When it comes to supporting those in need, singer-songwriter Barney Bentall learned by doing.
Bentall, who was raised in Calgary, picked up the benefits of fundraising early in life from his parents, who often preached the value of philanthropic work. His father was a minister at the Baptist church in Calgary, while his mother was the first woman president of the Baptist Federation of Canada. Charity work was in the Bentall family’s blood.
When his stock as a performer began to rise during the 1980s, Bentall quickly put his name to good use on the fundraising front. It’s a trend that continues today with Barney Bentall and the Cariboo Express, now in its 11th year.
“I grew up around it, so maybe it’s one of those things where it’s just what you do,” Bentall said. “I feel like a fortunate person, so I just do it, but I don’t like to make a big deal of it.”
Bentall, who splits his time in B.C. these days between a home on Bowen Island and a ranch in Clinton, will bring plenty of friends and family to Vancouver Island this week for four Cariboo Express concerts. The tour will benefit charities in each community.
“The grace and politeness and gratitude from the people who are in these situations … really, wealthy people should take a page from their book,” Bentall said of those whose lives are improved by the tour’s endeavours.
The Juno Award-winning performer believes strongly that funds raised should be put back into each community. It’s an incredibly successful charity model, too. “Next year, we’ll break the $1-million-raised mark,” Bentall said.
His daughters, Jess and Sacha, recently staged a Cariboo Express concert in Cranbrook to raise funds for that region’s Friends of Children charity, helping to ease the financial burden for 20 families with sick children.
It was an emotional concert for everyone, Bentall said. “These are the people who have come up to us and told us their stories,” he said. “It’s incredibly moving.”
The Cariboo Express tour, which takes Bentall and his bandmates to various cities through November, isn’t the only item on his plate. Bentall will join Blue Rodeo’s Jim Cuddy and others tonight at the Victoria Conference Centre for the national Gold Medal Plates fundraiser, which raises money for high-performance athletes pursuing their Olympic dreams.
“The months of November and December are the busiest time of year for me, for sure,” Bentall said.
Bentall put together his dream team for the Cariboo Express run in 2016, including the original core of the project: his son Dustin, Kendel Carson, Ridley Bent, Leeroy Stagger, Wendy Bird and Matt Masters. Others participate when their schedules allow, Bentall said.
He takes particular pride in seeing the “youngsters” in the crew — which includes Carson, Stagger, Bent and Dustin — grow as people and songwriters during the project’s 10 years.
“They are troubadour rock ’n’ rollers. But I’ve watched how they acquit themselves and see their understanding of and appreciation for what this does.”
The project is the product of hard work by everyone involved, Bentall said. There are always new songs to learn, and soundchecks are laborious when membership in the group nears a dozen.
“It’s such a big group, but we only have one crew person. We have to have a duty roster in place, to ensure somebody is in charge of making sure everybody is in a vehicle going from one place to the other. The first day in Lethbridge, we left three people behind, so it became a task for someone. And everybody is so good about it.”
Collegiality is important when it comes to the Cariboo Express. Bentall won’t have a big-name performer lend his or her name to the project if his or her behaviour borders on difficult.
“If I was curating a band, if that’s an appropriate description, skill and talent would be first. But I almost feel attitude is the most important. And with this particular group, both are there in spades.”
WHERE YOU CAN CATCH THE EXPRESS
Barney Bentall tailors his annual Cariboo Express concerts to suit benefactors in each community.
Individual song sponsors add additional revenue while upping the entertainment value.
The entire project has an old-time feel to it, not unlike the days when country music was aired with presenting sponsors.
In this case, however, funds are being allocated to those in need.
The best part about the Cariboo Express is the sense of collaboration in play.
Bentall gets to see first-hand the communities that have supported his initiative since its inception, and the concerts bring together groups with like-minded intentions for a thrilling night of music.
“It’s a big task, because you need to get a charity that will participate in making the thing a success,” Bentall said.
“We like it when the people from the charity roll up their sleeves and get to work on song sponsors, which is where the majority of the funds come from.”
Here’s where you can see the Cariboo Express in the coming days.
Where: Edward Milne Community Theatre, 6218 Sooke Rd.
Doors: 7 p.m. | Show, 7:30 p.m.
Tickets: $35 at Sooke Shoppers Drug Mart, EMCS Program Office and The Stick in the Mud Coffee Shop
Presented by: Mel Dobres, Sooke Harbour Players and EMCS Society
Benefiting: Sooke Food Bank
SATURDAY AND SUNDAY: SIDNEY
Where: Charlie White Theatre, 2243 Beacon Ave.
Doors: 6 p.m. | Show, 8 p.m.
Tickets: $40 through marywinspear.ca
Presented by: Brentwood’s Music in The Bay
Benefiting: Sidney Lions Food Bank
MONDAY: SALT SPRING ISLAND
Where: Fulford Hall, 2591 Fulford Ganges Rd.
Doors: 6 p.m. | Show, 7 p.m.
Tickets: $25 at SS Books and Stuff & Nonsense
Presented by: Salt Spring Folk Club
Benefiting: Salt Spring Island Community Services Society Food Bank