Online Exclusive: Silly indie kids, Sled Island is for country bands

By Laura Bardsley

Little did Cody Swinkels and Ryan Mueller know that when they formed a country cover band with a few friends, it would become something real instead of just a hilarious gimmick. Since their beginning early this year, No River (formerly known as The Bow River) have been rafting the rapids of Calgary’s local music scene. Every show I’ve gone to has been packed with friends and strangers alike, all swaying to wonderfully-written country originals and covers that appeal to all types of fans, not just country ones.

“Bein’ [in] a country band, I kind of feel like an outsider as far as the Calgary music scene goes,” Swinkels says, referencing how most of his peers gravitate toward playing or listening to other genres of music. But his enthusiasm toward other local musicians is refreshing.

“I think . . . Calgary has been getting an amazing music scene over the past few years. There’s so many good bands playing, which is great!” It’s no mere coincidence that in the same past few years Sled Island has shaped Calgary, bringing in big name bands and booking them with local, smaller acts. This year’s festival saw many shows that did just that, including No River. Booked to open for Justin Townes Earle, Swinkels recalls his excitement.

“I really respect his music a lot. I’ve been listening to him for a long time, even before [we started] the band,” he says, grinning.

“It was an honour.”

When small bands are booked with more widely-known bands, especially when these bookings are for venues such as the #1 Legion, Broken City or the ever-present Republik, something beautiful happens — the audience is treated to an intimate show featuring a variety of bands they have and haven’t listened to. The opening bands for these more prominent acts can then introduce themselves to a new audience. No River was able to experience this during their show at Republik.

“It felt amazing. A lot more people came out than I thought were going to.”

“There was a handful of our friends,” he admits, “but mostly it was people I’d never seen before in my life, so that was really awesome.”

So what’s next for No River, then? As Swinkels casually answered, a full-length album.

“We have an album coming out closer to mid-July. We’re putting it out on CD and tape first,” he says excitedly, “then we’ll try to get someone to pick it up, put it out on vinyl for us.” That’s only if, he explains, they can’t gather the cash themselves. Either way, No River are here to stay — and might just carry you away.

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