Snake Oil Brings Back the 80s


Snake Oil poses with Dee Snider from Twisted Sister Trish Palud Photography

Even in 2018, lots of people love 80s rock music—ACDC, Queen, Def Leppard, and the like. But Niverville-based musician Art Desaulniers doesn’t just love the music; he gets to live it onstage.

About four years ago, Desaulniers joined up with a few other musicians in what started as a cover band for music from the 70s, 80s, and 90s. Eventually they decided to focus on the 80s and tried to recreate the experience of going to a big rock show. 

The band, called Snake Oil, isn’t a traditional tribute band.

“We don’t pay tribute to just one act, it’s more of an all-around 80s show,” says Desaulniers. “We give you a taste of all those 80s favourites you had back then. We try to replicate exactly what you would have seen back then.”

They perform music from classic groups like KISS, Alice Cooper, and Van Halen. But they also take on the personas of original band members.

“We learned their moves and mannerisms, so we could live and breathe these characters on stage,” Desaulniers adds.

And of course, there are the costumes.

“We dress up with wigs, spandex, platform boots, make-up.” He laughs. “Sometimes the guys and I are in the dressing rooms and look at each other and say, ‘Did you ever think you’d ask another guy about his mascara?’ But the 80s was all about hair and make-up!”

Over the years, the band has really built up a following. In the early days, they would open up for other acts, but eventually they discovered they could more than attract their own crowd; they could sell out venues, including the 1,638-seat Burton Cummings Theatre in Winnipeg.

Nowadays they perform all over Canada and the U.S., playing to wildly enthusiastic audiences at festivals, state fairs, and theatres.

For Desaulniers, some of the highlights of the band’s career have involved the very 80s rock icons they portray onstage.

“Last year we had Dee Snider from Twisted Sister come out and do some songs with us onstage,” he says. “He was blown away by our show, so that was very cool.”

That wasn’t the only time Snake Oil has received positive feedback from original 80s rockers. Once, they ran into Jack Russell from the band Great White during a music festival in Arizona. They all spent the rest of the night talking about life and music, and Desaulniers’ fears that the 80s icon would be unimpressed turned out to be unfounded.

“He told us he really appreciated what we’re doing for the genre, because all the original guys are too old, or dead, and so for us to bring it back to life and pay tribute, he thought that was amazing.”

That’s a big part of the appeal to the members of Snake Oil: keeping the music alive. The rock music of the 80s, even now, draws in audiences of all ages. Desaulniers has friends whose teenage kids love the music as much as their parents do, and adds that they get fans of all ages at their shows. 

Music, and not just 80s rock music, has always been a part of Art Desaulniers’ life.

“I’ve played music my whole life,” he says. “I did it for a living for a long time.”

He spent years touring across North America, living on a tour bus going from show to show. He loved the music and the experiences he gained from his travels, but life on the road started to wear on him.

“My friends at home were moving on and having kids, and after a while I felt like I was missing out on things.” 

So he settled down. But what brought him back to the limelight? 

“The 80s were the last, biggest era of rock music,” he argues. 

He always loved the music, and now, years later, getting to play the characters and live the experience of being in an 80s rock band is like living a dream.

Furthermore, joining Snake Oil was a step back for him, as far as time commitment goes. Performing with the band is a part-time gig; he has a day job in telecommunications. In fact, without the costumes, wigs, and make-up, and with all his tattoos covered by a suit, few people who meet him during the day would ever guess about his rocker alter ego.

The father of two has another identity, too.

“I’m also a real small-town guy,” he states. 

Five years ago, he and his wife decided to leave Winnipeg and find a quieter place to live. Their real estate agent was the one who suggested Niverville.

“We asked how far it was, and he said it was an easy commute, so we came out. We turned onto 311 and I thought, ‘That’s not bad at all, actually.’ So here we are!”

It was a good choice for his family. His wife works in town and he commutes to the city for work, but he’s always happy to come home at the end of the day.

“I love the loud rock music while we’re performing, but I also really like the peace and quiet, being able to snowmobile, having a yard, being involved in my community. I love it here.”

Snake Oil will next be playing in Manitoba on Friday, May 11 at Nashville’s on Regent Avenue in Winnipeg, and then on Saturday, June 30 at Dauphin Country Fest.

For more information

Time until next issue
Citizen Poll

Do you agree with Ritchot council's decision to end the seniors housing/daycare project that had been initiated alongside Niverville Heritage Holdings?