For Brad Merritt, performing in a small town like Smithers offers an opportunity to play in a stunning, scenic location in front of an increasingly familiar crowd.
“The world has become a smaller place, it’s become a more connected place,” said Merritt. “With the Internet, everyone can know everything. Playing in Smithers is exactly the same as playing in Toronto. People are just as up on music, if they want to be.”
Merritt plays bass in the self-described pop-rock band, 54-40, who will be headlining the Bulkley Valley Kinsmen concert series in Telkwa Friday night.
The Canadian band, originally from Tsawwassen, consists of Merritt, Neil Osborne as lead vocalist, Matt Johnson on drums and Dave Genn on guitar.
With hits such as Ocean Pearl, Baby Ran, and I Go Blind, the band has performed around the country for the past 33 years in front of a wide variety of people.
According to Merritt, their music has evolved as rapidly as their audience.
“It’s an amazing thing that has occurred. People have grown up with us, but now it seems people are getting younger at our shows. It must be a second-generation thing,” said Merritt. “I don’t know why we’ve benefitted the way we have, but there’s something there. Whatever it is, we don’t take it for granted.”
Merritt, who co-founded the band with Osborne in the early 1980s, said experimenting with music at a young age allowed the group to create a unique sound within the pop-rock genre.
“Because we spent so much time together trying to do things, trying to write songs, we also tried to emulate the bands that we liked at the time,” he said. “Going through that process, we instantaneously created our own sound.
“So now, we have a greater musical understanding and we’ve simplified ourselves in many ways and it’s allowed us to explore things, musically. We’ve taken various little side trips off the beaten path to keep ourselves interested in the creative process.”
Telkwa resident and long-time fan Jock Fanshaw will be taking his parents to the concert and has never seen them live.
“I’ve liked them since they came out in the ‘80s and who knows when I’ll get the chance to see them here in the Smithers area again,” he said. “Actually getting to see them do songs that I’ve heard on the radio, seen videos for but haven’t seen them play live, is going to be a big plus.”
This isn’t the band’s first trip to the Bulkley Valley.
They also performed in Smithers roughly 12 years ago with the Barenaked Ladies and are excited to play in front of a small-town audience.
“They’re going to be familiar with 90 per cent of the songs we play,” said Merritt of the upcoming performance. “They will be astounded to know that they know the songs and know the words and the melodies.”
But even after years of performing, they still have some tricks up their sleeves.
“We’re also going to play a brand-new song,” said Merritt. “A Smithers debut of a new song. It’s generally going to have some twists and turns, but it will have a happy ending.”
54-40 will hit the stage at the Telkwa Barbecue Grounds on Friday night. Gates open at 6 p.m.