Rain or shine, I’d travel to the ends of the earth for a good country performance, so a blustery night with freezing rain and snow didn’t stop me from making it to The Danny Hooper Show on November 15th at my favourite venue, The Horizon Stage. Hooper packed the house, making it a solid three for three following Lisa Brokop and Gil Grand back in October. Being a first-timer, by the time the stage lights went out I understood why the show had sold out.
Hooper, a recording artist, motivational speaker, real estate mogul, celebrity benefit auctioneer, nightclub owner, radio personality, comedic emcee, and much, much more, is clearly a well-rounded businessman with an incredibly lengthy career to show for it. I knew vaguely of his eccentric and humble personality due to his impressive legacy here in Alberta but was still surprised to see his funny bone come through so early. The second he stepped up to the mic he didn’t skip a beat, and he didn’t let up—not during, or after the show when meeting with fans, family, and friends in the lobby. I was convinced he never turned off the slapstick at all, and after a conversation with his manager Faye Ison during the intermission, I had come to find that my hunch was correct when she grinned and rolled her eyes just ever so slightly.
His five-piece band looked like it had been plucked right out of the 80s and my face lit up as soon as they started to play, opening the show with a little ditty that was as lively as Hooper’s free-spirited personality and showcased each musician’s talents wonderfully. They sounded the part too—this was country music.
“We’ve got a good show—well, I think we’ve got a good show, how can I say we’ve got a good show? I haven’t seen it.” He laughed as he began leading up to the first song between the dozens of jokes he cracked about his mother, divorce, and anything else he could think of. Much of which he, impressively, seemed to come up with on the fly. He had the crowd rolling with laughter before we ever heard him sing a note. “Whatever happens up here, there are no refunds,” he added, and by the end, nobody in their right mind would have complained anyway.
To start off the show I got to witness one of the rawest moments I’ve ever seen in concert come to life before my eyes. Hooper, sitting casually on a stool with his guitar and music stand, cracked a joke about the stand, telling us that since he’d started his music career in 1975, he’d never had one on stage. Tonight, however, was an exception. The song he was about to sing was “hot off the press,” and hot off the press it was. Having written it at 5:30 that morning, he wanted to be sure to get all the words just right. He dedicated the up-tempo Christmas song to his 86 year old mother who was sitting just a couple rows in front of me and began to play. The band quietly started to join in toward the end and finally came in full tilt to play it out. It was incredible to watch, and the look on Hooper’s face as the song came together made my heart swell. It was an incredibly unique moment, and I hope to witness it again sometime on another stage with another artist. These days everyone strives to be picture perfect, but raw moments like this are what make a show for me. It’s relatable—it’s real life.
“This is very different from a Garth Brooks concert.” He warned in the introduction of his show, and he wasn’t wrong. In many ways, it was so much better. As he walked us from the beginning of his music career with the very first song he’d ever written, “The Last Bull Ride,” at fifteen, to quite literally, that day and everything in between, we got to know him very well. His creative and well-written songs weren’t songs that I knew all the words to like with a lot of the other shows I’ve seen, but that made the experience so much sweeter. I was able to sit, listen, and learn, figure out how to tell his stories in my own words, and enjoy something new.
Country music, to me, isn’t some exquisitely polished record with auto-tuning and refining to make a number one hit; it’s forgotten lyrics, it’s cracking jokes between songs, it’s stand-in band members that allow the show to go ahead (Cody, you did just fine!), it’s songs written purely for a laugh, it’s something to relate to in your own life. That’s what you get when you see Danny Hooper live—he’s an entertainer and I was thoroughly entertained.
“You paid $39.50 for the songs, the rest of this stuff is free.” It was worth every penny, Danny. Every penny.