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Xavier Rudd returns to Whistler

Mountain West Music Fest heralds a homecoming for Australian folk musician

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Who: Xavier Rudd

What: Mountain West Music Fest

When: Saturday, Aug. 22, 7:15 p.m.

Where: Whistler driving range
Cost: $60 (Sat. only), $85 (Sat. & Sun.)

Xavier Rudd is something of a legend in this town. Perhaps it's because the legions of Aussies that call Whistler home have simply decided to share one of their cherished talents with their Canadian counterparts, or maybe it's just that this folk musician's music hit home with the local crowd, with its sunny, upbeat feel and socially conscious lyrical content.

Rudd, a veritable one-man-band, puts on legendary stage shows, creating heartfelt music using guitar, didge, and a range of percussion instruments - simultaneously.

A keen musician even as a young child, Rudd started out transforming his mom's vacuum cleaner tubes into makeshift didgeridoos and writing little ditties.

"I remember my mom asking me where it was and telling me not to do it because I was going to get sick," Rudd recalled. "Mom was kind of concerned."

As Rudd got older, he continued to explore his musical side, gradually adding instruments to his repertoire, which today includes guitars, yikadi (a.k.a. the didge), Weissenborn slide guitars, the stomp box, harmonica and various percussion.

"I was kind of always on my own sort of trip, sort of in my own head - which is still how I am today, a bit - but I guess I was always the kid who was keen to try anything, play anything, whatever was around I'd just play."

Songwriting has also always been a natural process for Rudd, who has been writing lyrics and music for many years.

"I guess songwriting has always been in me, before I even knew what was happening. I always sort of expressed my emotions through song or melody," he said. "...The music still comes from the same place - I don't think too much about it, I just feel it and let it come."

Rudd's music is always natural, never forced - which comes through after listening to just about any track. His sound is organic, solid and laidback.

"I listen to a whole bunch of music. I think that everything that you see and hear as a musician you're influenced by, for sure. I listen to such a big range of different music, but what I do myself is not really focused on anyone else. I don't have to think about what I do - I never have had to," Rudd said.

"Sometimes I feel by doing that, you're ignoring what's in your heart by being in your head all the time, because you think it should be a certain way and you're shutting off that avenue into your heart. And if there's music in your heart, it'll come out the way it's meant to."

While the lyrical content of his music is never contrived, it often carries a strong message. On top of musical cred, Rudd has earned a reputation as something of an activist, advocating for environmental responsibility and the rights of Australian and Canadian aboriginal people.

"I'm pretty sure I have aboriginality on my father's side - my grandmother was aboriginal, and I think her spirit is possibly with me - I've always been connected to my aboriginal roots," he said.

Guided by these spirits on his musical journey, Rudd has developed a large following of fans and his music has met with great success. Since releasing his first album, To Let , in Australia, and making his U.S. debut with Solace two years later, Rudd has toured throughout Europe, Australia and North American supporting his acoustic folk rock brethren (think the Dave Matthews Band, Jack Johnson and Ben Harper). Aside from this hectic touring lifestyle, he's also worked on the film score for Matthew McConaughey's film Surfer Dude , co-starring Woody Harrelson and Willie Nelson.

Late last week, Rudd was in Colorado, hanging out at a park with his kids before heading off to another show on the Dark Shades of Blue tour, which has lasted almost three months.

"For me, the Dark Shades of Blue tour has started to become into the past a bit," Rudd said after a pause.

Married to a Canadian, our home and native land holds a bit of a special place in this musician's heart, and he has some particularly fond memories of Whistler. Before making it big, Rudd used to play intimate gigs at the Crystal Lodge.

"Some of my first shows in Canada were around Whistler," Rudd recalled. "...It was all low-key and mellow. It was super cool - I miss those days."

This tour is in support of his latest album, Dark Shades of Blue , which was released in 2008, featuring a few calm, heavy, and somewhat dark tracks balancing out his typical upbeat, laidback style.

"It's just what came through," he said. "My music has always been different, ever since I was a kid. The styles always vary."

Dark Shades was actually the first album Rudd had recorded at home, in Australia, in years, which may explain the sharp contrast in tone and feel to his previous album, White Moth .

"I think it was a more intimate time in my life where I was stopping the train for a minute and just reflecting internally, a bit," he said.

Fans can expect another change of pace on his next album, which he's already hard at work on. The material for this new album, which he hopes to record in October, is again far different from what is featured on Dark Shades . It includes some tracks with an African feel, riddled with bright, sunny undertones.

"I'm working with a new band now and we're working towards a new album in October, so the tour is a little different. I'm playing with a couple of South African musicians.

"It's super groovy and bouncy and bubbly and fun," he added.

Next up: a return to Whistler. Rudd hasn't been to Whistler for a few years, but he's coming to town Saturday as part of the lineup for the inaugural Mountain West Music Fest, a two-day music event that takes place on the driving range.

"Festivals are always groovy - outside in the fresh air, and people are letting out all their good stuff, that's a pretty nice sort of thing to be involved in, especially when you're channeling that energy," Rudd said.

Other artists confirmed to perform include K'Naan, Daniel Wesley, Ash Grunwald, Ghost Brothers, DJ Z-Trip, The Greyboy Allstars, Five Alarm Funk and Garaj Mahal.

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