Travellin’ troubadour getting recognition he deserves

After nearly 20 years as one of Canada’s most consistent singer-songwriters Ben Sures is starting to feel a little more sure of himself. Born on the same day Woody Guthrie died the Edmonton-by-way-of-Winnipeg troubadour and 2005 John Lennon Songwriting Contest winner has scratched and clawed his way to respectability on festival stages in concert halls opening slots backyard parties and living rooms throughout Canada the U.S. and Europe. For the first time in a career marked by more miles than money the affable tunesmith has finally impressed his harshest critic with Gone to Bolivia.

“I have to admit it’s something I would listen to” Sures says with a chuckle. “It’s difficult to fully explain but I’ve really had a good feeling since I’ve made this album — through the songwriting the recording… everything. I feel this was a place to get to as far as developing as a musician and a songwriter. Every release show I’ve done for the album has felt good. It’s felt like I worked up to this place. I feel like I finally cracked the surface of who I want to be as an artist.”

It all began however on a steady diet of the Winnipeg Folk Festival trips to the city’s famed West End Cultural Centre and raiding his mother’s record collection deep with gems from Neil Young Muddy Waters Thelonius Monk Tom Waits and Lyle Lovett among many others.

Sures just might identify best with Guthrie solely because as a pure songwriter he eschewed boundaries and always told the raw story.

“He’ll always be my hero and my biggest influence” Sures admits. “I used to struggle with who I am: Am I someone else’s guitar player? Am I just a comedian? Am I a sensitive singer-songwriter? Am I this? Am I that? And then I realized I’m kind of all those things. Woody was like that — he had grown-up songs kids songs love songs political songs — all of it. That’s the kind of artist I want to be and I stopped struggling with the separation and integrated them all. I realized you can be a sign painter a fortune teller and a folk singer.”

As someone who fully understands the balance of creating for oneself and for others Sures has a very simple wish when fans old and new dig into Gone to Bolivia.

“You always want that general gut reaction where people feel like it’s something they can listen to over and over again” he says. “I want people to take something away from it and to have a song that’s meaningful to them. I want to be the guy on someone’s mix tape — I want to be on the personal compilation that someone makes for a friend or lover. Is that too much to ask?”

It’s been a while but Sures finally returns to Calgary for a show at the Ironwood Stage & Grill on May 21. Songwriting will always be his first love but on a concert stage Sures has always been a natural-born performer.

“I like the give and take and I like engaging an audience” he says. “I do a lot of house concerts which I love but I also find that the Ironwood is a terrific environment for that. I like talking to an audience and telling the stories…. I guess that’s the folk part of me.”