Garth Brooks tribute band to perform tomorrow

Last summer, it was Shania Twin. This year, a Garth Brooks “double” will confound the audience tomorrow night at the Sorting Gap Marina as part of this week’s Fort Frances Canadian Bass Championship festivities.
That would be Les Smith, lead singer of “Fresh Horses,” a Garth Brooks tribute band based in Stratford, Ont.
But you’ll be hard-pressed to tell the difference between Smith and his idol. For years, he said, people have remarked how much he looks–and sounds–like the country music star he impersonates.
“I guess it started when I got into country music 10 years ago. I cut my hair and put a cowboy hat on . . . and what started happening was people came up to me and told me how much I looked like Garth Brooks,” he said in a telephone interview from his Stratford studio Monday.
The long-time musician took a look in the mirror and discovered those people were right.
“Our features are kind of the same, his mannerisms are kind of the same as mine,” Smith said. “I started thinking ‘Well, maybe I should try something that involves Garth Brooks.’”
Smith soon started performing Brooks’ songs on a casual basis with the other five members of his band. Then five years ago, he was approached by an agent, who encouraged him to hone the act and take it on the road.
“Fresh Horses” now tours from April to the end of October every year. They have appeared on City TV in Toronto, NBC, and were even interviewed by HBO during a Garth Brooks concert in Central Park because producers were astonished by the resemblance.
Their biggest fan base is in the U.S, Smith said, particularly in smaller towns. “Small towns seem to have more of a die-hard love of country music and Garth Brooks,” he reasoned.
Dave Ashworth, the organizer of Thursday’s concert, said “Fresh Horses” are considered the best Garth Brooks tribute band and have a considerable following.
“They’ve been out on the circuit for quite a few years and I’ve heard really good reviews,” Ashworth said. “These types of artists have such a wide appeal–from teenagers right up to senior citizens.”
Ashworth noted the band played a gig in Fort Frances a few years ago but that he hasn’t heard them himself.
Smith said he prides himself on the authenticity of his performances. “Everything’s authentic to Garth Brooks, the hat right down to the Wrangler jeans,” he stressed.
Polishing the Brooks’ impersonation meant months of studying videos of the singer to get every detail just right.
“I practised his moves, his dialect, everything,” Smith said, adding he also tries to emulate Brooks’ performance philosophy.
“He’s like a kid and his stage is a playground, and I try to be the same way,” he noted. “If you’re not having more fun than the audience, than there’s something wrong.”
Although he is sometimes approached for an autograph by people believing he is the real Garth Brooks, Smith said he avoids playing along with the act.
“I always let people know who I am. There are a lot of people in the business who take it too far.”
And Smith will shed his Garth Brooks persona briefly to record a self-titled album of original songs to be released by mid-October.
“Fresh Horses” will perform tomorrow at 9:30 p.m. under the big tent at the Sorting Gap Marina. Admission is $10, and age of majority is required.