They’ve been stage, recording and road companions for the past two decades, and between them have been on the Canadian folk and country music landscape for more than 50 years.
It’s no wonder Gary Fjellgaard and Valdy are known as The Contenders.
About to embark on their annual tour around the Okanagan, Fjellgaard says his rapport with Valdy never gets old, despite the fact that he is approaching 80, while Valdy is eight years his junior.
“We’re into our 15th year of this tour and I’m not sure if this will be it. We’re still walking upright and eating solid foods,” laughed Fjellgaard, who also celebrated another major milestone this year – his 60th wedding anniversary to wife Lynne.
Travelling the dusty road is one of the ways the cowboy crooner stays in touch with the world around him, although he does admit to hanging up his boots more often now as the miles become longer.
“I’m getting lazier as the years get by,” said Fjellgaard. “But we’ve travelled a lot and have spent a tremendous amount of time in our motorhome. This year, we drove from Christina Lake to McLeish Lake (near Thunder Bay, Ont.) and then back to Osoyoos… This tour is now my chance to stretch out on the road with Valdy again.”
The Contenders are hoping there will be no mishaps in Fjellgaard’s trusty motorhome as they head along Highway 97 and points in between.
There was the one incident when the motorhome broke down near Penticton, and then more recently when Fjellgaard plugged in the microwave and it blew up.
At least Fjellgaard has Valdy to rely on when it comes to carrying the equipment into the venues.
“I have one 80-pound amp that I can’t get up the stairs anymore,” said Fjellgaard.
That amp has come in handy as Fjellgaard, known for his acoustic country-folk stylings, has recently started playing the electric guitar again.
“It was just something different. I heard a Mark Knopfler song and I wanted to get his sound, so I dropped the mandolin and picked up the guitar,” said Fjellgaard. “I’ve noticed my songs have changed. They’ve picked up extra energy especially now when they’re played live.”
Fjellgaard’s electric guitar can be heard on The Contenders’ third album Off the Floor, which was recorded in a Vancouver Island studio last year.
“I was on one side of the room and Valdy was on the other side. It was very organic,” said Fjellgaard. “I always have a lot of fun playing with Valdy. Honestly, we’ve never had a difference of opinion. He’s more of an extrovert, while I’m more of an introvert wanting to be an extrovert.”
Valdy, a member of the Order of Canada, and Fjellgaard, who was inducted into the Canadian Country Music Hall of Fame in 2005, started touring as The Contenders in the Okanagan to support the now defunct George Ryga Centre in Summerland.
Although the home once belonging to the late respected playwright was sold in 2014, The Contenders have continued the tour thanks to the support of Armstrong’s Ken Smedley, who does all the organizing.
“We couldn’t do it without Ken. He is our stalwart companion,” said Fjellgaard. “Ryga is still in there in what we do, but that (tour) came to an end. Now it’s the Valdy and Gary Fjellgaard tour.”
That familiarity with one another, and the audience, is apparent in The Contenders’ live shows.
“We don’t rehearse our banter. It is so spontaneous. You can’t repeat it. I feel people feel comfortable with us,” said Fjellgaard.
The Contenders hit these following venues and dates on their tour:
– Friday, Oct. 28, 7:30 p.m. at Zion United Church Hall, Armstrong. Tickets are Chocoliro. Phone 250-546-2886.
– Sat. Oct. 29, 7:30 p.m., at the Creekside Theatre, Lake Country. Phone 250-766-9309 for ticket information and reservations.
– Sun. Oct. 30, 7:30 p.m., at Lorenzo’s Café, Ashton Creek. Phone 250-838-6700 for reservations.
– Tues. Nov. 1, 7:30 p.m., at The Barking Parrot Lounge, Penticton. Tickets are at the Dragon’s Den. Phone 250- 492-3011.
– Wed. Nov. 2 at 7:30 p.m. at Centre Stage, Summerland. Tickets are at Martin’s Flowers . Phone 250-494-5432.
– Thurs. Nov. 3, 7:30 p.m., at the Carlin Hall, Tappen. Special guests are Blu & Kelly Hopkins. Tickets are at Acorn Music. Phone 250-832-8669.
– Friday, Nov. 4, 7:30 p.m., at Okanagan College Vernon campus theatre. Tickets are at the Bean Scene. Phone 250-558-1817.
– Sat. Nov. 5, 7:30 p.m., at the Sagebrush Theatre, Kamloops. Tickets are at the Kamloops LIVE Box Office. Phone 250-374-5583.
All tickets are $20.