Hailing from Hamilton, Ontario, Elliott Brood is a three-piece Canadian folk/alt-country band composed of musicians Mark Sasso, Casey Laforet and Stephen Pitkin. Regarded as a somewhat overlooked gem by their fanbase, the group has experienced a respectable amount of popularity over the course of the past decade after rising to fame with their 2008 album, “Mountain Meadows.”
Sonically, the band’s output encompasses a number of genres, while Elliott Brood’s lyrical references to their homeland complement an overarching theme of nostalgia, which feels inherently connected to country-inspired music. After all, country music possesses intrinsic connections to the United States.
And while Elliott Brood’s songs remain unashamedly tied to their Canadian roots (the band namedrops Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario and Newfoundland in their song “Oh Alberta”) listeners from across the border and around the world can still enjoy the Ontario alt-country rockers’ unforgettable tunes that discuss everything from love and death to poverty and escapism. Broken hearts and mountain rivers never seem to go out of style, and neither do banjos; a twangy song cannot be afraid of its country inspirations, and Elliott Brood never hesitates to place that influence front and center.
Recently, the band went on tour with fellow Canadian ensemble The Dead South, opening for several shows during the latter group’s current tour through the U.S. Despite being rooted in the obscure north, The Dead South provides another example of top-tier Canadian folk-rock, and have accumulated massive success; in fact, their most viewed music video has reached almost viral proportions with 166 million views on YouTube.
From the perspective of the music industry, Elliott Brood is an enduring collection of talent, and current tourmates Blue Rodeo — who just so happens to be another well-regarded, Canadian country-rock band — thinks so too. However, unlike Elliott Brood or The Dead South, Blue Rodeo does not struggle with any skepticism of their fame or accomplishments; after maintaining a presence in the scene for over 30 years, Blue Rodeo has cemented their place in the music industry, earning a spot in the esteemed Canadian Hall of Fame.
In December, I was lucky enough to watch Elliott Brood play a show at The Rockwater in Golden, British Columbia. The venue itself is the main attraction in the town for those looking to enjoy an evening of quality local music. For the band, playing to a few hundred people — The Rockwater can house approximately 350 people — is a stark difference from opening to a crowd of thousands. It’s more intimate, but still relatively common for the band’s solo tours.
The show took place on a wintery night. The venue was packed with a diverse assortment of concertgoers, ranging from young ski bums to slightly older, seasoned locals who likely found a sitter for their kids that night.
Elliott Brood looked happy to be at The Rockwater, and the show itself was practically flawless. The transitions between songs were smooth, the band’s spontaneity was naturally executed, and Sasso’s trademark vocal harmonies stayed pitch-perfect through the group’s entire set, which only enhanced Elliott Brood’s signature sound.
Undoubtedly, the band was a far cry from the typical amateur acts who play in small-town bars to a crowd of bored, liquored-up locals. Furthermore, even if they do not compare to the turnout in the past, the concert attendees stomped their feet and swayed their hips all night, filling the room with an uncontrollable energy, fully enraptured with the trio of musicians on stage.
Before the concert commenced, I discussed the topic of Elliott Brood’s popularity in an interview with Pat Legare, the Rockwater’s current owner and a music promoter who’s been booking the band since 2008.
Kayla Carson: How is it working with Elliott Brood?
Pat Legare: Super refreshing and nice. They’re the nicest people.
KC: What do you think about their fame?
PL: I think they got their fame already; they’ve earned a good following. They had a really good album, “Mountain Meadows” and they’re still riding off of that. They’ve had really good albums since, but nothing like that.
KC: Was there anticipation in town for the show?
PL: Oh yeah. They’ve got their die-hard fans for sure. The first Elliot Brood show in Golden had 3 people, and the second had 340 people. It was the first booking I ever did in Golden, which was in 2009, I believe.
When I booked the second show, the bar owners at the time were so skeptical because it cost a lot of money by then to book the band, and it was in the winter. I didn’t do any advance tickets either. It was 20 bucks straight up at the door, and by nine in the evening, we had a line from the bar all the way down the street.
KC: Was it because of the success of “Mountain Meadows”?
PL: Oh yeah. The show in 2011 was good too. The crowd was insane. Easily 300-plus people. They played the same songs that they’re still riding on.
KC: How was their last show?
PL: It was so-so.
KC: Just so-so?
PL: Well, the actual show was good, but attendance wasn’t great. Probably between 150 and 170 people. This was the lamest show we have had with those guys in a while, attendance-wise. But the show itself was great.
KC: Why do you think that was?
PL: Shred Kelly was here the week before on the opening weekend of the ski hill, which means people are ready to go out and have fun. The weekend of Elliott Brood, there wasn’t a lot of snow and the new ski hill staff don’t have a lot of money yet.
(Quick note: Shred Kelly is a band from a neighboring ski town a few hours away from Golden. Shred Kelly has loyal fans within the ski culture communities surrounding their hometown, in addition to having the benefit of a younger following than Elliott Brood.)
KC: Do you think the show attendance had more to do with just the circumstances of the town?
PL: If [Elliott Brood] was here on the ski hill’s opening weekend, if we hadn’t booked Shred Kelly, it would have gone off for sure.
KC: Is the crowd for Elliott Brood made up of dedicated followers, or just people who want a party?
PL: For the Brood show? Definitely die-hards. You can tell that by the ticket price.
KC: What do you mean?
PL: For Shred Kelly, I keep the ticket price lower, because they’re not as expensive to book, but you have to take into account the ski bum, cheap crowd. For Elliot Brood, they’re more expensive, so you get the true fans. People aren’t going to pay 20 bucks for someone they don’t know or who they don’t already like. Not in Golden.
KC: Would you say that interest in the band is declining at all? Even though all of their albums since “Mountain Meadows” have been critically acclaimed, the show sizes seem to be limited to die-hard fans.
PL: Oh yeah, they’re all great albums. For some reason though, “Mountain Meadows” — that was their “Dark Side of the Moon.”
KC: Since you’ve watched these guys evolve, do you think touring with big names will revitalize their popularity? Or, do they even need revitalization?
PL: It’s not going to revitalize. It’s going to give them newer opportunities in newer areas.
After the show, I couldn’t help but realize that Elliott Brood exists within a strange situation of contrasts. The band is peculiarly balanced between the mainstream and obscurity, which has both benefited and harmed their career trajectory.
Even though their most popular video has acquired 355,000 views, it is not an official upload; it’s a fan video of Elliott Brood’s song “Write It All Down For You.” To make matters even more confusing, the uploader misspells the band’s name.
Taking these factors into consideration, it’s difficult to gain a sense of Elliott Brood’s future trajectory. It’s been nearly 13 years since the debut of “Mountain Meadows,” and the band’s local hype does not seem to be decreasing. All of their albums, both before and after “Meadows,” have been positively received; “Days Into Years” earned the band a Juno Award for “Roots and Traditional Album of the Year” in 2013. Moreover, after witnessing the group first-hand, I can confirm that these guys know how to craft and perform quality music.
Only time will tell if Elliott Brood’s talent will safeguard their popularity for years to come, but one thing is for certain: A good banjo should not be ignored.