Not all the special guests at tonight's Certified Country Tour are on the main marquee. The signs and posters tell us the headliners are Gord Bamford and Joe Nichols.
But there is another key performer. Bamford has been working to develop the career of an up-and-coming singer-songwriter from the B.C. interior. Jesse Mast is only 19 years old, but songs like Somewhere South, Hanging By A Thread and the smackdown Canadian hit Bad Blood are whipping up notions of a future superstar right here in our midst. He makes his Prince George debut at CN Centre tonight.
"It's a little surreal," said the Salmon Arm teenager on the phone a few days earlier.
He'd barely played a coffeeshop before this tour, and now he's playing hockey rinks. He hardly needs the use of a razor, and he's sharing the stage with Washboard Union, another opening act on tonight's bill, a band with ZZ Top facial hair, especially on the face of multi-instrumentalist David Roberts.
"Every fibre of my being swells in envy. His beard was probably old enough to order its own whisky when I was born," said Mast.
But the boy sometimes sees shades of the man he's becoming, especially when he hangs out with his sister and her friends still in junior high school. When he's with his elders he thinks "how did anyone let me be an adult" but with his sister's posse he thinks "I am soooo an adult. Look at me adulting all over the place."
He's adulting out of stereos and ipods all over the map, these days. He has come a long way, quickly, having set down the goalie stick and picked up the guitar only about five years ago. It was then when his NHL dreams finally gave their last gasp, which might have been a bitter pill for his father Lyle Mast who is one of the world's renowned goalie coaches and the inventor of the Head Trajectory technique that is turning the goaltending industry on its axis.
He's the kind of father a son is proud of, and Jesse Mast is openly appreciative of his dad, especially for helping him transition from between the three pipes to behind the six strings. And hey, he still gets to play in packed arenas, so it turned out somewhat the same in the end.
Some others along the way helped out as well. Mast credits Bamford with really hoisting him over the toughest hurdles so far, and the late, great B.C. songwriter Larry Wayne Clark was also in that mix of mentors. Clarke was already an elderly statesman of the province's music industry when Mast met him. Clark was part of the success of performers like Lisa Brokop, Andrea Pearson and Lauren Lucas while writing hits for Lee Greenwood, The Statler Brothers and others. He took an early shine to Mast.
"There's a lot of feels there," said Mast as memories of Clark came tumbling back to mind.
"Larry was one of my best friends. I met him at a business conference on Vancouver Island. I was this cocky, young, upstart guitar slinger who knew nothing and could play even less. And for some reason he took me under his wing and taught me everything I know about songwriting. Less what there was to know about the music business and more what there was to know about being a decent human being. He was always, always there for me. He was an incredible mentor. I miss him every day."
One of the legacies of that friendship was the song House Of Pine which you won't find on any Jesse Mast album anytime soon. He only brings it out into the public on special occasions.
"That was the very last song I ever wrote with Larry," said Mast.
"Quite some time ago, now, some friends and I went to live with the homeless people of the Vancouver inner city. We were at the Balmoral Hotel down on East Hastings Street. It was an incredible experience, and one of the things I noticed was that these people were very much people. Same hopes, dreams, aspirations as us. In fact, many of them were people I would have looked up to in any other circumstance. I met a guy who toured with Bon Jovi, a piano player; and a guitar player who recorded with George Jones. And as I brought this to Larry, he said, let's see what we can do with it, and it was the song we ended up coming up with. It was the last time I talked to Larry. He died shortly after we finished the song. And so, yeah, a lot of sentimental value."
Mast's raw emotion and creative desire is one of the symptoms Clark, Bamford and other supporters must have detected in the kid from the southern interior of B.C. He has signs of that old soul quality fans look for in someone they're going to attach to for good.
"I've had a passion for writing my entire life and one of the expressions is song, but poetry, fiction, philosophy, theology, really any great literature. I'm a crazy bibliophile. Is that a word you can print?" he said.
It's a word hard to work into a song, but it's easy to use when painting the picture of a kid not only earning fans and record sales at a punkish young age, but deserving them too.