The Wardens will bring the sounds of the Rocky Mountains to Vancouver Island when they perform a concert at Errington Hall on Jan. 14.
The Banff-area trio’s music is drawn from members’ experience as Canadian national park wardens in the Rocky Mountains.
Founding members and songwriters Ray Schmidt and Scott Ward have worked as wardens in Banff National Park and Jasper National Park. Ward is retired now after 30 years as a warden, while Schmidt is active in Jasper National Park. Fiddler Scott Duncan joined the band in 2017.
“We kind of divide out lives in half, but the conservation piece is the constant between working for the government and playing guitar,” he said.
Schmidt plays upright bass, mandolin and guitar, while Ward plays finger style guitar.
The Wardens are known for their acoustic sound and the members’ three-part harmonies.
The band’s songs are inspired by first-hand experience working in the backcountry, traveling by horseback, keeping tourists and wildlife safe and daring mountain rescues.
“You’re out there helping people on their worst day on the mountain,” Schmidt said.
“You’re the person these people want to see on their worst day, but they’re also still dealing with their worst day and that can be really challenging because it’s a lot of pressure and we want to make sure that people are rescued as best as possible.”
Schmidt and Ward founded the band in 2009 with Bradley Bischoff.
The original trio worked together in Banff and began by playing music around the campfire at a warden gathering.
“We’re sitting around the campfire, the guitars came out and the stories started happening and the next thing you know, we’re looking at each other saying, ‘why don’t we do something with this and make a show of this?’” said Schmidt.
The Wardens started playing in campground theatres in Banff National Park, incorporating the members’ stories about wildlife, rescues and working in the backcountry.
Since then, the band has toured around western North America, from Alaska to California and as far east as Manitoba, with its message of conservation and protection, Schmidt said.
“I think that’s ultimately what people attach themselves to, the music is a great vehicle for telling stories,” he said.
Stories are a big part of the show, including the tale of ‘Wild Bill’ Peyto, one of Banff’s first wardens, bringing a live lynx into a bar, clearing it out and giving him the place to himself.
Schmidt said some of his favourite memories are of waking up to good weather in the backcountry, putting on the coffee and checking on the horses.
“The smells and the sights in that scene is just permanently burned in my memory,” he said, and added one of the band’s songs, “Shining Mountains” is about that kind of view.
Shining Mountains is the name originally given to the Rockies by First Nations people.
Schmidt wants visitors to be able to see animals like grizzly bears, caribou and bison for generations to come. One of the most challenging aspects of his job is keeping tourists a safe distance from wildlife such as bears.
“I have close encounters with bears probably three or four times a week with my job in Jasper,” he added. “Jasper is one of those wild, wild places where the grizzly bears, in the spring, you can see 20 different ones in a day and we’re working really closely with them.”
One of the most exciting things about traveling in the backcountry is the reintroduction of bison into Banff National Park in 2017, he said.
“A of people think Banff is this crazy tourist place, but you get off the beaten path and get 10 to 20 kilometres away, you can get where you can potentially see wild buffalo,” Schmidt said.
The Wardens’ latest album, Sold Out at the Ironwood, was released in 2021 and recorded during the pandemic.
Recording started pre-pandemic, but once it hit the members had to record their parts solo in the studio.
The band included some live tracks, with stories, to remind people about the importance of live music.
“We are definitely a touring band and love to get out there and tell our stories,” Schmidt said.
The Wardens travel with a screen and projector to show images and video of the Rocky Mountains as they play.
“We’re basically bringing the Rocky Mountains to the Island.”
Errington will be the second stop on the band’s tour of the Island and coastal B.C. After visiting the Errington Hall, the Wardens will make stops in Sayward, Gibsons, Powell River, Merville and Quadra Island and Coquitlam.
Doors open at 7:30 p.m. and the show starts at 8 p.m. Tickets are $20 at Shades of Green and Errington Store and $22.50 online.
Children ages six to 12 are $5 at the door; free under age six.
Home baked goodies, ginger tea and Creekmore’s coffee will be available from the kitchen.