Del Barber loses the Juno Cup, wins U.S. following 

Alt-country singer-songwriter performs at Millennium Place

click to enlarge Americana sky
  • Americana sky

Del Barber's team lost the Juno Cup by just one goal, a bit of a miracle, but the musician can't remember the exact score.

"It was 11 to 10 or 10 to nine," Barber says.

The Winnipeg-born, alt-country singer-songwriter played on the right wing for the March 28 game, an annual event as part of the Juno Awards; monies raised go to MusiCounts, a music education charity.

The game took place at the Winnipeg Jets' training rink in the prairie city, which hosted the Canadian music awards last weekend.

Barber was on Team Rocker, alongside Blue Rodeo's Jim Cuddy and The Weakerthans Stephen Carroll, "a bunch of The Sadies," and some "old rockers" from Winnipeg.

They played against ex-NHLers Wayne Babych, Trevor Kidd and Mark Napier and Team Canada women's hockey players Natalie Spooner and Rebecca Johnston, who took gold at the Sochi Winter Olympics.

It wasn't too scrappy, he says. Both sides were "well-mannered for the most part.

"It was mostly scrappy stuff coming from us, because we can't skate like they can. And the refs were definitely on our side. It was pretty cool."

Barber, a keen player, hadn't been practicing much through Winnipeg's rough winter. He says he was a little out of shape but doesn't regret joining in.

"The Juno Cup was pretty incredible for me. Since the Junos were in my hometown it was pretty easy to get involved. And I grew up playing hockey, so that was the main thing I really wanted to do last weekend," he says.

The Junos this year were more fun than promotion for Barber, whose album Praireography was released in February and too late for consideration.

"I had a great time. I got to play a bunch of showcases with different musicians. I was able to play with Ron Sexsmith and Jim Cuddy," Barber says.

"The whole Juno weekend is insane. It's pretty special for a guy like me. I ran right from the hockey game to my show."

And a week on, he plays at Millennium Place in Whistler on Saturday, April 5 at 8 p.m.

His latest visit, having played at the resort before, comes after touring the prairies, Oregon and Montana in support of Praireography, which will be released in the U.S. in April. American interest in his music is growing.

"We're heading towards the States and doing the odd date in Canada. The response seems really good; there's a lot more infrastructure in terms of radio and Americana stations. It doesn't really have platform in Canada," Barber says.

"I never thought I'd be on radio stations, but in the United States I've been getting added to playlists on radio stations nonstop over the last few weeks, so it's pretty exciting."

This is a first for Barber, in terms of U.S. exposure.

"I've never really released a record in the States. I've been online but I've never went out with a full label behind me and a publicist and all that. It's pretty scary," he says.

Barber says he moved toward Americana music naturally.

"I think the connection to rural Canada probably brought that out. Geography influences more than we'd like to think, how we speak to each other and interact. Even how we engage in terms of writing music or making art," he says.

"Being from southern Manitoba, there's not so much of a disconnect between urban and rural realities. Everyone grows up one step away from a farm, somehow... In Winnipeg, you're pretty well going to have some kind of connection to that type or economy.

"And I think that has been the main thing I've written about, especially in the last five years. That divide, or lack thereof, between rural and urban Canada. In places like Toronto, you really get a sense of that divide and separation — and maybe alienation — between the two. In places like Winnipeg, you don't. I think that's something Western Canada understands in a more tangible way."

He says this is what the songs in Praireography are about, particularly the alienation that is happening within this country.

"That's been the influencing theme. It seems like there is a two-Canada thing. It's really frustrating in terms of the political conversations. I don't think many people feel represented. We have to force that representation into one of these parties... questions about oil, agriculture, global warming. Being able to have conversations about these things that are fruitful, that don't end up sounding partisan," Barber says.

And his next comment highlights his frustration, talking about how the people he connects with feel disenfranchised and unengaged with their traditional representatives. It also shows his maturation as an artist.

"I keep hoping that our songwriters are going to try and ask better questions instead of trying to pandering to the left. I mean my dad is president of a union, and I'm as orange as they come, but I feel the conversation is bankrupt. I want my songs to reflect those issues and questions," Barber says.

"My first record was governed by songs about love and relationships. Now I'm more about other people's stories than my own."

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