Last July, Paul Brandt played the Calgary Stampede every night. This time he's working the whole 10 days and more, not with a guitar or a backup band, but with a shovel and a website.
Oh, and a face mask, too. To help filter out the dust. Plus, wearing a mask allows him to work next to people, mucking out slop-filled basements, without anyone knowing who he is.
"It's awesome," Mr. Brandt says. "It's like being Batman."
That's him, all right – the country western crusader. When he isn't recording albums, touring the continent, spending time with his wife Liz and their two children, raising money for various causes, writing songs and preparing for the next tour, Mr. Brandt is throwing on his work clothes and driving off to help those who have lost something, everything, to the flooding in Southern Alberta.
Not that he's comfortable talking about his acts of generosity. The 40-year-old Calgarian is quick to steer the conversation to others who have done their part, be it volunteering to assist a stricken neighbour or the story of the Cambodian children, some of whom had been flown to Calgary by the Place of Rescue orphanage two years ago and had visited Bowness Park, where they put on a ceremonial dance. When they heard the park had been flooded, the children and orphanage staff members helped raise $900 and sent it to Mr. Brandt's Build It Forward foundation.
That, Mr. Brandt said, was an amazing act of generosity. "They have so little but they wanted to help. That's inspiring."
Mr. Brandt has been busily networking his connections for flood-relief assistance. His website is linked for donations while he has been operating in partnership with Samaritan's Purse and his place of worship, Calgary's Centre Street Church. There are plans, he noted, to "help our friends in Morley and the Siksika First Nation, to let them know they're not forgotten." Plans to head back to the troubled town of High River for more basement duty. Plans aplenty for wherever he can lend a shovel.
It all stems from Mr. Brandt's upbringing. His father, Claude, was a paramedic for 40 years who would often go to the hospital after his shift was done to check on the people he had tended to. His mother, Edith, was a registered nurse. So was Paul, who graduated from Calgary's Mount Royal College and worked in pediatrics for two years at the Alberta Children's Hospital. It was there he honed his compassion for the afflicted.
As for the musical skills, he thinks they must have come from his great-grandfather, who sang opera and wrote music. Mr. Brandt used to sing gospel tunes at church and in high school but his first real success was winning the Youth Talent Showcase at the 1992 Calgary Stampede. He pocketed $1,000 for doing a Garth Brooks cover and figured he was set for life.
Last July, as he closed the Stampede's grandstand show for 10 nights in a row, Mr. Brandt figured he had finally made it.
"I was sitting on a crane 68 feet [21 metres] in the air, the way Garth Brooks does it, and I was looking down at the Saddledome," Mr. Brandt said. "I was playing to 25,000 [fans at the Stampede]; Garth was playing to 18,000 in the 'dome. I said to myself, 'I did it. I got to do what I always wanted to do.'"
What he's trying to balance now is how best to do as much as possible. While he'd rather see others take their bow in the flood-recovery spotlight, he understands his name and fame can be used to reach more people, persuade them to donate. People clearly like what he sings and what he has to say. As one Toronto concert-goer wrote after taking in a Brandt show: "He's so in tune with us, his fans … it seems like he's right there talking one on one with you."
"I do the things I do because I was so loved," Mr. Brandt explained. "When you look after the needs of others, it's amazing how your own needs are met."
He has earned that through hands-on experience. Mask on, too.