The connection between small-town Canada and their local hockey team is one country music star Gord Bamford is all too familiar with.
Growing up in Lacombe, Alta, he was a Red Deer Rebels fan and played a little junior hockey of his own. But his allegiances have since switched and now he'll be helping the Kamloops Blazers honour the team's Memorial Cup Anniversary, with his #REDNEK Music Fest on Feb. 21.
Bamford kicks off his tour across Canada a little earlier than expected, thanks to an offer from Blazers president Don Moores to be a part of the team's anniversary celebration. The weekend celebrates the 25th anniversary of the Kamloops Blazers last Memorial Cup in '95, which capped off a run of three championships in four years.
"We've pushed the tour ahead to kick it off there on the 21st... It's exciting to be able to do that in Kamloops," says Bamford. "I've spent the last couple years there and getting to know the people there has been great. Mark Recchi and I are good friends. It's just a little great little community, it's a great little city that I think gets behind stuff and I couldn't be happier to be kicking it off there."
The city's special connection to the hockey team is one Bamford understands, even more now that his son Nash is a part of the Blazers system. Nash was picked by Kamloops in the seventh round of the 2019 WHL Bantam Draft.
"It was pretty exciting for us and for him. Obviously, Kamloops has a great tradition of championships teams. And for us to know that he was coming to a place where hockey is so loved and we've heard nothing but great things about the whole association," says Bamford.
"There's a lot of work ahead for him to get there, but it's pretty neat to be a part of the organization at this point and, hopefully, he can be there in a couple years and be playing."
Bamford knows the work it takes to make it far in your field. The country star has worked his way up the country charts, both nationally and abroad. Originally born in Australia, Bamford moved to Canada when he was very young, but he's been able to reconnect with his family overseas and developed a strong following in his homeland.
"We've been going back and forth there the past few years touring and it's kind of neat to get back to where you were born. Although I hardly have any memory of it, it's nice to get back and see where you came from," he says. "I've been able to tour around there and see the place I lived in and get to experience a bit of the background of what Australia is all about. It's a beautiful country, it's been neat to go back and reconnect and build a career over there."
Bamford's biggest following remains in the Great White North though, as he's won 26 Canadian Country Music Association awards along the way. He recently recorded 37 new tracks and will be releasing a seven-song EP in March.
And he credits George Canyon for help getting things going.
"I actually got to be his opening act that went right across Canada, just me and a guitar. That was probably the best thing for me that I did. I mean we lost a lot of money doing it but it sure gained a lot of fans and since then I've just went from there."
Now he wants to give that opportunity to other artists, which is why he's bringing so many with him on the #REDNEK Music Fest Tour. His show will feature Juno Award winner Jess Moskaluke, JoJo Mason, Eric Ethridge, Andrew Hyatt, Cory Marks, Duane Steele, and GhostBoy.
"The best way to get exposed is to play your music for people. For me, it's just giving them the platform to go out and do their thing and hopefully gain a bunch of fans. And at the same time, some people may be coming to watch some of those other acts that haven't seen me."
The show will basically be a non-stop three-hour mini-festival, with Bamford and his band kicking it off and closing it out and plenty of collaboration between artists along the way.
This won't be Bamford's first time playing Kamloops – he most recently did the BCLC Midsummer Music Jam in 2018 – but it will be his first time headlining at the Sandman Centre. If Kamloopsians haven't heard his music, he says it's down the middle of a country genre that is getting wider and wider.
"Anything can pass for country now. The traditional side of country seems to be swinging back around with Jon Pardi and Luke Combs stuff. My stuff has always been straight up the middle – Blake Shelton/George Strait/Eric Church – but what I've been able to do is carve out a niche that, you know when people hear my music that are country fans, they know it's Gord Bamford," he says.
"I think that's the toughest part of trying to create a brand and a sound that is your own. I've never jumped toward the trend of what's going on, I've just tried to stay in my lane."
After the Kamloops show, Bamford will also be singing the national anthem at the Blazers game the following night.
"It's going to be a great celebration of great country music and dynasty hockey teams from the past and it looks like the Blazers are going to take another run at a Memorial Cup, so it's all good timing," he says.
The show goes Friday, Feb. 21. at 7:45 p.m. Tickets are available HERE.
For more information on the Blazers anniversary weekend, visit HERE.