You wouldn’t think it at first, but there are a few similarities between being a professional musician and being a cattle rancher.
Both are wildly unpredictable. Both involve forging ahead through changing markets and climates. And both have found their way into the heart of Barney Bentall, venerable singer/songwriter and Canadian household name.
Bentall will play the Centre for the Arts on March 11 with Toronto multi-instrumentalist Kevin Fox. The gig comes four years into Bentall’s comeback after taking a decade off to be a full-time cattle rancher.
“I used to think being a touring rock n’ roll musician was hard,” he says. “But after I started ranching, I looked back and thought ‘That wasn’t hard at all.’”
Born in Toronto, Bentall broke onto the music scene in the 1980s with his band, the Legendary Hearts. Their hits included “Something to Live For,” “Do Ya” and “Come Back to Me.” The band released five studio albums before Bentall halted his music career in 2000 to work a cattle ranch.
Bentall loved music, but started to feel like “the years were evaporating.” A longtime fan of agriculture and the cowboy life, he started Cutter Ranch Lamb in Clinton, B.C. He woke at the crack of dawn, rounding up cattle on horseback, fixing tractors and bailers and birthing calves.
Ultimately, though, “it wasn’t me,” and he handed operation of the ranch to his daughter and son-in-law, Sacha and Tyler McNaughton. (His other daughter, Jessica, is married to Rob Niedermayer of the Buffalo Sabres, while son Dustin is also a musician.)
Bentall reemerged in 2006 with a solo album, Gift Horse. In 2008, he released a CD for The Grand Cariboo Opry, a collaborative jamboree type of project he put together to benefit the residents of Vancouver’s impoverished east side. In 2009, he released a live album, The Inside Passage.
Fox and Bentall first joined forces at a show in B.C. more than a year ago. Fox is no stranger to the Sean O’Sullivan Theatre. He’s played there with numerous other artists, including Shaye, Justin Hines, Chantal Kreviazuk and the Niagara Symphony.
A professional musician for 19 years, Fox has released two solo CDs, Come Alive and Songs for Cello and Voice. But it’s only with the second that he’s presented himself outside the Toronto market, he says.
“It always feels like a luxury to be onstage and presenting myself to an attentive audience,” says Fox, who plans to release a new album in the spring.
Fox’s main instrument is the cello, but he plays a slew of other instruments, including piano, guitar and mandolin. Onstage, he likes to engage the audience in conversation and “I like everyone to be comfortable.”
Fox will start the show, followed by a performance by Bentall. Then the two will join forces. The result will be “a compatible harmony of enjoyable music,” Fox says.
“There’s a warmth to my music, and there’s a warmth to Barney’s music as well,” he says. “I like to create a comfort for myself and the audience. It’s like welcoming people to my living room.”