The Ray Charles Tribute Orchestra is set to return to Bragg Creek later this month, performing the iconic singer-songwriter's bluesy hits such as Georgia On My Mind and Hit the Road Jack at the Rockies Tavern and Grill on May 28.
The 10-piece ensemble will feature Grammy award-winning rhythm-and-blues vocalist and drummer Donald Ray Johnson on lead vocals and former Ray Charles bassist John Gray, according to Ben Pirija, co-owner of Rockies Tavern and Grill.
The bar owner – who shares ownership of the establishment with his wife Emma – said this is the third time the orchestra will have performed at the Bragg Creek venue, adding the event has been sold-out each time due to the performers' popularity.
“Donald Ray Johnson is blind and he won a Grammy,” Pirija said, noting the similarity to the band's namesake who was also blind. “Also, the bass player has performed with Ray Charles for many years.
"That makes it kind of unique, I would say.”
He added the tavern is often host to blues and jazz musicians, but the tribute orchestra – playing Charles’ hits along with their own – reaches a wide variety of audiences with their music.
“You don’t really have to say much when you see who’s performing,” Pirija said. “Even if you’re not into that music, that’s not something that you listen to every day. It’s still high-end entertainment with back-up singers, a horn section, and pianos.”
According to bassist Gray, the orchestra covers a wide-range of material and the musicians – including back-up singers The Donald Raelettes – have been performing together for over a decade.
“I've been playing with Donald Ray Johnson a lot before that – for probably the past 30 years on and off," he said.
Gray said Ray Charles has been attributed by many in the industry to having invented soul music. He added Charles is a music legend and personal inspiration.
“I've been listening to Ray Charles since I was a teenager – I'm almost 71 [years old] right now,” he said. “I've always loved his music, and of course I've performed with him too, so his music means a lot to me.
“And that's why I formed this band over 10 years ago.”
Pirija said people come out to watch the 10-piece orchestra regardless of their own music preferences, because it’s “just a good night for everybody,” especially after contending with the restrictions put in place during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“As you can imagine, people want to get out after two years of misfortune that we had here, people come out to watch good music,” he said, noting the evening is all about getting the community together to enjoy music once again.
“[It’s about] enjoying the good nights and bringing back quality to all of us with such an event that people can and will dance and sing along to,” he said.
“A good time – that's why people go out and we do our best to provide them with it.”
Tickets for the event are $20 general admission. Those interested in attending the event are encouraged to stop by Rockies Tavern and Grill to purchase a ticket or call Pirija directly at 403-949-2859.
More information on the Ray Charles Tribute Orchestra can be found on the band's Facebook page.