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Tim Hicks has friends in Australian places

Juno-nominated country star to perform free concert during the World Ski and Snowboard Festival



Talking to Canadian country singer Tim Hicks is like letting a bronco jump around in the corral.

He speaks fast and furiously; he stops and starts in the middle of ideas and sentences.

But it's a fun ride as he has a lot of interesting things to say.

A Juno Award nominee and winner of the 2014 Rising Star Award at the Canadian Country Music Awards, Hicks and his band have just returned from their first-ever show in Australia, where they played a large three-day festival in front of several thousand people.

"I never thought I'd get to a place like that, let alone with a guitar on my back. It was wonderful, but it was so bizarre because (my label) had released a record ahead of us going, which made sense," he says.

"I get off the plane, go to the show and there are people there who know all the words to the song. And they're Australian!"

The song that resonated with the Australian crowd, for some reason, was Hicks' "Greasy John Deere Cap." Another song, "Stronger Beer," also ended up being a hit.

"It's a joke of a song and we weren't planning to play it, I thought it was distinctly Canadian and wouldn't go over with an Australian audience. But people were calling for it!" Hicks says.

"There's a part in the show where I get the audience to sing the song, and they knew the lyrics better than most Canadians. I changed the word 'Canadian' to 'Australian.' It was one of those moments where the band looked at each other and thought, 'Really?'"

Hicks adds that Australia's love of country music is surprisingly robust.

"I think that's fantastic. The whole genre of country music has gone international. It's infiltrating countries that you'd think would never have a following," he says.

"What was clear to me that no matter where you are there are good-hearted, working people that this music seems to speak to."

Hicks performs at the World Ski and Snowboard Festival as part of the free FIDO Outdoor Concert Series on Sunday, April 17, at 4 p.m. on the main stage in Skier's Plaza.

Sudbury, Ont. country singer-songwriter Andrew Hyatt performs on stage before Hicks at 2:30 p.m.

Now aged 35, Hicks started out at 15 in Niagara Falls, where he grew up. Wanting to be a professional musician, he would play in any band, any style of music that would keep him working.

"There was no scene back then. I was a working musician for a lot of years and what that means is that you will play any music that will get you a gig," Hicks says.

But that also meant he became very, very good at it.

"I played in wedding bands, country bands, tribute bands and rock bands. It was about being able to do music as a living.

"What I realized along the way is that every time I wrote a song, I had an affinity to acoustic guitar at a time when it wasn't cool," he says.

"I had a hard time figuring out where I fit in until I started writing songs. People would look at it and say, 'that's a really great country song.'"

Most of the same musicians he played in his band with at the time are still with him.

"We were fully expecting to get fired from every place we played at and we were the house band for a bar in downtown Toronto, which was an Irish bar, and we were doing three full, 40-minute sets of country. This is before there were any country bars," Hicks recalls.

He says it was good timing and they were lucky that country was being more discovered by young pub-goers.

"I wanted to do my own songs — every musician wants to do their own songs — but what I realized is that if you do cover gigs, you'll get fired if you play your music. I started to realize that the songs that would work at midnight on Friday night were the party songs. I wanted my music to fit with 'Friends in Low Places' so I could play it and not get caught!"

For more information, visit www.wssf.com.