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Big Sugar Unplugged and Uninhibited - Lethbridge Living

Article by Paul Krajewski

After two decades of producing foot-pounding jams such as “Diggin’ a Hole,” “Turn the Lights On,” and “Roads Ahead,” Big Sugar decided it was time to unplug and strip down their iconic sound and invite fans to experience the band in its natural state. On Monday, February 23, Big Sugar will be in town for a one-night all-acoustic set delivering tracks straight from the heart and soul of the band to its fans.

The Acoustical Sounds of Big Sugar will showcase songs found on their latest album, Yardstyle, released this past April, as well as some well-known classics, obvious favourites, and some lesser known gems in a compilation of songs played in a style described on their website as “languidly-paced, percussion-heavy acoustic reggae.”

The album features 13 tracks including revamped classics “100 Cigarettes,” and “Little Bit A All Right,” and new songs such as “Police Bway a Vampire,” and “Calling All the Youth,” all with a distinctly natural sound that can be found on the beaches of Jamaica and in the homes of the band members. Instead of producing a “watered down electric” album, Gordie Johnson, lead vocalist, says the band wanted to share this personal side of the band with their fans—relaxed and uninhibited.

“We are Big Sugar, we’ve always rocked it like that,” Gordie explains. “We’ve never been a band that just came out and played the hits. We’ve never approached our career like that. Every time is a little different. We are picking songs from our first couple of records that we haven’t played on tour in the last 20 years just because the sound of the band has changed. We are also picking out songs from other artists we like that are influential to us. Every night holds something different.”

Before firing up the amps and plugging in the electric guitar, Big Sugar’s music is rehearsed, written and prepared in an acoustic format, so unplugging and stripping down the Big Sugar sound came as second nature to band. Before shows, on the tour bus, and during promotional appearances at TV and radio stations, the band plays strictly acoustic sets, so as Gordie explains, it’s “a whole different orchestration and a whole different approach than what people are used to, but we are very used to it so you get to see us the way we get to do it at home.”

The band— Gordie on guitar and vocals, Garry Lowe on bass guitar, Kelly “Mr. Chill” Hoppe on harmonica and saxophone, Friendlyness on keyboard, and Stephane Bodean Beaudin on drums—all come from musical backgrounds ranging from blues and jazz to reggae, soul and calypso, and to capture their natural sound they invited some friends to join them, including Jamaican reggae legend Willi Williams, to make up an eight piece ensemble playing all-acoustic folk instruments. “We just thought, ‘Imagine if this was the whole tour, and all we had to do all day and every day is just play the banjo or bongo drums?’ We thought it sounded like such a great idea, so we decided to get in the studio to see if it would work. And we did, we’ve got 12 people sitting in a circle playing the songs, it was really so easy to do,” Gordie says.

After the show, instead of selling customary concert merchandise, Big Sugar decided to do something a little unconventional for this tour. Working with World Vision they are seeking the help of their fans in order to help send kids to school in the city of Jarso, Ethiopia.

“At this point, we don’t do this because we have to. We don’t have any bills to pay. We only go on tour because we love the music and we love doing this, and it occurred to me that we could make it be about something bigger than just music,” Gordie says. “We can sell shirts and records and stickers all year everyday but we just wanted this to be about something bigger than music, so if our fans will sponsor a kid, we’ll just give you Big Sugar merch.”

Over half way through their 39-stop tour, Gordie says he’s proud to announce that the band is well on its way to sending the entire village of children to school.

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