Hockey, to headliner

(Jody Waardenburg -- Staff Photographer)
(Jody Waardenburg — Staff Photographer)

The first time Chad Brownlee performed for a university crowd was when Tim Mahoney played at a pub near Minnesota State during the country singer’s student years. A few of the guys on his hockey team put out a request and Mahoney had Brownlee up to awkwardly strum out a Good Charlotte song on the electric guitar. “It probably sounded awful,” laughed Brownlee. “I was strumming on an electric like an acoustic. But it didn’t matter, the guys on the team were pretty supportive, they were singing and dancing along.”

As the headliner of a sold-out show on Thursday March 14, that the A-Team arranged in the Turret, Brownlee, a Canadian country star and former draft pick of the Vancouver Canucks, had a lot of people singing and dancing along, but this time to his own tunes and lyrics. “I really love the writing process, it’s so rewarding to me … I get to express myself in a different way and it’s also fun when I hear people singing the songs back,” said Brownlee. “When I write something it’s not just my song, I want to make it everybody’s song.”

Brownlee recalled experiences with romance through such hit singles as “Smoke in the Rain” and “Love Me or Leave Me,” the title track of his most recent album which is in the running for country album of the year at the 2013 Juno Awards. His personal favourite, however, was a song in his set called “On His Own Terms” which he wrote for his grandfather who passed away last year from lung cancer. “He was the kind of guy who fits into the country world, you know. Wore cowboy boots every day of his life … you couldn’t tell him how to live his life or what to do,” Brownlee shared. “But he was still a great grandfather and so that song is definitely close to my heart.”

Brownlee, a native of Kelowna, B.C., admitted to not having been much of a country boy himself but that his writing and sound fit well into the genre and it had always been a type of music that had an effect on him. “Garth Brooks was probably the first one who got me into it and I was hooked ever since. I never looked back really,” he said.

Thursday’s opening act, Hayley McLean was also a former athlete, as she sailed for the Canadian National Sailing Team prior to her breakthrough into the music industry when a YouTube video of her guitar skills went viral in her second year of university. “I knew I always wanted to do music. It was never really a question of if, it was a question of when,” she told The Cord. “I knew I needed to do school and have that experience and give that a try, because being in first year when you’re 25 is a lot different from being in first year when you’re 18.” After being contacted by her management team, however, she dropped out of the University of Victoria, retired her sails and made music her full time job.

In no time she began playing lead guitar for Brownlee and within three years was back at her old school to play her first solo show as an official singer-songwriter. “What I love about country is that it’s like plain speech, if you were writing something to someone you could write it in a country song,” she said. McLean will be releasing her first single next month titled “Sounds like a Love Song” and her album will be out this June. Brownlee has also started work on his third album and hopes to have it finished for the fall.

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