Five to see: Big Winter Classic offers more than 70 bands over five days

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Big Winter Classic, Calgary’s chilly multi-band, multi-venue extravaganza, will kick off on Wednesday. For five days, various venues – including Dickens, the Blox Arts Centre, Modern Love, Last Best and the Commonwealth – will host 70 bands and comedians from Wednesday to Sunday, including several local favourites, and Canadian and American indie acts that cover multiple genres.

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Here are some of our recommendations:

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Who: Sunny War

Where: Last Best (patio)

When: Thursday, Jan. 25 at 9:30 p.m.

This Nashville-based (formerly Los Angeles) artist’s acclaimed 2023 album Anarchist Gospel found her bringing together divergent genre threads to create a satisfying and singular sound. Backed by some impressive musicians – including  David Rawlings and Allison Russell – War earned a new fanbase and critical praise with the album, including from Rolling Stone which called it “a powerful statement from a singer-songwriter poised to become one of the year’s most vital voices in roots music.”

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By Divine Right
By Divine Right. Courtesy, Big Winter Classic. cal

Who: By Divine Right

Where: Modern Love (patio)

When: Thursday, Jan. 25, 9 p.m.

Led by José Contreras, this band rose to indie-cool prominence in Toronto’s crowded scene in the late 1990s, although it actually formed in the late 1980s. Over the decades, they have had a revolving-door membership – including Calgary expat Leslie Feist and Broken Social Scene co-founder Brendan Canning, among many others – and earned a reputation for high-energy live shows. Seven years after its last release, the band put out the 14-track Otto Motto.

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Mixed Blame
Mixed Blame. Courtesy, Big Winter Classic. cal

Who: Mixed Blame

Where: Blox Arts Centre

When: Saturday, Jan. 27 at 1 p.m.

This High River trio were in their early teens when they began blasting out original tunes inspired by the Bad Religion cassette that singer-guitarist Aaron Klassen found in his parent’s garage. Since then, the act has incorporated some fierce classic-rock riffing and catchy choruses and maintained a busy schedule at Calgary all-ages shows (Presumably, they have since graduated to bar shows or will shortly.)

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Alex Nicol
Alex Nicol. Photo by Hamza Abouelouafaa cal

Who: Alex Nicol

Where: Last Best (patio)

When: Friday, Jan. 26 at 5:30 p.m.

The fact that Montreal singer-songwriter Alex Nicol named his last two EPs, Been a Long Year Vol. 1 and Been a Long Year Vol. 2 offers a fair indication of the melancholy tones of his recent material. Somehow he manages to sound even more mournful than Ron Sexsmith on these tracks, offering profound navel-gazing while evoking modern angst and anxiety on outward-looking tunes such as Eye for An Eye and Simple Fires, which was inspired by the catastrophic Canadian wildfire of 2023.

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Making Movies
Making Movies. Courtesy, Big Winter Classic. cal

Who: Making Movies

Where: Last Best (patio)

When: Friday, Jan. 26 at 9:30 p.m.

Born in Kansas City, this genre-defying act is led by Panamanian brothers Enrique and Diego Chi who dabble in a number of sounds, including Latin-rock, afro-Cuban, indie rock, cumbia and psychedelia with provocative and often political lyrics. That said, the band’s global-hopping rhythms also make them an energetic live act that should warm the coldest of hours during Big Winter Classic.

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Big Winter Classic runs from Jan. 24 to Jan. 28 in various venues. Visit bigwinterclassic.com

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