Gifted local musician Ross Stafford will be joining other artists for a ‘Food Bank Fiesta’ show at the Elks Lodge on Sept. 23rd.
The Red Deer Food Bank BBQcrue will be serving up burgers and dogs in the parking lot from 5 – 7 p.m. with the music starting at 7:30 p.m.
Admission is a $20 donation to the Food Bank. Organizers have pointed out that a full house could raise $3,000 to be used to stock up just two weeks in advance of Thanksgiving.
Other musicians set to perform that evening include Nice Horse, Bill Bourne and Kaylee Rose.
For Ross, who was born and raised in Red Deer, his passion for music was sparked very early on mainly through the influence of family, he recalls.
His mom, Ruth Stafford, was the director of the choir at Gaetz United and she also started a Red Deer women’s musical group called the popular Waska-Sues when he was a kid.
“St. Luke’s is where they practiced every week and my mom would be transposing music, and doing all four-part harmonies at home on the table.
“They would come over and do their individual parts and we (the family) would go to the yearly shows, and we could sing every part,” he added with a laugh. The group had one of their biggest shows back in 1967 to mark the nation’s centennial, he recalled, clearly very grateful to his late mother’s enduring influence on his own creativity.
“My mom was also a piano player and dad had a beautiful voice – he never used it, but when he would sing everyone would just sit back and say, ‘What’s going on – that’s fantastic!’
“In fact, I have three brothers and one sister and they all have better voices then I do. We’d sing in the car, on trips. The whole family. Christmas was also a big time of year because we would all sing carols,” he recalled fondly.
It’s that kind of wonderful foundation that Stafford’s own artistry was built on. He describes his tunes as falling primarily in the folk vein, pointing out that one of the most profound influences on his own work has been the legendary music of James Taylor.
“When I finally decided that I was going to go and learn a James Taylor tune, it was the easiest song I ever covered because it’s just the way I learned to play the guitar – the way he picked and played – I’m just sort of bent towards that.” That cover tune, by the way, was Carolina in my Mind.
As the years passed, Stafford went on to take piano lessons. He also learned the trumpet as well in school. But it was when he found the guitar that he really stepped into a fabulous place of new-found and striking creativity.
“When I was 17, I learned to play a little bit – Proud Mary was my first song.” It was the ideal instrument for him to focus on as first, it was portable and secondly, it allowed him to explore another passion – singing.
“It’s really a life-long challenge playing the guitar – always something new to learn.”
Interestingly, he took his first lesson earlier this year with Pete Christian even after all these years of experience.
The lessons were a gift, and even though he’s a seasoned pro – he’s loving it.
As to hitting the stage to share his gift beyond the safety of home, a strong sense of confidence stems from being involved in theatre over the years on the local front, including completing the theatre studies program at Red Deer College.
He laughed as he recalled balancing his two loves at the time – theatre and hockey – where those in one group didn’t always particularly understand his passion for the other.
Thankfully, Stafford, who simply exudes a natural joy and warmth, stuck to honing his skills which of course included exploring new musical territory as well.
Meanwhile, being on stage feels like home.
“There can be light nerves with a new venue, but it’s easy to get into it,” he explained.
He can go and sit and play the guitar and literally any accumulated stress just melts away. “The balance returns. The ups and downs of the day just go away.
“I love the feeling of it. And when I get together and play with other musicians, we ‘feel’ the music instead of just playing it. It’s the feeling of it, and it just binds people together. To me, music is love. There is a divine aspect to it.
“Success to me is getting something across to someone – even one person – and they come up to you and say how that song resonated with them. And there’s a bonding and a connection between two people.
“That is all the success I’ll ever need – it’s more the journey than the destination.”