three decades into a career as one of this country’s most beloved performers, she’s been given not just a call-back but a starring role with the Calgary Stampede acting, singing and dancing institution as the host of this year’s TransAlta Grandstand Show.
Hence the group in front of her as she stands on the still-in-progress stage and her bubbly mood.
“I’m having an excellent time,” Arden says. “Fantastic — it’s not even the word.”
The show that will close each night of the Stampede is a celebration of the country’s 150th, the people who made it what it is for the hundreds of year’s prior to its founding, and the many more who will call it home in the future.
Along with Arden and the Young Canadians, the Dave Pierce-produced show titled Together will feature other talent such as members of Alberta Ballet, Indigenous dancers, the Revv52 choir, Inuit throat singers, acrobats, and multi-media elements to enhance it all.
The host calls it “Vegas on steroids” and a “full-package entertainment show, world-class.”
As for her role?
“I think I’m mostly known for my dancing,” she says, eliciting “chuckles from the gallery.”
“This is a really musical show. We’ve had to make the stage bigger this year, more lights, more sound, more effects going on, biggest cast we’ve ever had — at one point there’s 400-plus human beings on this stage.
“I think for me, as the host, I’m going to be turning things around and kind of helping everyone go on this journey. But this is so much about the Young Canadians and all of the acts that are participating in this.”
Her talents, those originally noticed during that early Young Canadians audition, will be put to good use as she’ll perform some of her most famous material, including a “stunning and haunting” version of Anne Loree-penned Insensitive and what Arden calls an “epic version of Good Mother.”
Oh. And, yes, she will also attain flight.
“I don’t want to give too much away, but at one point I’m about 65 feet off the ground,” she says, acknowledging the harnesses above the stage.
“I think I’m past the really scary part of it at this point, but it’s exhilarating … You’re scared, but excited. Kind of like a really good first date …
“For 10 nights straight.”
That, she admits, is one of the bonuses of starring in the show during the Stampede’s July 7 to 16 run — she’s “home.”
“I’ve always lived here, I’ve never left,” she says.
“I’ve been travelling around the globe for the last 25 years, and I always come home. So this is a huge homecoming for me.”
And she says it will be an honour to perform in front of an audience every night that is filled with some of her fellow Calgarians — those who’ve watched her career and many successes with pride — as well as visitors from all over the world.
Arden calls the Grandstand Show audiences “unparalleled anywhere else in the universe,” and she’s looking forward to entertaining them.
“You’re looking at a group of people at 9:45, 10 o’clock in the evening that have been wandering the grounds all day. And if you know anything about the Calgary Stampede, sometimes there’s beer involved, the odd libation, there’s some great food, there’s some interesting food, there’s lots of great people-watching,” she says.
“So when they get here, they’ve watched the chuckwagon races, and they’re hyped up … they’re excited, they’re feeling good — let’s put it that way — and they’ve got the fireworks to look forward to and it’s just a cap-off for the excitement that they’ve had all day.
“And it is going to be the highlight of their day.”
And she also hopes it will be another happy continuation of her relationship with the Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth.
It’s one that, perhaps unfairly, she was called to defend when she was named a parade marshall in 2016 along with Paul Brandt. And it’s one that this year, with her host role, she’s still more than happy to explain — albeit only on this day and not in the social media forum, where she caught the most flak last year.
“I take some flak from people as far as animal advocacy is concerned,” she concedes, noting it’s been quiet thus far this year. “And I think the conflict for people was that I do a lot of work with the wild horses in Alberta, with dogs and cats, with the SPCA, Humane Societies — people know that about me. I’m an animal lover, I just feel like they make our lives better.
“I’m also an Albertan. I also grew up in a culture that a lot of places may not always fully understand — and I’m speaking, of course, to the rodeo. But I’m so impressed with how the Calgary Stampede handles every element of what they do here. They’ve walked me through every step, I’ve talked to veterinarians, I see behind the scenes, I’ve had a look at things …They’re very open to anyone seeing what goes on here.
“I’m proud of my city, I’m proud of the Stampede, I will always support what they do. And I’m not going to please everybody all the time.”
She continues. “But I’m absolutely an animal advocate and if I’m going to come back (reincarnated as) a bull in Alberta, please let me come back with a 175-pound cowboy on my shoulders running around. I don’t have a problem with that. I think the scales are pretty even there.”
The TransAlta Grandstand Show Together runs daily as part of the Evening Show, which also includes the GMC Rangeland Derby. For tickets and information go to www.calgarystampede.com/stampede.
Mike Bell has been covering the Calgary music scene for the past 25 years with publications such as VOX, Fast Forward, the Calgary Sun and, most recently, the Calgary Herald. He is currently the music writer and content editor for theYYSCENE.ca. Follow him on Twitter/@mrbell_23 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.