The Doc is in.
Doc Walker is riding back into Prince George but not for the same country shows you've seen them do even before you knew they were doing it.
The guys in this Canadian country super-achiever group have been performing in P.G. since they were operating under different band names at the now defunct Cadillac Ranch. They were on the same circuit as 12 Gauge, the band that would one day be Emerson Drive (the two would work together later, after they became two of the top-ranked Canadian acts on the U.S. side of the border).
They have been back since then, after Doc Walker became a headline act from coast to coast, but not in this form. It's an acoustic show interspersed with anecdotes, comical asides and insights right from the band.
Chris Thorsteinson (co-leader of the group along with Dave Wasyliw) told The Citizen that since the acoustic shows became one of their go-to concert formats, he's been having the most fun he's enjoyed on stage in years.
"What I think it is is the connecting with the audience," he said. "As a writer, what you're always trying to do is connect, and we've been pretty true to that over the last 20 years with songs like Driving With The Brakes On, and That Train, and whatnot. There's a lot of really cool stories behind a lot of these songs, and for me to be able to sit with the crowd and kinda share these inspirations behind the songs, or funny road stories that led to a song, it's just a blast. It reminds us more of a Bob & Doug McKenzie episode from SCTV than it does a country show."
They have the material and experience to customize almost any kind of show. Doc Walker released their first album in 1997 and their most recent was 2017's Weathervane.
The singles had deep appeal in the country audience on both sides of the border, and they also etched themselves into crossover pop audiences in Canada thanks to tunes like She Hasn't Always Been This Way, North Dakota Boy, Rocket Girl, Put It Into Drive, That's How I Like It and their cover of the Genesis hit That's All, just to name a few. Arguably their top song is Beautiful Life, but there's a bunch of contenders.
The public response has been one long, sustained high five. They have almost 40 Canadian Country Music Award nominations, a dozen of them for wins. They have also been up for a Juno Award seven times, with one win.
If there's a single reason for the success it would have to fall under the word "material." They have taken the craft of songwriting seriously, spending more than a decade in Nashville honing their composition skills from some of the world's best.
On a year-round basis, said Thorsteinson, he, Wasyliw and their main collaborators only put the pen down for a week or two. They "never really stop writing" having learned over the years to pace out the process of composing, recording and touring. They've also listened to their co-writers, sought out mentors, and studied the craft. One piece of advice he took in was "the secret to being a good songwriter is being aware of your surroundings at all times, because there are songs everywhere, you just have to see them, find them."
For Thorsteinson, it's such a reflex now that "I'll be watching a hockey game and write half a song in my head without touching a piece of paper."
It's easier than ever to actualize the material, Thorsteinson said, because they live back in their hometown of Westbourne where they've built a recording studio.
Westbourne is situated on Highway 16 just like Prince George. It's on the twisty shores of the Whitemud River, which starts at Neepawa where Margaret Laurence's stories also begin. It takes the outflows of Lake Irwin and Park Lake and pushes it all northeast in a meandering snake engorged with northern pike and walleye, to where it's all discharged into massive Lake Manitoba at Lynch's Point Campground.
The place is so definitive for Thorsteinson that he has intentions of opening a waterfront resort. He's already got the land and he's developing the landscape for his R&R dreams.
Then he will have all the roots any songwriter could ever ask for to inspire the next batch of tunes.
Doc Walker performs in Quesnel on Feb. 21 at the Seniors Centre then Feb. 22 at the PG Playhouse in our city. Book your local seats at the Central Interior Tickets website.
Their latest single, Get Back On My Horse, is out now on radio and video.