- “This Is My Prairie”:Corb Lund and the Albertan Fossil Fuel Energy Debate
At the 2010 awards ceremony of the Canadian Country Music Association, alt-country artist Corb Lund closed the evening’s show with a stirring rendition of “This Is My Prairie” (2009), a song that addresses the impact of Alberta’s ever-expanding energy industry on small and family-owned ranching operations. Inspired by his mother’s fight to keep coal bed methane projects from drilling into their family’s ranch in the foothills of southern Alberta, Lund’s song relays a young man’s struggle to defend his family’s ranch from development and boldly warns the fossil fuel industry that he will protect his homeland at all costs:
This Is My Prairie, this is my homeI’ll make my stand here and I’ll die aloneThey can drill, they can mine o’er my smouldering bonesCuz This Is My Prairie, this is my home.1
The Canadian Country Music Association (CCMA) is a national organization that supports and promotes Canadian country music in a manner similar to the Country Music Association (CMA) in the United States. Unlike the CMA’s annual award show, which is always held in Nashville, the CCMA’s takes place in a different Canadian city each year. Held in his home province of Alberta at the Edmonton Coliseum (his then city [End Page 43] of residence), this nationally broadcasted ceremony provided Lund with a platform to sing about ranchers losing their land and livelihood to oil and gas companies, a topic that evidently weighs heavily on his mind. Journalist Shannon Phillips proposed that Lund’s performance of this song on a nationally broadcasted award show “put the Alberta government and Big Oil squarely in his crosshairs.” Yet Lund seemingly did not intend to make his audience uncomfortable; rather, he admitted in an interview with Phillips that he saw the CCMA performance as an opportunity to do something different, “not only for its subject matter” but because of the “type of song it is.”2 Lund could be hinting here at the song’s formal and stylistic contrast to the contemporary country-pop stylings of more mainstream artists like Gord Bamford and Johnny Reid, who were big award winners that night.3 Moreover, reviews of the show focused not on the song and its potentially controversial message but on its apparently gendered standpoint, claiming that Lund’s performance “pretty much says it all for the CCMAs” that year, suggesting that “This Is My Prairie” was a bold statement of male domination of genre, of the stage, and of place.4 While the absence of commentary regarding the song’s narrative content might suggest to some that Lund’s message was not received, it is in fact more indicative of the complex and contradictory politics of the province and of the shifting views on the fossil fuel industry. Contrary to Phillips’s assessment, “This Is My Prairie” is not an inflammatory prosecution of the energy industry but rather a more even-handed assessment of the current political, economic, and environmental tensions in Alberta regarding the impact that the energy industry has had on the province and its once-thriving cattle industry. Indeed, Lund’s narrative even reveals compassion for the riggers who are working hard to support their families. The reaction (or lack thereof) is further compounded by genre politics and the fact that, as an alt-country or roots artist, he occupies a space within country music that operates on the fringes of the mainstream, where his audiences are more accepting of stylistic diversity and provocative political messages.
Alberta has been the epicenter of Canada’s energy industry since the February 1947 discovery of crude oil near Leduc, a moment that shifted the province’s industrial and economic center from agriculture to energy.5 Over the last two decades, Alberta, Canada’s largest producer of fossil fuels, has pursued development of its oil sands deposits, natural gas, and coal reserves.6 New technologies and high international prices for energy sources have made extraction and processing of bituminous oil sands and coal bed methane (CBM) more profitable.7...