Same old Diamond Rio to soothe your soul

Tyler Clarke
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Diamond Rio are performing Prince Albert’s E. A. Rawlinson Centre on Feb. 14. The Daily Herald caught up with singer and mandolin player Gene Johnson, second from left, on Wednesday to talk about the upcoming show. 

Tickets to Diamond Rio's Feb. 14 Prince Albert performance are close to sold out

When Diamond Rio perform at the E. A. Rawlinson Centre on Feb. 14, the same group since 1989 will play most of the songs fans know and love.

Not all of them, vocalist and mandolin player Gene Johnson said -- but most of them.

“We, of course, do the hits and several medleys of some of the earlier hits and stuff, too, but no matter how many of them you do there’s always someone who says ‘you didn’t do my favourite song,’ but you can’t really help that,” he said.

“We’ll fit in as many as we possibly can, and we’ll throw in a song or two from the most recent album -- The Reason -- and we’ll throw in some stuff maybe nobody would expect to hear from us. We’ll try and throw them off-guard.”

Formed in 1984, Diamond Rio’s first few years saw a game of musical chairs played in its lineup. By 1989, the band settled on the six people who make up the group today.

“To be together 25 years, it just takes the right blend of personalities,” Johnson said. “In our case, I’ve always looked at that as just the luck of the draw.”

The Daily Herald got ahold of Johnson by phone at his Nashville home on Wednesday, catching him between a couple private gigs the group had scheduled for the area.

“We don’t stay out for the longer periods of time any more, but we, you know -- I guess you could pretty much call us weekend warriors right now,” he explained.

Their Feb. 14 Prince Albert performance will accompany two others in Saskatchewan, including shows in Lloydminster and Regina.

Although they don’t play long stints anymore, the sextet has remained busy and is about halfway through recording a follow up album to their 2009 gospel effort, The Reason.

This new album “should be back to just straightaway country,” Johnson explained.

Straightaway country has been a staple for the band since the mid ’80s and draws from the members’ lifelong interest in the genre.

His father a square dance fiddler, Johnson grew up with music around him, with instruments left where he could get his hands on them.

“Fortunately there was a mandolin available, and that was about my size,” he said.

Although Diamond Rio helped usher in a new generation of more pop-friendly country music in the ’80s, Johnson’s mandolin playing and Jimmy Olander’s dobro and banjo work have helped maintain an undertone of classic country and bluegrass sound.

“A lot of people tend to separate bluegrass from country music, but it’s all country,” Johnson said.

“I guess it’s the real side of country music. I’ve always been proud just to keep that kind of acoustic background in our music.”

Although they’ve tried to experiment in the quarter century the current lineup has been performing together, Johnson said, “No matter what we do, we still always sound like Diamond Rio.”

“We’re the only band that never used any studio players or singers or anything. We’ve always done everything ourselves, and that just makes it tough to change your sound much, because we all have a personality in our playing and singing that’s readily identifiable.”

Fans can expect to see the same Diamond Rio, performing the same songs with the same sound they’ve come to expect.

With too many hit songs to fit into their set, Johnson said that they’ll try and squeeze them all in, albeit some might have to fit into a medley of various songs.

A few days after playing a show in South Dakota and a night after a performance in Lloydminster, the band will arrive in Prince Albert on Feb. 14 for an evening show.

“I’d prefer to do it when it’s a little warmer, but it’s always fun to come up,” Johnson said.

“One of the great things about playing live in front of a new audience all of the time is seeing faces that you haven’t seen before or for a long time, and seeing them sing along with your music.

“You’ll see them laughing at time and you’ll see tears in their eyes when a song has special meaning in their heart, and that’s one of the coolest things for us -- when you touch more than somebody’s ears with your music. When you touch someone’s heart, that’s a marvelous feeling.

“I just hope (people) come wanting to have a good time,” he said. “We’re going to play a lot of different things, but what we want to do is entertain and have people leaving feeling good -- that’s what we aim for.”

For ticket information, phone the E. A. Rawlinson Centre box office at 765-1270. As of Wednesday afternoon, the box office is reporting that tickets are close to sold out, with only two rows left available. Tickets are about $64 each. 

Organizations: E. A. Rawlinson Centre, Prince Albert, Daily Herald

Geographic location: Lloydminster, Nashville, Saskatchewan Regina South Dakota

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