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Dirt Road winds back to Bowen

After their fall show was cancelled over Covid concerns, Dirt Road Opera is once again ready to perform
Four people standing by a tractor
Rob Bailey, Jim Ryan, Rachel Matkin and Barry Mathers of Dirt Road Opera.

They were supposed to play Tir-na-nOg last fall, but Covid had other plans. Now – barring anymore last minute upheavals – Dirt Road Opera will finally take the stage nearly nine months later.

“It’s going to be an awesome show and the venue’s an awesome place,” says band member Barry Mathers. Bandmate Rob Bailey says attendees will be treated to the group’s “cool repertoire,” from the band’s roots/Americana sound.

“It’s really small and really intimate. I think whoever comes is going to be in for an unexpectedly extremely pleasant time,” quips Bailey.

That pleasant time was supposed to be Sept. 11 last year, but new pandemic regulations enacted right before the performance date would have held the crowd to 50 per cent capacity.

“When we did the math it just didn’t make sense for anyone,” says Bailey, adding the band didn’t want to play the role of “social pariah by being the guy who imported Covid to Bowen Island. So we decided to pull the plug on that.”

But as summer settles into full swing, live music is back on the schedule. Dirt Road Opera, consisting of Bailey, Mathers, Jim Ryan and Rachel Matkin, performed in Kelowna recently, where most of the band is based out of. After Bowen they’ll take off for the upcoming Vancouver Island Music Festival in Courtenay.

Mathers says the lack of performances have led to group spending much of the past two years in the studio. “We had a real drought there for a couple years. I have a recording studio – so does Rob – so we just continued our writing and doing demos and stuff. We will start on another album one of these days.”

But the consensus is that “It’s great to get out and play in front of people,” says Mathers.

“It’s just epic to be able to get up in front of a nice big audience with a great sound system and do your thing, and have audiences go ‘oh that’s the flavour I’ve been missing,’” said Bailey, who just wrapped up a trio of concerts with his other band Strange Advance.

"I was just absolutely floored"

Bailey, the lone Bowener in the group, has a long history with Dirt Road Opera’s bass player, Ryan. The pair were in musician Jim Foster’s band, touring Canada alongside American rock band Mr. Mister. “We cemented a friendship there and I was just in awe of Jim’s bass and keyboard playing,” says Bailey.

The pair reconnected later in Kelowna, where Bailey heard the Dirt Road Opera trio performing. “I went out and heard these guys sing and as soon as they hit three part harmonies in Miss Ohio, I was just absolutely floored. I made a mental note to myself that it’d be really cool to be involved with this,” he says.

Shortly after, Ryan called him and asked that very question. “I never looked back. It’s been a wonderful experience to reconnect with old friends and meet some new ones. It’s really an enjoyable band to be playing in,” says Bailey.

Bailey is excited to show off Dirt Road Opera’s sound here at home. “You can’t swing a hat and not hit a musician around here… there’s some truly world class players on the island.”

The show is Wednesday, July 6 at Tir-nanOg, at 7:30 pm. Some tickets remain for the show as of July 2.

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