You could call Valdy and Gary Fjellgaard the odd couple of the Canadian folk-roots music circuit.
While Valdy wears sneakers, Fjellgaard is prone to wearing cowboy boots.
One started his life in Ottawa and eventually hit the road in a hippy van with numerous bands, a guitar in hand, and a rock and roll song in his heart.
The other started life in a small Prairie town and rode the wind west on a cowboy trail of country and western.
Their paths would eventually meet and years later Valdy and Fjellgaard, otherwise known as The Contenders, are still sharing the life of travelling minstrels, sharing a song and a laugh to all who will listen.
They are about to do just that when they return to the Okanagan for their 15th annual tour that takes them from Armstrong to Ashton Creek, down to Summerland and Penticton, then north to the Shuswap before ending the tour with stops in Vernon and Kamloops.
“We keep threatening to quit (the tour) but we still have fun. It’s always a fun ride with Valdy, and all his paraphernalia. It’s an experience,” said Fjellgaard, referring to life on the road with his Contenders’ compatriot.
One thing the two can agree on is who chooses the music while driving.
“We both do,” said Fjellgaard, who at 78 still travels many miles himself, playing shows such as the Stoney Creek Cowboy Festival and the Innisfail rodeo.
“I am from the Prairies originally, so I tour back there quite often,” he said.
Fjellgaard is hoping that he doesn’t have bad luck like the last time he travelled though the Okanagan when his motorhome broke down near Penticton.
“I had put some hard miles on it,” he said. “I ended up sleeping in my tent for a few nights in a parking lot.”
Presented by Armstrong concert promoter Ken Smedley, the Contenders started their annual tour as a one-shot deal to raise funds for the George Ryga Centre, the former artist retreat and home to the late writer in Summerland.
“For years we kept it going and then the house was sold. We thought, ‘lets keep doing this, and this time we’ll keep the money,’” laughed Fjellgaard.
This year’s tour is a meaningful one for The Contenders as it comes on the release of their third album.
“I never thought we would get that first album done and now we have number three,” said Fjellgaard, who came up with the name Contenders from a song he wrote for the duo’s first album.
This new album comes on the distant heels of the duo’s second recording, Still in the Running, which was released in 2007.
With his home on Gabriola Island, Fjellgaard, has been meeting Salt Spring Islander Valdy half way, literally, to record the new album.
“We’ve been recording in a beautiful studio in Crofton, live off the floor. These are songs that we individually love. We do some of our own and the rest are covers,” said Fjellgaard.
Engineered by Zak Cohen at the Woodshop studio in Crofton, the album features mostly acoustic songs but the electric guitar is featured on a cover of The Eagles’ Whatever Happened to Saturday Night. There’s also an ode to the late, great Stompin’ Tom Connors (Oh Tom, We Miss You).
“We will mix it up on the tour. We’ll each do our solo part of the show and then we’ll perform songs together from Contenders 3 (Live off the Floor),” said Fjellgaard.
Dates for The Contenders tour include:
– Oct. 30 at 7:30 p.m. at Zion United Church Hall Armstrong. Tickets are at Chocoliro in Armstrong, 250-546-2886.
– Oct. 31 at Lorenzo’s Café, Ashton Creek. Call 250-838-6700 to reserve.
– Nov. 1 at Centre Stage Theatre, Summerland at 7:30 p.m.. Tickets are at Martin’s Flowers, 250-494-5432.
– Nov. 3 at Barking Parrot Lounge, Penticton at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are at the Dragon’s Den, 250-492-3011.
– Nov. 4 at The Red Barn, Sicamous at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are at IDA Pharmacy, 250-836-2963.
– Nov. 5 at the Carlin Hall, Tappen at 7:30 p.m. Special guests: Blu & Kelly Hopkins. Tickets are at Acorn Music in Salmon Arm, 250-832-8669.
– Nov. 6 at the Okanagan College Vernon campus theatre at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are at The Bean Scene in Vernon, 250-558-1817.
– Nov. 7 at the Sagebrush Theatre, Kamloops at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are at Kamloops Live box office, 250-374-5483.
Tickets are $20 each for all shows.