The Rural Alberta Advantage set to be the Heritage Classic Battle of Alberta's house band

“I love being in a band. But when it comes to writing I just want to run away”

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When Rural Alberta Advantage plays the 20th anniversary NHL Heritage Classic at Commonwealth Stadium Sunday, they’ll be doing so as the big event’s “house band.”

Born in Edmonton, the band’s singer-guitarist Nils Edenloff calls from his home Toronto (where he’s lived most of his life) to explain how the unusual gig will play out for the dynamic indie rock trio, which includes keyboard player Amy Cole and drummer Paul Banwatt.

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“I’d been to Commonwealth before when I was a kid watching the now-Elks and stuff,” Edenloff notes. “But Amy and Paul, they’ve never been there.

“I don’t think Amy realized how many people potentially fit in there and I was, ‘Yeah, about 60,000 people,’ and she was like, ‘Oh my God!’” the singer laughs.

“I honestly don’t know how we got the gig — they came to us.”

Look at Rural Alberta Advantage’s name and you’ll agree it’s a sensible choice for this nostalgia-driven Battle of Alberta, as passion for the Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames — only one or the other, of course — has gripped a good part of the province since the teams first appeared here in 1972 and 1980.

The fact the band is rousing, kickass and magnetically vulnerable clearly was an assist in the decision.

But unlike Hanna, Alberta’s Nickelback — playing a dedicated set between the second and third — we’ll be hearing from RAA all afternoon.

“We’re going to be playing a song to play the players onto the ice,” Edenloff explains. “And if time allows we’ll play the intermission.

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“But I guess there’s going to be a bunch of timeouts and we’re just playing snippets of songs to get the crowd hyped up while the world watches the Jergens commercials on TV,” he smiles.

The band has been practicing this new role as essentially the Classic’s Paul Shaffer interlude band.

“We’re used to playing our songs, not playing a minute of our songs,” says Edenloff. “So we had to get used to being like, ‘All right, watch my eyes. Watch my guitar hit for ‘let’s end on the one bar.’

“It’s a skill that we definitely do not have,” Edenloff laughs, even more as I note that, well, at least there won’t be 57,000 people watching them live.

“We’re excited for it,” he says, noting it’ll be the biggest crowd for which the band’s ever performed.

For those wanting to delve deeper into RAA — and you really should — they just released a sort of hybrid recording called The Rise and the Fall, which extended an EP they released last year into a full and fantastic album.

Created within and beyond the pandemic, its poetic songs deal with isolation, loss and growing apart at different points. But it’s also electrified by a number of total bangers like the thrashing Plague Dogs and Conductors.

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The latter song about songwriting itself came about as drummer Banwatt was prompting artificial intelligence to write new lyrics to tease Edenloff about his artistic insecurities.

“He was like, ‘Hey, ChatGPT, can you write a song about Oshawa in the style of Rural Alberta Advantage?’” recalls the singer with an audible cringe.

“I love being in a band. But when it comes to writing I just want to run away — facing it head on, it’s a struggle sometimes. And now I’m racing against this A.I. bot that of course everyone’s dealing with.”

But a lightbulb went off for Edenloff and he rolled with the terrifying new tech. “I’m like, you know what, let’s just see: ‘Hey, ChatGPT, why do I run?’ And it gives me all these ideas about running being beneficial to the body.”

He tried another one. “‘Hey, ChatGPT, why am I scared of writing?’ And it just sort of stopped and gave me no options. I’m like, ‘Oh, I just broke it!’

“So it can’t solve these problems within the head,” notes Edenloff. And, for the record, none of the A.I. lyrics made it onto the album, either.

Like the previous EP, The Rise and the Fall’s cover was shot by Edmonton aerial-drone photographer Leroy Schulz: a bird’s eye view of the roof of a decaying prairie house, perfect for the temporary house band.

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“It was the one thing that was sorted before any writing and any recording,” says Edenloff. “It’s just seeing something from a perspective that you wouldn’t normally see.”

A little like playing to almost 60,000 people from inside the country’s largest open-air venue, perhaps.

“The idea the first one was 20 years ago is crazy — just to be a part of it is kind of cool,” says Edenloff of being part of the exhibition tournament.

As noted, recent Canadian Music Hall of Famers Nickelback plays the second intermission of the NHL Heritage Classic, which starts 5 p.m. Sunday at Commonwealth, gates open at 3 p.m.

Keeping on the music theme, country musician Brett Kissel will sing the anthem, while members of the Canadian Forces Base Edmonton will hold the Canadian flag on the main rink and two CT-155 Hawk jets from the Royal Canadian Air Force’s 4 Cold Lake fighter base will zoom overhead.

The Oilers’ Drum and Brass Crew, meanwhile, and a rotation of Indigenous performers — including a drumline and dancers — will also entertain fans during the event.

Tickets are still available for the game starting at $171.86 ($144.50 + $27.36 fees) at

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If you want something a little less hard on the wallet, Toronto rock band The Beaches are playing the free pregame show just to the south at Clarke Stadium at 2:30 p.m., with music by DJ Johnny Infamous opening up.

The band won the 2018 Breakthrough Group of the Year at the Junos, then took Rock Album of the Year in 2022 for Sisters Not Twins (The Professional Lovers Album).

Clarke’s gates open at 1 p.m..

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“Musical acts are important to any NHL outdoor game as they make the event feel big,” notes NHL senior executive vice president and chief content officer Steve Mayer. “We wanted to celebrate and highlight Edmonton to the rest of the world, so the artists we’ve chosen for the Heritage Classic include Nickelback, The Beaches, Brett Kissel and The Rural Alberta Advantage – all home-grown talent.”

Also, in the run-up to the Classic, the Edmonton Ice District Fan Park (10128 104 Ave.) will be teeming with activities including slapshot challenges, autograph opportunities, air hockey tables made of ice, free Tim Hortons coffee and of course music.

Local cover bands The Troubadours and The Barkells play Friday and Saturday respectively with three sets apiece.

The Fan Park is free and open to the public 3 p.m. – 9 p.m. Friday, noon – 6 p.m. Saturday. Goilers!

Meanwhile, The Rural Alberta Advantage will be back for a full concert in Edmonton at Midway Feb. 23, the fabulous Mariel Buckley opening up.

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