By Ryan Pike
The Calgary Folk Music Festival annually features artists from many countries, many languages and many walks of life. While many of the 64 artists fly into Calgary as part of continuing multi-province or multi-country tours, the Ramblin’ Ambassadors arrive in a different manner. Like most audience members, they take time off work and head down to Prince’s Island for the weekend.
The instrumental four-piece — comprised of former Huevos Rancheros guitarist Brent J. Cooper, Scott Nickless, “Gentleman” Doug Waite and Tyler Pickering — originally came together out of necessity.
“Scott and I jammed on the acoustic guitar a bit at Long and McQuade [Music], and then we got offered a gig,” recalls Cooper. “So, we quickly rounded Scott and a drummer up and learned some songs. Then Tyler fell in, then Doug fell in, and it’s been like that for many years now. The idea, I think, to form it like that was based more on informality and friendships. Just going for the fun of the experience of playing music, not so much ‘we’re gonna make it big.’ “
When they’re not rocking out on stage, all four Ambassadors attempt to balance music, families and the daily nine-to-five grind. Cooper and Waite both teach when they’re not performing, while Pickering and Nickless work together at Long and McQuade. Pickering notes that the balancing act can be stressful, but that the enjoyment of their performances is worth it.
“I think it gets us through the rest of our lives,” says Pickering. “I think if we weren’t doing this, the daily grind would probably bring us down. But the occasional Sunday night in Red Deer, when we have to drive home at three o-clock in the morning, go to bed at six and get up at seven and go to work, it’s great.”
“That and carrying around gear keeps you in shape,” adds Waite.
The Ambassadors are a bit of an oddity on the Calgary musical landscape, boasting smooth rhythms and driving guitars — and absolutely no vocals. In the realm of the Calgary Folk Musical Festival, featuring performances from many other countries and languages, the Ambassadors can be enjoyed alongside artists performing in French or Spanish. The band feels that choosing to not have a vocalist enables them to do a multitude of different things with their music.
“Making a decision like that [to have a singer], you’re kind of boxing yourself in if you’re not doing what you just like to do,” says Nickless. “Whatever music you like to play, just play it. If you make a decision, ‘We’ve got to be a different band,’ then it comes off contrived because you’re trying to do something different than you’re actually thinking you should do.”
“It’s so easy to focus on the words and think about the words,” says Pickering. “Whereas with an instrumental band you can tell a story with music and it’s a heckuva lot more open-ended and you can take your own meaning from it.”