Stampeding with … John-Angus MacDonald of The Trews

When you’re a working musician, there is no summer vacation.

You are the vacation.

You and your friends populating the stages of festivals and fairs around the world are the escape for many people looking to evade and forget their workaday worlds.

It’s something that John-Angus MacDonald, guitarist and co-founder of East Coast-born, Ontario-based rock act The Trews, has come to realize and embrace over the group’s two decades on the scene, and as such, this year, like most their hot-month itinerary features appearances at everything from the Gimli Beach Bash to the Because Beer Festival in Hamilton.

Making things a little more hectic is the fact that they’re also gearing up for for the Sept. 14 release of their sixth studio album Civilianaires, which is already available for pre-order with various incentive options through a Pledge campaign.

But, again, rather than be bummed about what’s to come, MacDonald is embracing it, actually looking forward to it.

“Life is full and happy and good,” he says simply.

Prior to The Trews performance Tuesday, July 10 at the Wildhorse Saloon, MacDonald was kind enough to spend some time with theYYSCENE and answer our Stampede questions.

Q: How many Stampedes have you performed at or attended?

A: Oh, my God, I’d have to check with our agent, but it’s got to be at least 10, and maybe more. This could be 11 coming up — I don’t have the exact answer. I’ve never attended without performing, because our summers are usually pretty busy, but we’ve been out there I want to say10 times, possibly a dozen.

Q: Is it something you get into and enjoy, or do you just do your thing and get the hell out?

A: Well, summers are pretty ping-ponging around to different ends of the country and continent, so we don’t usually get a ton of quality time in. Mostly I see things from the midnight-and-on perspective because then we’re offstage and done, and I’ve definitely seen some wild shit at the Calgary Stampede after midnight.

Q: Are you a rides person? If so what’s your favourite ride?

A: I’m not a rides person.

Q: What’s your favourite midway food?

A: It’s not my favourite, but I was at the Calgary Stampede at one of our Coke Stage performances and I was tempted by the radio station — CJAY92 were broadcasting from the site and they had a dare contest live on the air and I was coerced into eating pizza covered in insects. It was like a delicacy or a bold, daring thing, so I tried it. Not my favourite, but I did eat bug pizza.

Q: Have you ever eaten a prairie oyster?

A: No. I have not.

Q: Do you know what it is?

A: No. I know it’s a band and I know what real oysters are, I grew up on the East Coast.

Q: A prairie oyster is a bull testicle.

A: Ohhhh, God, no. (Laughs) No. That’s not my jam.

Q: What’s your go-to song to rev up a Stampede crowd?

A: Our own? It’s the barnburners that tend to be our set openers, stuff like Not Ready to Go or Hold Me In Your Arms or Poor Ol’ Broken Hearted Me. Those are the ones that definitely get the party going.

Q: Do you do any country covers? If not, what would you do if you could?

A: I don’t consider what’s popular today to be true country music. I agree with Tom Petty when he said it’s like bad rock with a fiddle. I think that real country is fantastic. We’ve done Hank Williams’ So Lonesome I Could Cry as a medley with Ishmael and Maggie, we’ve done some Johnny Cash — Folsom Prison Blues or Burning Ring of Fire or I Hung My Head, his cover of that Sting song, which is fantastic. So, yeah, there’s so much in the rich, rich history of country that I appreciate and absorb and use as influence, like the storytelling aspects of songs like Ishmael and Maggie are totally rooted in country and folk music.

Q: Your craziest Stampede memory or experience?

A: We once played the Nashville North stage, which is a strictly country stage now, but we played the Nashville North tent during a tornado warning. It was one of those freak Calgary storms where you get softball-sized hail, and it was pelting the tent, and we were unsure whether the show would even happen because it was one of those things where the sky had turned an orange, grey and green shade. And it was one of those touch-and-go things where we ended up going on well past when we were supposed to, like after 11, but it was one of those things where everybody was also stuffed in a tent to avoid the weather and it was just this epic night of music and togetherness and awesomeness, which could only happen at somewhere like the Stampede.

The Trews perform Tuesday, July 10 at the Wildhorse Saloon. For tickets please click here.

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 Follow him on Twitter/@mrbell_23 or email him at He likes beer. Buy him one.