Homegrown and Keepin’ it Real:
High Valley’s journey from farm to famedom
Brad and Curtis Rempel had big dreams even when they were driving combines and building grain bins out of corrugated steel on their family’s wheat and canola farm in Blumenort Alberta, a northern community near the hamlet of La Crete. They never imagined at the time how far they would have to travel to achieve those dreams. And the huge success of High Valley’s recent chart-topping album, County Line, makes it all worthwhile.
To Brad, lead singer of High Valley, home means spending time on the porch with mom and dad and catching up on how the family farm is doing. It means eating out at the local diner, waving to friends out the truck window, and driving by the general store where he and his wife bought a taco kit for dinner on their first date. It means cranking country on the stereo and finalizing arrangements for the hometown concert scheduled for the following Friday night.
“It’s been a while since I’ve been back,” Brad said. “You know, there’s a fast food joint and a couple of stoplights in town now. But at the end of the day it’s still a small community of around 3,000 people with farmland all around.”
Brad described preparations for the upcoming show. “CMT is flying in twelve people to shoot a documentary for three days about being from a remote Mennonite farming community and making country music for a living and the juxtaposition of those two different worlds,” Brad explained, proud to be able to film in his hometown and share the story about the close-knit community. “There are not many people who live five hundred miles from the nearest international airport that need to cross an ice bridge to town and have somehow made it in the entertainment industry.”
“We’re trucking in sound and stage and lights from the city and setting up in the rodeo grounds. We’re pretty excited. We’ve never done a full show here before. We’re finally able to give the La Crete people a full blown concert without them having to drive five hundred miles.”
Brad and Curtis have spent most of the past five years in Nashville, recording and feeding on the rich music history, and performing with country legends. “When you’re in country music, you seem to always be pulled to Nashville for meetings and events, so I finally moved down there with my family. Curtis and I even got to be extras on the show, Nashville, and hang backstage with The Oakridge Boys and Steve Wariner when the character Scarlett was about to make her debut at the Grand Ole Opry with her Uncle Deacon.”
Just like the characters in the hit television show, Brad spent much of his time writing songs on Music Row and is especially proud of the single, “I Remember You”, which he wrote for Trisha Yearwood, produced by Garth Brooks.
While living in Nashville among the stars, Brad craved a link with Alberta. “I wanted to own acreage, so I searched for the perfect spot. If you leave Nashville and drive down the road a little ways, you hit wide open spaces and you can find a little dirt if you try hard enough.”
Once a year, Brad and Curtis fly out “Board of Directors” fan club members and occasional contest winners for the Nashville experience. A video of one special weekend is posted on High Valley’s YouTube channel. “We take them to shows and out to dinner, and spend time getting to know them.” There are many other bonuses their fan club members can access on their website.
High Valley’s multiple JUNO and CCMA award nominations are evidence of their dedication and reward for their 18 years on the road, opening for country greats like Alan Jackson and Shania Twain. But now after touring and performing and receiving media attention for the new album and award nominations, it’s the perfect time to celebrate back home with friends and family.
One of High Valley’s singles, “On the Combine”, co-written with Paul Brandt, contains a line that must describe how the Rempel brothers feel when returning to the ranch: “Every time I climb the ladder, takes me back to things that matter. Time goes by like those waves of grain, but I remember it like yesterday.”
The members of High Valley haven’t exactly grown up in the limelight. Brad and Curtis come from a large family, raised by parents who were born in Mexico in a Mennonite community without electricity or modern conveniences. Music was their entertainment, and is still important to the farming family. “Mennonite kids know how to sing,” said Brad, “—that’s just part of the deal. Our three older sisters taught us; they are a lot better at harmony than we are. Mom sings and plays guitar and Dad plays and sings.” Even the band’s name has humble beginnings. “My brothers and cousins and I used our imaginations a lot as kids to create our own fun. We recorded radio shows on my cassette player, and I reported the news and sports and introduced the next song about to play, and the band was always called High Valley. My cousin had a band called The Dry River Boys and I guess I thought an oxymoron was the way to go,” Brad laughed.
Brad and Curtis are thrilled with the “popgrass” sound on Country Line—a blend of bluegrass and classic country infused with pop influences from Billboard Producer of the Year, Seth Mosley. The brother’s runaway favourite song on the album is “Make You Mine”, sung with Ricky Skaggs who was a huge role model for them growing up. “Mom and Dad played his records in the house when we were kids and last summer we got to tour the southern US with him and debut the song at the Grand Ole Opry.”
If they’re not touring, recording, or writing, the brothers are giving back in a big way. “We never think we work very hard,” said Brad, “but we are told all the time that we’re one of the hardest working country bands and we have a hardcore work ethic. We’ve always been driven to work hard because we know what real work looks like—our dad’s a farmer!”
FAITH, FAMILY and FARMING
“Everything High Valley does is rooted in Faith, Family and Farming,” Brad asserted. The brothers feel it is important to contribute to the world in a positive way and their visit to Burundi, Africa last year is evidence of their commitment to their values. Healthy, adequate food sources for the children of the world is something the brothers are concerned about and the band supports Food for the Hungry, a child sponsorship non-profit organization.
“We got to meet the first child sponsored in Burundi and we photographed 350 other kids waiting for sponsors while we were there,” said Brad. “We promoted the cause during the County Line tour when we returned home. We promised the kids in Burundi we would find a crazy Canadian country music fan for each and every one of them and by the end of tour we had 350 new child sponsors, so that was pretty amazing. We are definitely planning to go back. Our goal is to see a kid from Burundi graduate with a college degree and come back, create industry and support themselves. Curtis and I are so fortunate; we grew up watching our dad and other farmers work hard and now we get to travel and produce music for a living. And in Burundi there are kids with no parents, or some whose moms are selling tomatoes on the side of road for a few dollars. We always said we would never forget the ground and keep our feet planted and this helps us do that.”
High Valley’s website has a link where you can view the photos of the children, sponsor a child and help transform a community.
“We also participated in breaking a world record!” Brad said proudly. High Valley held a contest for two fans to join them in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan to ride a combine harvester with Brad and Curtis during a fund raising event and attempt to break a Guinness World Record. “We harvested 320 acres in 10 minutes with 250 combines. Harvest for Kids raised around $300,000 and was able to send thousands of kids in India to camp. Curtis and I traveled there to perform for them and the people weren’t really sure who we were. They kept thanking us and called us ‘movie stars from America’,” he chuckled.
It’s obvious the connection to agriculture will always be strong with the Rempels, and the words from the title single, “County Line”, describe their life pretty well. “Ain’t rich but we’re doin’ alright. Got my honey on my arm, Jesus in my heart. Living like a lyric outta ‘Fishin in the Dark’. Yeah, we work hard, live right, tear it up on a Saturday night, on the dirt road side of the county line.”
The Rempel brothers are focused on the future and continuing on their country music journey and, like their own lyrics state, they’re “Homegrown and keepin’ it real!” They have more fame ahead and a lot of hard work behind them, and they remain connected to their agriculture roots by helping to raise awareness and contribute to feeding the world’s hungry.
*At the time of writing, High Valley was nominated for Album of the Year, Group of the Year, and Interactive Group of the Year by the Canadian Country Music Association. They recently won the award for Group of the Year at the 2015 awards ceremony – Congratulations!