Heckbert launching latest at Miramichi's Shadbangers Ball Saturday

There's a party happening Saturday night in Miramichi. Nothing new there, I suppose, but this one is different. It's the Shadbangers Ball, a new tradition begun by some old friends from the river. The idea is to celebrate original music from Miramichi, and have friends get together. One of the key people involved is Steve Heckbert, and he'll be launching his latest work, Road To Canada, by playing the concert. The Shadbangers, his old band from decades back, will join him for the night.

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Heckbert actually lives in Houston, and has for several years now, but Miramichi is always home, and he's back each summer. Last year saw him launch his first CD in a current planned trio of discs bringing back the Shadbangers, and getting the festival together. Now, since then he and the gang, 15 players spread over three countries, worked hard recording this new collection, a broad-based set of tunes that stretches from rock to country to lots and lots of Miramichi-styled folk, a tradition that goes back three centuries in the area. No wonder Heckbert wants to keep being part of the tradition, no matter his geographical status.

Geography plays a huge roll in Road To Canada. Whereas last year's album was pretty much all Miramichi, this one looks at Heckbert's young adult years, which he spent hitch-hiking back and forth across the land, some 15 times, getting to know each province pretty well. There's a song for each province here, real-life Canadian tales for sure. Four In The Morning is the tale of a van filled with scruffy folks picked up along the Trans-Canada hitch-hiking, when they come upon a family of four stranded by a snowstorm in Saskatchewan. They don't like the looks of the van's occupants, but don't have much of a choice over who rescues them. Only in Canada, eh? And Eh Hey describes the whole story, Heckbert's restlessness in his early 20's that drove him to hit the road for the west, working oil rigs and such, freezing up north, all to satisfy his curiosity about the country. Most poignant here is Comin Home, which turns the story around, looking at the current westward migration of so many young people for work, and the heartbreak of those left behind, watching their family separate: "Footprints that fall no more/From children, rollin' in the snow/Holdin' the hand of the grandma/They may never know."

As with the first album, there's some tremendous playing by all these various Shadbangers. The rockers rock, the fun ones truck along featuring great licks on mandolin, fiddle and guitar, the sad ones feature sweet small choirs of singers. Considering the miles and kilometres between Heckbert and home, it's a testament to the people involved that they want to keep this going, but that's what tradition, friendship and home is all about. Miramichi, obviously has that in spades.

The Shadbangers Ball is Saturday, July 27 at the Miramichi Agricultural Exhibition building.

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About Bob Mersereau

Rockin' BobBob Mersereau has been covering music, and the East Coast Music Scene since 1985 for CBC. He's a veteran scene-maker at the ECMA's, knows where the best shows and right parties are happening, and more importantly, has survived to tell the tales. His weekly East Coast music column is heard on Shift on Radio 1 in New Brunswick each Wednesday at 4'45. He's also the author of two national best-selling books, The Top 100 Canadian Albums (2007) and The Top 100 Canadian Singles (2010).

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