Another date with “The Weight”

A tribute to The Band returns to the Ironwood

The year was 1970 and young music enthusiast Ron Rault hadn’t really been up front at a rock concert before. He soon found himself pressed against the trembling barriers of McMahon Stadium as the legendary cast of the Festival Express Tour took to the stage and he knew there’d be no turning back. Now an accomplished bass player and bandleader Rault recalls being especially riveted by The Band’s masterful performance featuring the late great drummer and composer Levon Helm. Helm who passed away in April remains as relevant as ever and was honoured at this year’s Grammys with a rousing rendition of one of The Band’s most popular tunes “The Weight.”

“Being 10 feet away from those incredibly talented musicians was a life-changing and dare I say religious experience for me” Rault uncle to guitar prodigy Michael Rault recounts.

Captivated then and now with the soulful reveries and bottom-heavy blues that distinguished The Band’s rustic rock anthems Rault and his band the Front Porch Roots Revue have dedicated themselves to venerating what they consider to be some of the finest material to ever come out of Canada. When it comes to waxing nostalgic with seven-part harmony you need look no further than The Band. And that’s exactly what Rault had in mind when he came together with a mandolin-slinging ensemble of like-minded musicians to pay tribute to Ontario’s original road warriors.

“I have a feeling that I’m speaking for everyone in Front Porch when I say we were deeply touched and moved by The Band’s music in a way that goes beyond genres” he says. “They have had an indefinable influence on our musical upbringings and popular music in general much in the same way that The Beatles have. It was absolutely no effort for us to learn all these songs so quickly. We went back and studied the roots of The Band’s rough roadhouse sound and found everything from country bluegrass gospel blues R&B and soul. You can’t put your finger on exactly what kind of music it is but when I watch from my perch on bass I am thrilled with how our group immerses itself in every interpretation we do.”

Accompanying bassist and vocalist Rault in his recently reshuffled Front Porch Roots Revue are organist/pianist/accordion player/vocalist Ron Casat (Edmonton Folk Music Festival House Band) guitarist/mandolinist/vocalist Gord Matthews (The Reclines Ian Tyson’s trio) Calgary’s prodigal son/singer-songwriter/pianist J.R. Shore percussionist Thom Moon vocalist/harmonica player Dave “Crawdad” Cantera and Vancouver transplant vocalist/rhythm guitarist Doug Andrew (The Circus in Flames Shanghai Dog). Rault hopes their wiry and woody ensemble will be treated to the same warm reception they received at last year’s back-to-back performances. “I was somewhat surprised when we sold out the Friday night show last year and had a very large crowd on the Thursday” he recalls. “I think it’s interesting that this version of Front Porch has three members from Calgary and three from Edmonton as well as one from Vancouver. It really is a remarkable collective of accomplished players and singers from the Western Canadian roots scene and we all share such a great love and admiration for The Band.

“I never consider the songs we present for Up on Cripple Creek as being covers. There are wedding bands out there that learn these songs note for note but we have always asked our guys to take these classic tunes and make them their own. When you hear a young man like J.R. Shore pulling out such raw and deep pieces of Canadiana you gain a sense of the reverence and respect he has for the work; it simply transports you to another time and place.”