CANMORE – When bands say they’re ‘underground,’ it’s usually to gain some hipster cred, but bands that participate in Canmore Cave Tours’ unEarthed concert series take it to an even lower level.
This is a concert experience that requires work and it’s all the more memorable for it. Arriving at Canmore Cave Tours, the team there outfits concertgoers in red overalls, gloves and helmets with lights. What they can’t provide is the plucky attitude needed to climb 45 minutes up Grotto Mountain and then descend into Rat’s Nest Cave.
Through the twists and turns of the cave, eager adventurers scramble, crawl and slide to descend deep into the heart of the mountain before they reach the chamber known as the Grand Gallery.
“It’s hard cases for the instruments, and a little bit of grunting and a whole lot of teamwork,” said guide and manager for Canmore Cave Tours, Max Koether.
“After bringing the equipment and people slowly through the cave you really feel like you’ve earned it there at the bottom.”
The unEarthed show that was held on Friday (Aug. 24) featured the musical stylings of Ellen Froese and Dylan Cooper, who were joined by special unannounced guest Jaxon Lalonde and his banjo.
During their set list, the trio played with the natural cathedral-like acoustics of the cave, turning their backs to concertgoers and allowing their voices to reverb off the walls.
Halfway through the show they turned off the basic floodlights and instead illuminated the cave with a sparkling display of multicoloured lights that danced upon the ceilings while they sang.
Froese, who has played unEarthed before, was glad to be back in the cave and sharing it with newcomers Cooper and Lalonde.
“It’s really cool. We turned off all the lights before (the tour arrived) and we sang a song in absolute darkness,” said Froese.
“We sang a song with three part harmonies; you’re so much more aware of the notes you’re hitting when you can’t see anything. You’re so much more aware of the song, it makes you see them in a different light.”
To get their instruments into the cave, the trio formed a human chain to pass them along the tunnels. They entered the cave an hour before the tour, and spent that time designing a set list that fit with the natural ambiance of the room.
“This is my first time being in a cave ever … there’s a lot going into it. I’m excited, nervous, I had a moment of, ‘where am I?’ sort of thing, you lose yourself,” said Cooper. “We did some Gregorian chants, and I just feel lots.”
For Cooper, the audience being completely captive to his music is a huge bonus in playing in a cave. With no cell signal and no distractions, he has 100 per cent audience attention.
“It’s the best thing ever. If I could just chain down my audience every single time I would do it. If it were legal,” said Cooper, laughing.
“The performance was unforgettable. I was just telling Jaxon this is one of the most unforgettable nights ever. For me, it was just the acoustic aspect, just hearing myself was just unforgettable … It’s quite an experience being in a cave.”
The show had guests from as far as Germany attend, with the entire group buying into Koether’s philosophy of hard work leading to a greater reward.
Allison Phillips, a vacationer from Denver, Colorado, was excited to have the chance to participate in the event although unEarthed was not her first time caving. She had been vacationing in the area for the last four days and was looking for something to do in case it rained when she came across the concert.
“I don’t know that we really knew what to expect, but it definitely was a positive experience and we had a great time,” said Phillips.
“I think it was a very unusual setting. It’s rare to have people that engaged with music. At this point no one has cell service down here, and I think it’s a really unique opportunity to have a natural setting and have people fully engaged with the artists and the music they’re playing.”
Dale Einarson, a local of Banff who had never been caving before, was transformed into a lifelong fan of caving after the concert.
“I saw it online and I thought it was the craziest experience ever to go explore a cave and listen to a band at the same time while you’re down there,” said Einarson.
“I thought it was nice because it was challenging in areas, but not in a way that was uncomfortable or unsafe.
“This is my first time, it’s so cool. What a way to see a band … you’ve got geology, music and history, all wrapped up. Adventure too, I enjoyed how everybody was so focused on the music when they’re in there. When you take away all of the senses and all of the other distractions, you get to just focus on the music and surrounding the music is silence.”
To participate in one of Canmore Cave Tours adventures or to look into upcoming fall programming, visit www.canmorecavetours.com.