By Keith Sharp
It was one of those eureka moments. Barney Bentall and his son Dustin were watching a YouTube episode of The Grand Ole Opry when they heard the MC say, “and the next song by Mel Tillis is sponsored by Gillette.”
Songs sponsored by corporations, what a novel concept! “It was 2006, we were planning on doing a charity show for a local rodeo, so Dustin and I thought we could do something with this concept,” explained Bentall on the phone from his Cariboo B.C. ranch.
Out of that brainstorming session was born Barney Bentall’s – The Cariboo Express, a travelling musical road show of musicians who have been raising funds for local charities by performing songs sponsored by corporate sponsors. The Inaugural Toronto Concert for Classrooms will be presented Thursday, November 10, at 7 pm at Toronto’s Glenn Gould Studio as part of a nine-concert tour, with the other eight dates set for venues in Western Canada. Tickets are available here
Thursday’s concert serves as a fundraiser for the Classroom Champions organization, which empowers children to thrive academically, socially and emotionally by being in contact with top athletes. Thursday’s event features Classroom Champions’ Ambassadors – Olympic figure skater Tess Virtue and sports broadcaster Ron McLean.
Barney Bentall and the Cariboo Express, featuring an eclectic group of musicians, including Bentall, his son Dustin plus Devin Cuddy, Leeroy Stagger, Sam Polly and Anne Lindsay, the Cariboo Express has served as a key fundraiser for many local charities since the group’s inception and has raised over $2 million dollars.
“Each sponsoring charity recruits the corporate sponsors and sells the tickets,” Bentall explained. “We just show up and play, and it’s a fun night full of eclectic music. I wasn’t sure at first how that corporate sponsorship idea would work. We tried it first in Winnipeg, and the first song was sponsored by a local dentist! The people in the audience loved it, so we kept on going, and it has served as a key fundraiser for a number of charities, including East Side Vancouver, which is like ground zero for social problems.”
The cost of bringing a group of 13 musicians east has previously prevented the Cariboo Express. Still, the Calgary-based sponsor for Classroom Champions has underwritten their expenses to allow the group to perform in Toronto.
Despite the COVID pandemic, which has disrupted the global music industry for the past two years, Bentall has been busy recording two new albums; the instrumental-based `Ranchwriters’ release in partnership with Spirits Of The West’s Geoffrey Kelly and, in April, he released his seventh solo album, ‘Cosmic Dreamer.’
The isolation of his ranch located Northwest of Kamloops helped protect Bentall and his extended family from the pandemic. “We live pretty rurally. I wasn’t trapped with kids in a downtown Toronto condo like some people,” “It was like a commune at our place, home-schooling the grandkids. It allowed me to get a lot of stuff done. I was able to perform a series of six concerts in Victoria to restricted audiences, and he co-produced Cosmic Dream with multi-instrumentalist Adrian Doran at Doran’s Ladysmith B.C. studios.”
“It felt like the record was a little disjointed because it was just me and Adrian, but I was able to send files to bassist/vocalist Kirby Barber and drummer Geoff Hicks, and they were able to record their parts remotely,” Bentall noted.
The 11-track album also features a cover of Gordon Lightfoot’s “Shadows,” which Bentall originally performed at a Gordon Lightfoot tribute concert at Hugh’s Room. A version of Bob Dylan’s “You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go” plus nine of Bentall’s story vignettes which have become a trademark of his troubadour vocal style.
Having recorded 20 albums during his career, Bentall originally made his mark with his Legendary Hearts band, hitting the charts with his “Something To Live For” and with other collaborations with Shari Ulrich in the High Bar Gang and BTU with Ulrich and Tom Taylor.
Future projects could well include a new record with The Legendary Hearts. “I stay in touch with the guys. We play a couple of shows a year, and it would be logical if we could record another album together,”
Concert for Classrooms Toronto Barney Bentall & The Cariboo Express with Leeroy Stagger, Anne Lindsay, Devin Cuddy & Sam Polly + VIPs Ron MacLean & Tessa Virtue At Glenn Gould Studio Tickets Thursday, November 10th, 2022 Tickets are available here