Old Style Pilsner, Sticky Chicken Wings & The Hi-Strung Downers

It’s a Tuesday afternoon and we’re meeting Greg Callsen of The Hi-Strung Downers at Swans of Inglewood for meaty wings and ice cold beer. We’re at Swans because the chicken wings are saucy, the beer is cheap, and the waitresses are sassy, no-nonsense, servers.

The Hi-Strung Downers are performing at the upcoming Calgary Wing Festival on November 7th. Greg plays guitar and offers 1/4th of the vocals with the rockabilly band from Calgary, Alberta.

As the newest member of the Hi-Strung Downers, Greg spent his summer in intense rockabilly training to get up to speed with the others. He has always been a long time admirer of the group. “I was watching these guys perform back when I was 24 or 25 and going out to shows. In a lot of ways, I idolized them.”

Greg’s opportunity to join the band followed a show he played with his former band, The Ruminants. “Earl & Joel saw the show, they liked my performance and we got to talking. At the time, they knew they were going to have to add to the band and I was a good fit.”

Greg orders a Pilsner.
I order a Village BlackSmith.
Together we order two plates of barbecue and hot wings.

I ask Greg to tell me about the Calgary music scene.

“The Calgary music scene is really interesting. It’s really wide and it’s really diverse with cool stuff happening, but in some ways, it’s also really secular. When you take a look at bigger music scenes, like Austin, or Nashville, or even New Orleans, you have people who just go out and see shows and they’re not really particular what genre or style it is.  In Calgary, we have great musicians and great venues, but there isn’t a lot of cross over. People tend to pigeon-hole themselves into the kinds of shows they are willing to go out see.”

How can we change that mindset?

“I would encourage people to walk into a venue with a sense of discovery. Especially suburbanites. Get out and see what we actually have. You might be surprised at the level of talent that’s cooking off, any given weekend in Calgary. And don’t balk at 10 bucks to get in. If you’ll pay 100 dollars for a hockey game and 90 dollars for a concert, it’s no skin off your nose to pay 10 bucks to see a local band, who can really use the money and support.”

That’s a good point. People don’t want to pay for music anymore. They want cheap wings too. Where do you go for good wings?

“We’re in bars all the time, but very rarely are we in bars to enjoy them. This leads us to 7-11 or Pizza 73 for wings, which is sad. Mug Shotz wings are really good. Mugshotz .. and I’ve had really good wings at The Trop Bar & Grille. We just don’t get to enjoy wings that often, which is unfortunate.”

Sticky or dry?

“That’s tough. I really hate getting my fingers sticky. But they taste better than dry wings. So I guess it’s a sacrifice that I have to make.”

Would you rather two-boner wings or one-boner wings (the drum)?

“2 boners; it’s easier to get the meat off.”

Last question, Greg. Wings aren’t as tasty without a cold beer to wash them down. What’s your go-to brew?

“I really love and I respect craft beer, especially in Alberta. I think it’s really cool how our craft beer industry has grown so much. My dream job would be to just own a brewery and make beer, but the older get, it seems like the more I just want to drink lagers. Like having a stout or an IPA once in a while is nice too, but I just want to drink really simple lagers.

I guess Big Rock has a porter coming out right now, which is really delicious. Something Brewing has a delicious IPA that I really love. But for me, I like old style Lethbridge Pilsner or Coors Banquet. If I’m going to drink beer all day, Alberta Genuine Draft with a cracked open can is a good day-drinking beer.”

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