With a voice clear and inspiring as the southern Alberta foothills that are his home, Trevor Panczak and a crew of amazingly talented musicians blew into Watrous for a sold out show on Saturday night. Panczak’s easy going and mirthful manner had the crowd in the Watrous Civic Centre captivated throughout the two hour show.
Hailing from the ranching and farming community of Magrath, south of Lethbridge, Panczak is no stranger to Saskatchewan, and throughout the evening, he wove tales of playing music, fishing, and enjoying nature in our province. His original tunes are firmly grounded in his homeland and in his musical roots with his family. Those roots take his music back to greats like Merle Haggard, Waylon and Willie, and a firm favourite, Don Williams. Panczak had opened for Williams on western Canadian tours over the years, and a special kinship formed. When Don Williams passed, Panczak created a tribute show to the country giant, and he masterfully delivered the classic Williams tunes “Lord I Hope This Day Is Good” and “Come Early Morning.” Among his covers were a spirited version of “Ghost Riders in the Sky,” with a nod back to Panczak’s earliest recollection of playing the four open-stringed introductory notes to the song at age 5.
Among the other deftly delivered covers was a “countrified” rendition of the 1960’s pop classic, “Happy Together” by the Turtles, and a stunning solo turn at James Taylor’s “Fire and Rain” to open the second half of the show. In his career, he’s crossed paths with Patty Page, performed on-stage duets with country’s greatest, and recorded in Nashville with a host of gifted session players.
But make no mistake - Panczak is not strictly a cover artist. His catalog of original songs is impressive. His music displays an incredible lyrical intuition for capturing experience, a wry sense of humour and gifted word play. Among his biggest hits of the evening was a self-penned ode to wooing a girl, all wrapped up in a charming and witty bundle of curling terms. Fans of the sport, and of solid country music, applauded the chorus of “I Curl” for its hometown “two-sheeter” feel, and the sheer charm of the song.
Panczak was flanked by the twin threat of Telecaster and pedal steel virtuosos Trevor Christiansen and Darren Sittilo. The band was anchored by Saskatoon drummer Hal Shrink and bass master Ray Banman. The group powered its way through Panczak’s summertime vibe hits “Borderline Crazy” and “Cheap Shades”. Other radio hits were the popular “Blame It on the Whiskey,” the La Ronge inspired fishing trip tale “Riverbank,” the southern boogie romp “Winnebago,” and the hauntingly beautiful “Where I Go To Come Back.” The audience sang along to the always heartwarming “Country Roads” before the band let loose a spell of sheer instrumental artistry with the rocker “Singer in a Cowboy Band.”
Panczak commented on the hospitality he and the band received in Watrous during their stay, and that the concert had been a long time coming, delayed by two years. If the audience had its way, Panczak and company would be summertime fixtures for more homegrown prairie music.