Top Canadian bands and playlists to listen to on an epic Canadian Road Trip. Adventure travel well.
Updated: Mar 14, 2019
Music is a highly personal art, and everyone is entitled to their own opinions. It’s universal, people play and listen everywhere, and when it comes to having a favourite type of music there are no wrong answers. Sometimes there’s a curious connection between the environment and the music that comes from it--they mirror each other in a way that defies easy description but just feels connected. When adventure traveling Canada, you should feel this.
It’s hard to peg down: most bands do not sound like where they’re from. Sometimes it’s impossible to say what came first, whether the geography spawned the music, or if the music changes and shapes the way we think about a place.
So of course everyone is welcome to their own ear for music, but when traveling across Canada some bands must be listened to or you’re just doing it wrong and should be punished. To avoid said punishment, Out Here will play some tunes from this non-exhaustive sampling, and Spotify links included to listen on your own. Recommended for whenever and whoever you journey with
The Tragically Hip. This quintessentially Canadian group also ended up having a profoundly apt band name--when lead singer / rock-poet extraordinaire Gord Downie announced in 2016 that he had terminal cancer, he crossed Canada in a final tour that made the entire country rejoice and bawl in tears at the same time. Famous in Canada since their landmark ‘93 album Fully Completely, it was like small groups of people across the country independently of each other made The Hip the soundtrack to their lives. One day everyone said, “woah, everyone else in this country loves them too?” People from the East and West of Canada love to rip on Ontario, but this Kingston ON band is a great, rare unifier. (Spotify overview playlist is also great starting point, or jump into upbeat Phantom Power).
The Band is your favourite band’s favourite band. They are, literally, the band. They’re considered by some American because they played in America and one of their members is from the US. But if four of those Ontario-born legends are honourary Americans then Arkansas born Levon Helm is an honorary Canuck. Anyway, they lived, played and recorded in a house in Upstate New York, which has the same geography as Ontario. Their music is of the earth. If the forest played music, it would sound like The Band. So organic but deceptively sophisticated. More than that, it’s like the Southern Gothic vibe had sex with an Ontario forest to birth this sound. So, when driving through it, pay homage to the landscape by listening to its own child. Throw on the Brown album from '69, an epic live show like Rock of Ages, or basque in their final concert as the greatest cast of musical appreciation assembled in the Last Waltz after their 16 years on the road (also watch the video documentary produced by Scorcese).
Blue Rodeo is to Canada what wine is to cheese--a nice little match.
Their poignant acoustic tunes sound like what a barn in sunset looks like. Timeless. The music aches, but in a way that makes you feel good and yearn for innocent days of youth, rather than suicidal. Soulful. But also, important for a road trip, not boring. Even if they’ve never heard it before, by the end of the song the entire bus will sing the chorus of “Lost Together” in unison, guaranteed.
Neil Young is the patron saint of Ontario music. “There is a town in North Ontario” he sings in Helpless. He invokes our home province, and even while writing most of these songs in California, Canada was in his heart. Decades ago he promoted and defended Native culture in Canada and railed against Southern racism too, before such positions were mainstream. Listen to Pocahontas or Southern Man. There are too many songs, albums to list out, but an easy starting place is this essentials playlist. Music in this country, and every country, owes a minor to major thank you to Neil. All Hail.
Great Big Sea embodies Newfoundland to a degree that is both shocking and appalling. The furious fiddle, the jigs, the Celtic Irish influence don’t make sense in the same way in any other corner of Canada but the East. When a Newfoundlander is born, so as to comply with provincial and federal law, they play Great Big Sea in the delivery room so the baby enters not just the world but the Rock, Newfoundland. Really, it’s such wildly upbeat and optimistic music, and it mirrors the people perfectly--a compliment to the tunes and the people. Start by listening to albums Up and Play and you'll get so high you'll never get down.
Source: Steve Ford on Wikipedia.
I hope it’s clear that the Out Here team has some strong feelings about music, but we’re open-minded too! We’re not taste enforcers, expect a DJ rotation. But yes, we must cover some fundamentals. It wouldn’t be a Canadian road trip without matching certain sounds and places, but it wouldn’t be an adventure without openness and experimentation too.
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