Heartstrings & Honky Tonks comes to Studio Bell

Across North America’s grain belt, an endless supply of songs drift from radios at roundups, fairs and during miles of open highway, marking the passage of time as those miles and events repeat perennially to an evolving soundtrack. 

Platinum-selling songwriter Dan Davidson, whose 2017 song Found – the highest charting independent single on Canadian radio – earned its place on those summer soundtracks with images of whisky, the back 40, and an old pickup truck, aims to honour Alberta songwriters and the essence of old-timey radio that connects those country tunes to “their people.”

Davidson approached promotor Chris Melnychuk (Big Valley Jamboree) to team up with The Road Hammers’ Clatyon Bellamy and create Heartstrings & Honky Tonks, a five-part songwriters series coming to Studio Bell at the National Music Centre April 3, when Davidson and Bellamy will appear with George Fox, Patricia Conroy, and Alex Hughes. Similar versions of the show will be staged in Sherwood Park, Camrose, Fort Saskatchewan and Spruce Grove featuring Bobby Willis, Duane Steele, Nice Horse and others on a revolving basis. 

In a nod to Bellamy’s and Davidson’s time in Nashville, the shows will be broadcast live on Camrose’s 840 AM radio station, CFCW, and hosted by the station’s Jackie Rae in an echo of the Grand Ole Opry and in celebration of the station’s 70th birthday.

“I was looking around and seeing the landscape of gigs out there; it’s not easy for artists to play and it’s expensive for artists to play right now,” Davidson says from the St. Albert home he shares with his wife and two daughters. “I love these songwriter rounds you see popping up, but I thought there was a way to do it [that was] more impactful and more meaningful and more creative… something that’s like The Bluebird [Café, also in Nashville] meets The Opry.”

Listeners might hear Davidson perform He Met a Girl, the first single from last year’s Nineteen Eighty Something EP, one that fits that eternal stream of country radio music like an old saddle fits over a fence rail. 

As well as their own songs, each writer will play a country classic. “Artists will pick weird covers; it wouldn’t be the thing you expect. And that’s kind of a little peek behind the cover of their personality, where they come from,” says Davidson.

The stories told about chosen songs will reveal more as well. “[If] it was just people on stools, that’s fine, but let’s make that more exciting. Let’s make it a brand and let’s bring it to life a little bit. The vibe onstage is going to be great, because everybody knows each other so well. So, the stories kind of overlap and everybody’s telling each other’s punch lines. It’s a lot of fun.”

Heartstrings & Honky Tonks is at The National Music Center, Home of Studio Bell, April 3. For information, and tickets, visit studiobell.ca.