by Mark Allard-Will
Humboldt, while technically a city by Saskatchewan metrics, is a small town north-east of Saskatoon; known as a German-Canadian farming community that acts as an amenities hub for the considerably smaller rural communities that surround it.
On paper, that’s about it. For city folks, Humboldt is a sleepy blink-and-you-miss-it community. Humboldt would hardly be known for its music scene to an outsider and if I told you that Humboldt has accumulated a reputation locally for developing Punk bands, you’d be forgiven for needing to scoop your jaw up off the floor. After all, isn’t Punk a genre that is attributed to urban centres?
As someone who calls Humboldt a home away from home, I - Mark Allard-Will - have witnessed the rise of one band in-particular, GrizzlyHawk. GrizzlyHawk represent a fusion of music that seems more suited to a larger, far more urban area, as they surgically splice an anthemic Skater Punk sound with the in-your-face machine gun speed of double kick drum work more typically associated with the post-Thrash Metal subgenres of Metal.
But, the local obsession with Punk didn’t begin with GrizzlyHawk, and it certainly hasn’t ended with them either; as local newcomers, Tadoma, released their first EP - entitled Wendemo - at Humboldt’s very own bar and hotel, Bella Vista Inn (referred to locally simply as the BV), in an organized CD release event in 2018. Tadoma and their Wendemo album are wildly interesting and the album, currently their one and only, is very much worth the listen; as a band, they arguably take the fusion idea injected in to the local scene by GrizzlyHawk and ratchet it up a few notches, meshing the all-important Punk with a more classic Doom Rock sound that occasionally ebbs in to the vocals.
How did Humboldt’s Punk obsession come to be? While Corri Barnes, drummer of Tadoma and bassist of forerunners Spy 66, says that it’s as simple as the attraction to the anything goes Punk rock attitude, he expanded with: “The original Punk bands from Humboldt that I remember were Mistreated Youth and Sick, Sick, Sick these guys started it all pretty much. Then Spy 66 came around and later Segment 9. We started doing the DIY thing and brought bands to Humboldt. Myself and friends of mine brought in Bands like SNFU, D.O.A., The Smalls, Gob, The Black Halos, and The Ripcordz to name a few. It was all about the Music and good times.”
For Corri and his friends, getting to watch Punk shows live in a rural setting was a near impossibility; unless you were willing to put in the time, effort and sometimes capital to make it happen by luring the big names to your small towns. This became successful for Humboldt’s Punk fans, leading to a community that forged good memories together by helping touring bands find a venue to play in the Humboldt region. “I remember SNFU playing in Muenster, The Smalls in Burr, and D.O.A. in Carmel Bar. Everyone from the region would support the scene. The touring bands usually would have a date and we would find someplace to do the shows.” Said Corri, reminiscing on the shows helped to establish and enjoy with his friends.
The younger players in Humboldt’s Punk scene invariably look to Corri and his former band mates as the band that would come to define their aspirations for entering the genre. “We have a lot of older brothers and older friends who heavily influenced our taste in music. A band called Spy 66 was probably the pioneer of Punk Rock/Metal that came out of Humboldt. They kinda set the tone for all of us young lads. It was also the ‘90s and Skate Punk was exploding.” Said members of GrizzlyHawk on their inspiration to form their own band and write their own music.
Humboldt’s Punk scene hasn’t been free of hurdles, however. For Spy 66, they would come to bisband in tragedy following the death of co-founder and guitarist, Jason Keller, in June of 2000. Jason’s untimely passing would come just a few weeks after the high of Spy 66 getting to hit the stage of the Calgary leg of the famed and acclaimed Vans Warped Tour, where they’d share a festival billing with some of the biggest names in Punk. Heartbroken by the loss of their Punk brother-in-arms, Spy 66 would call it a day for the next ten years. “After he died, no one had the heart to keep going. Spy 66 died with him at that time”, said singer Acey Lonsberry.
A decade later and the surviving members of Spy 66 would reunite for what they considered, at the time, to be a one-off ten year memorial show in honour of the late Keller. However, enjoying the high of playing the old hits again to a 300-strong audience in nearby Lake Lenore would push them on to make the reunion a full-time thing that continues to this day.
The bootstrap, DIY mentality of Punk fuels the scene in Humboldt, as Corri owns and operates his own small, independent recording studio in Humboldt. It would be through recording his friends' bands that he’d find the motivation to begin Tadoma. In much the same vein, GrizzlyHawk design their own t-shirts, which they get professionally screen printed and the local bands all have a working relationship with Walter at Main Street Music and Books, where their t-shirts and CDs are sold to local music fans. So, while Punk can be argued to be an attitude as much as a genre, I’d also argue that Humboldt’s Punk bands make it clear that it’s also a can-do mentality and a self-taught business acumen as much as anything else.
When asked what it’s like to represent that Humboldt Punk music-come-mentality to the world, members of GrizzlyHawk said: “Representing Humboldt has always been a thing of pride. Always an endless amount of support for any music projects that we were a part of.” Corri added, “It’s pretty cool, we are proud to be from Humboldt.”
So, next time you happen to drive through Humboldt, consider stopping in Main Street Music and Books and taking a chance on a CD and a t-shirt of one of Humboldt’s Punk bands.