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Entertainment News

Sunday, 17 June, 2007 11:33 AM

CMA: Borderline Crazy For Canadian Country Artists

PHOTO BY TERRY CALOGNE

Midas recording artists Emerson Drive.

By Lorie Hollabaugh
© 2007 CMA Close Up News Service

Canada and the United States have more than a border in common - the two also share an abundance of Country Music fans. Canada has long been an exporter of talented Country artists who found success in the United States, including George Canyon, Terri Clark, Emerson Drive, Carolyn Dawn Johnson, Shania Twain and Michelle Wright. And American artists have long recognized Country's popularity in Canada, with most major stars touring the country periodically. Brooks & Dunn, George Strait and dozens of other artists make Canada an integral part of their itineraries when they launch a major North American tour.

International touring can occasionally bring adventure and most artists have at least one border crossing story to share. Emerson Drive road manager Mark Oglesby has made more than 100 border crossings during the last four years working with the Canadian band. His political science classes have come in handy while representing the group, especially during sensitive situations like crossing over checkpoints.

"I'm responsible for 10 guys, so it's my job to go in there first and try to smooth everything out," Oglesby said. "I have to get out my contracts and show them where we're playing, and they want to talk to all the guys. It's almost like playing poker. You don't want to say too much, or give them a reason to question. We're not hiding anything; you just don't want the inconvenience of the questions."

Having paperwork in order ahead of time expedites the process, according to Wayne O'Connor, a Canadian road manager who has spent 16 years crossing with artists Nick Carter, the Crash Test Dummies, and most recently George Canyon, who late last year, wrapped up a cross-Canadian tour. "It's getting almost impossible to cross into the U.S.," O'Connor said. "If I got a call today for a gig within the next three months, I would not be able to get the artist in through normal channels. Applying for the form takes at least three months. The process is slow."

Even with the proper forms submitted, there are no guarantees. O'Connor recalled a trip from Vancouver to Las Vegas with 15 people. He had everything in order, got everyone through customs and was then denied entry himself for no apparent reason. "I filed through 15 people and everything was great," O'Connor said.

"I was the 16th person, and the guy said to me, 'You're not coming in the country.' I thought he was kidding. These guys are judge and jury - the supervisor will not overturn a decision that an agent makes, right or wrong. They have a heavy job to do, let's face it. When I'm taking a new artist across I tell them, 'You answer the questions that are asked, you don't joke with these people, you don't say anything, you just play their game.'"

Consequences can be severe for artists who don't comply or even act surly, but it's easy to see how tempers can flare during a 2 AM bus search with an overeager agent. "Crossing at Niagara Falls we pulled up at 3 AM and got the wrong guy," Oglesby recalled. "He pulled everyone out of bed, took all our suitcases out, brought dogs and searched our socks, our bathroom kits, everything. And it took four hours."

Emerson Drive lead singer Brad Mates has definitely spent his share of time out in the cold during the 11 years the band has toured both countries. "I remember years ago, going home for Christmas," Mates said. "It was minus 30 degrees outside and they made us take every piece of equipment out of our trailer and checked the serial numbers on all of them."

There is always room for confusion during checkpoint searches as well. Mates recalled coming from Saskatchewan into North Dakota when they were stopped by friendly agents for a check and lost one of their members. "We had been through this border a number of times and they know the band and usually it's a quick breeze through," Mates said. "We got off, they did a quick search and Dale went to the washroom. When they were done, we hopped back on the bus and started driving and realized we had left him. So we turned around and went back, and there he was out talking with the officers, who had given him a border patrol hat. They all just thought it was hilarious."

According to Mates, it doesn't seem to matter which side you're crossing on. An artist can encounter an overzealous agent on either side. "A lot of times we have more trouble getting into Canada than we do coming into the U.S.," Mates said. "There are some people who will let you through, and some who will keep you there for hours. And there will always be new agents who need to dig a little deeper than they should."

Canyon, who enjoys special privileges because of his work visa, agreed. "I don't envy the job the border patrol has to do," Canyon said. "Being in law enforcement before, I had a taste of what that feels like, so when I go across it's whatever they need. But there are people in positions of power who sometimes should not be in them - it goes to their head and they don't know how to deal with it. I notch that up to inexperience on the agent's part. But they're all doing the best they can."

No matter the agent's personality, one thing is for sure. Honesty is the best policy when crossing the borders now that worldwide security concerns are at an all-time high. "The big thing is to be honest," Canyon agreed.
"Don't try to hide things and don't lie, because if you get caught you're going to go down hard and probably not cross the border again. The big thing is just be on the up and up. You can't go wrong if you do that."

On the Web: www.emersondrive.com; www.georgecanyon.com.

George Canyon won second place on "Nashville Star" and signed a record deal with Universal Records South in 2004. His debut album, One Good Friend, featured four Top 5 singles in Canada and was produced by Tim DuBois and Tony Brown. Canyon's new album, Somebody Wrote Love, was released on July 4, 2006 on Universal Music Canada.

Emerson Drive is Patrick Bourque, bass guitar; Danick Dupelle, guitar; Brad Mates, lead vocals; Mike Melancon, drums; David Pichette, fiddle and Dale Wallace, keyboards. Their third album, Countrified, was released on Sept. 19, 2006 on Midas Records Nashville and produced by Brad Allen, Keith Follese, Josh Leo and Country Music Hall of Fame Alabama band member Teddy Gentry.

 

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