A framed quote in Brett Kissel’s home reads “The future of country music is in great hands with this kid right here.”
The words came from the mouth of country music legend Garth Brooks before he brought Kissel on stage for what turned into a 10-minute rendition of Friends in Low Places the duo sang to close a concert for the opening of Mosaic Stadium in Saskatchewan.
That experience came as Alberta’s Kissel – now with three Junos and 22 Canadian Country Music Association awards to his name – was opening for Brooks but had his set rained out.
“It went from a really sad moment of not getting to perform in front of 55,000 people to now I get to sing one of the most iconic country songs of all time with the icon himself and Garth gave me a two-minute introduction of ‘Canada you should be so proud…I love this kid,’” Kissel said in an interview.
When he steps on Vancouver Island stages (Nanaimo’s Port Theatre on Dec. 3, the McPherson Playhouse stage in Victoria on Dec. 5) this week, a lesson he took from the country great will be front of mind. While some artists think the show is about them, Kissel said Brooks’ mentality is all about how can he best serve the audience as fans work hard all year to splurge on concert tickets.
“Watching that has been so inspiring,” Kissel said, adding it’s thanks to Brooks that he and the band put their egos aside and ask “How best can we deliver a memorable show to say thank you for spending the money and choosing to spend a few hours with us. We’re the ones who appreciate you.”
It won’t be Kissel’s first time in Victoria as he opened for Brad Paisley at the Save-On-Foods Memorial Centre in 2014 and played at the Duke Saloon while still working his way up in the industry.
“It’s really great to come back now as a headliner and play one of the most beautiful theatres and performing arts theatres in the whole nation,” he said of the Victoria venue.
However, he has clear memories of the Duke show where people were making out all across the country bar during his penultimate song as closing time neared. Then as Kissel ended his set with a rowdier, up-tempo song, a fight broke out on the floor.
“People went from lovin’ to fightin’ all within a matter of three minutes,” he said.
Kissel’s abrupt rise on the national music scene may have seemed like he came out of nowhere to much of Canada, but he assumes the people from his hometown would see it very differently due to his reputation as the kid who played every local gig, from rodeos to fairs to customer appreciation events.
He was performing at least 100 days a year by the age of 12, so Kissel sees his rise more so linked to the adage that it takes 10 years of work to be an overnight success. After signing his record deal at 21, he was still playing 100 nights a year, but now they were national and international venues.
He’s grateful that music found him while growing up on a cattle farm and has allowed him to cross Canada 20 times over the last decade, visiting every province and territory.
“Regardless of whether or not success comes, I think you really have to enjoy the journey and the journey that I’ve been on has been the best part, being able to travel all around the world thanks to music, being able to meet so many incredible people,” Kissel said.
His new four-part Compass album and the associated tour are focused on retracing his steps to say thanks for the last 10 years and set off the next chapter for the 33-year-old.
He realized his live shows over the past two decades have touched on a myriad of sub-genres within country music, from singer-songwriter and classic works to up-tempo and new-country tracks. The Compass project will see a collection of 44 songs, with four specific directions representing the different themes of country music that make up his overall artistry.
“I have the opportunity to have my listeners really be submerged in that genre and nobody has ever done this before.”