Barney Bentall talks returning to the stage in a pandemic world

·4 min read

With the downtime of self-isolation becoming the norm in 2020, Canadian singer-songwriter Barney Bentall’s ranch in the B.C. Interior has never looked better — and he is using the time to work on some new tunes as well.

Bentall, perhaps best known as the frontman of Barney Bentall and the Legendary Hearts, is bringing his solo show to the Venables Theatre performing twice on Dec. 11.

Bentall spoke with the Times-Chronicle over the phone from his ranch in the Cariboo, which he purchased in the ‘90s.

There’s a bunch of horses, and a couple head of cattle belonging to a neighbour and a friend, but it has been Bentall’s respite from the fast-paced world of music for decades. During 2020, he has been spending time at the ranch more, and hopping on planes less.

“We grow some hay and it’s a wonderful place to come hang out and get away from everything,” Bentall said.“The ranch looks better than it has in years because I’ve spent a lot of time here.”

He would usually hop on an airplane at least once a week, but touring, like many things, had stalled during the era of COVID-19.

“I’m fortunate. I haven’t had the need to work. A lot of things are coming in now, they’re different, just like what I’m going to be doing, the common thing, like what will be happening in Oliver,” Bentall said, referring to the mandatory safety measures of spaced out seating and audience limit of 50, prompting two performances at the Venables Theatre and venues like it still functioning in B.C.

“It looks like a sparsely attended theatre but it’s a sold-out show. So people are finding ways to make it all work,” Bentall said.

While people are finding ways to make it work, the on-stage experience is still strange.

“You take what you can get and make it work. It’s nice to be working again and the people are so appreciative when you do play,” Bentall said. “It’s undoubtedly bizarre, you look out and people are wearing masks and sparsely seated, but they show their appreciation now that I’ve started doing shows again.”

Bentall said he is “definitely” working on new material, calling the pandemic-induced downtime a “creative tide.”

“I’m working towards a new record. I do realize it’s been since 2017 when I last put one out. Kind of seems like last year but that’s the way it goes with each passing year the older you get,” Bentall said with a laugh.

While he is not writing new material directly about the pandemic, it is certainly informed by the state of his surroundings.

“I think what’s happening in the world is definitely going to have an influence in the material you write. I’ve sort of avoided writing directly about the content of the pandemic and how it affects our lives, but I think the influence of your surroundings or what you’re dealing with definitely creeps into things,” Bentall said.

“I do what I do, I write songs, and it’s not the treadmill it once was a long time ago when there was a lot of pressure to write. I tend to write when I feel inspired to do so. Fortunately for me that is quite often, I do enjoy doing it.”

With children who have taken up the musical mantle as well, Bentall feels for musicians trying to get their voice out there these days, especially so for live entertainers in 2020.

“You look at it right now and there’s a sector of the economy, entertainment, whether you’re a performer or you own a venue, it’s a segment of the workforce that has been very hard hit,” Bentall said.

Longtime fans can expect to hear the hits when they see him live, and Bentall said he tries to mix it up with both classic hits and some new material.

“I do some of the new stuff, it definitely keeps me interested in what I’m doing and why I’m doing it out there, but I definitely play the old hits,” Bentall said. “You just mix it up. At the end of the day, one doesn’t want to overthink it, people are coming to be entertained.”

Bentall plays the Venables Theatre twice on Dec. 11, one show at 6:30 p.m. and one at 9 p.m. For more information visit venablestheatre.ca.

Dale Boyd, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Times-Chronicle