PEI’s only hobo country comedy band will soon be celebrating their 10th anniversary. What started out as making raunchy jokes with the boys in the kitchen evolved into something much bigger for Boxcar Dan and the Vagabond Strangers, self-proclaimed as PEI’s rowdiest, raunchiest comedy band.
Back in 2001, Dan Caseley was living together with some friends on Queen Street. One night, after trying to write a hobo-themed song in the kitchen, they came up with the name Boxcar Dan and the Vagabond Strangers. In the following years, friends went their separate ways until reuniting in 2009. After playing some tunes together, Caseley thought, “these are actually kind of funny, maybe we should try to play them somewhere.” So, they dipped their toes into the scene by playing open mic at Baba’s, and then played their first gig a couple of months later.
The band’s members are Boxcar Dan (Dan Caseley, mandolin, vocals), Cornbread (Travis LeClair, Kazoo, vocals), The Engineer (Pete MacDonald, bass), Kentucky Slim (Mark Steele, guitar, banjo, vocals), Grit (Devin Stevenson, lap steel guitar, vocals), and Homebrew (Jonathan Holmes, drums). The band is always in character as a traveling group of hobos when on stage. The back story is that sometime during the 1980s, the characters catch the last train over to PEI to play a show, but end getting stranded and have been here ever since, said Caseley.
Comedy, in its many forms, has always been a major influence in Caseley’s life. One big Caseley’s biggest influences were the comedy duo from Cape Breton, MacLean and MacLean. “They sang these dirty drinking songs. When I was a kid I would go over to my buddy’s place and his parents had a copy of one of these tapes and I was never allowed to listen to anything like that at home.”
Back in 2009, “nobody was doing anything really funny at the time,” and ten years later there’s really no one on PEI to play comedy shows with, said Caseley. The band released their first full-length album, Filthy Stinkin, in 2012, and, in 2018, they released their second full-length album, Bindle of Sin. Most recently, filmmaker Jason Rogerson has taken interest in Boxcar Dan’s story and has written a script to make a feature-length Boxcar Dan movie. A proof of concept for the film has been made, of which there will be a public viewing at Upstreet on April 27th, followed by a live show.
It’s definitely not PG, as the songs are “mostly about drinking and whoring,” said Caseley. To give you an idea of what other songs are about, some titles include Hair of the Dog, Redneck Romeo, and The Blue Ball Blues. “I think we poke fun at each other more than we make fun. But they are fairly raunchy songs,” admitted LeClair.
In 2011, the band played at the Shellfish festival. “They put us in at lunchtime after a bunch of little girls finished step-dancing for their grandmothers,” laughed LeClair. Half the audience loved it, and half were shocked, he laughed. “We never got asked back.”
“The point of the band is that it is fun for us and we wanted to share that with other people,” said Caseley. “It’s been my outlet to be creative. It’s been a way for us to stay social with our best friends. Beers and laughs, that’s what it’s always been about.”
When asked what the audience can expect at Upstreet in April, Caseley said, “to be shocked, for sure.” The band is looking forward to playing at Upstreet because the cabaret-style gigs better allow the audience to hear the lyrics and jokes, which are the main point of the show. “You gotta listen to the words in order to get it. We’re more aligned with the comedy scene than the music scene in my opinion,” said Caseley.