Inspired by Brian Dale’s Miss Grand Bend, a group of radio listeners is fighting to win CBC’s Great Canadian SongQuest
Story and file photos by Casey Lessard
Only days remain to vote for Grand Bend (or its competitors) in CBC Radio 2’s Great Canadian Songquest, a contest to choose one town from each province to be immortalized in song. Grand Bend made it into the top five for Ontario thanks to some aggressive voting by enthusiastic radio listeners, including Brantford resident and Klondyke Park trailer owner Frank Beattie, University of Western Ontario sociology student Heidi Klopp and others.
“It’s about getting Grand Bend noticed and recognized,” says Klopp, 20, a Zurich veteran who now considers Grand Bend home. “It’s an awesome small town with as much to offer as the big towns.”
Beattie and Klopp thought the contest would be a good way to promote their favourite iconic song about the village, Brian Dale’s “Miss Grand Bend”, which is now available on Dale’s peace/love/waves/song CD that came out this summer. Plans to promote Dale’s music changed somewhat after nominations began and the nominators realized the contest wasn’t to recognize songs that already existed (vis-a-vis “Miss Grand Bend”), but rather to find 13 places across Canada that would be written about by an artist from each province. For Ontario, the artists are Jully Black (R&B/soul), Hawksley Workman (alternative), Shad K (rap), Lynn Miles (folk/roots), and Justin Rutledge (alt-country).
“It’s too bad they’re not using local artists like Brian, Greg Gallello, Natalie Tobin,” Klopp says, “but it’s still a good thing for our town.”
It’s a misunderstanding shared by early Grand Bend bid supporter Frank Beattie, 56, who heard about the contest from a friend.
“All I could think about was Brian’s new album, released after all these years, and thought maybe this is a place to suggest ‘Miss Grand Bend’ as a candidate for the contest,” Beattie says. “They had a few blogging tools that allowed you to create a blog to promote your place. Every time you logged in, you could nominate your town, so on the first day while updating the blog, I voted enough to get us off to a pretty good start.”
A good start is an understatement. At times, Grand Bend was in the lead, and finished in the top five, good enough to be a finalist. After a week of voting, says CBC Radio director of music Mark Steinmetz, Grand Bend was fourth after Algonquin Park, Sleeping Giant (Thunder Bay) and Toronto; Picton was fifth. It’s a proud accomplishment for Beattie, who nine years ago had no idea where Grand Bend was.
“After finishing a big project at work, my boss said we needed to get away,” he says. “There were eight of us involved in that project, and our entire company was dependent on our group, so he decided to leave them on their own while we went away during the middle of the week. We rolled in on Wednesday night. I remember calling my wife and saying, ‘This is unbelievable. It’s an hour and a half away from home (Brantford) and it’s got everything we want.’”
Two weeks later, he brought his wife for a stay at the Oakwood.
“We sat in the dining room for a late dinner and the sunset coming down Oakwood Drive hooked us.” Later that summer, they bought a used trailer at the Klondyke Trailer Park. “Best investment we’ve made,” he says.
His passion for the village is apparent, and his love for local music – among the reasons he and his wife decided to stay – makes him want to promote it across Canada.
“Brian has been adamant since this started that we promote the town, not him. To me, Grand Bend is a secret and a gem. It’s priceless and not well-known. Do we want to lose our paradise? The answer is no, but I’ve been promoting Grand Bend for eight years and the only person to ever take me up on my offer, my neighbour at work, is now my neighbour at the park. He and his partner just love it.”
“It’s a town for everybody and every age group,” Klopp says. “No matter how old or young, there’s something for you.”
For Klopp, the people are the main attraction, then the location. And of course, there’s the music.
“We’re a very musical town, and everyone feels the music. Even if you can’t get up and dance (at a Gables jam night, for example), you can bop to the music.”
For Beattie, the location is the inspiration.
“The beach, the lake, sunsets, the strip, the atmosphere. It’s like Gravenhurst, but it’s 40 minutes from London and an hour from Stratford.”
That’s why CBC Songquest is a good fit, Klopp says.
“I thought it was exactly what Grand Bend needs with the new downtown and beach renovations. What’s the point of spending those millions of dollars if no one comes? Tourism has definitely been down these past few years. It’s great that the locals get to enjoy it, but we want to share it with everyone else as well.”
Just the type of message CBC hopes will come out of the contest, in addition to raising awareness of a recent format change at Radio 2.
“We wanted something to engage Canadians, the artistic community, and our people here to come up with 13 new songs commissioned by the CBC that represented towns across the country,” Mark Steinmetz says. “Rather than us dictating how it was going to go and who we would commission, we thought it would be great to open it up to Canadians.”
While expecting major urban centres to make the top five for each province, he notes that smaller centres are leading the pack. “It’s a tight race right now for what people are voting for,” he says. “It’s a way to discover new artists in this country. We play a diverse range of music, and there are so many great artists out there that don’t get played on private stations.”
Plus it’s a good way to create new music about Canada.
“I don’t know if you know this, but Gordon Lightfoot’s ‘Canadian Railroad Trilogy’ was actually a CBC commission (for the centennial year, 1967),” Steinmetz notes. “We’ve commissioned many types of music. That came from internally. Now Canadians get to help us decide who we’re going to commission. And who knows, one of these songs could become a song that gets embedded in the nation’s consciousness.”
Local listeners hope Grand Bend inspires that song. The final days of the contest will be tough, but Beattie remains as optimistic as he can.
“I think it’s going to take a miracle now to win. Toronto has a few million people, while we have a few thousand. Brian Dale says it right: to be successful in the music business, you need luck and connections, and for us to win this contest, it’s going to take a lot of both.”
“Vote as much as you can,” says Heidi Klopp. “You can vote once a day. Tell everyone you can. Listen to CBC radio, and spread the word.”
To vote, visit: //www.cbc.ca/radio2/songquest/