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He Will Survive
Survivorman’s Les Stroud comes to Bucks County next month to share his love for the two driving forces of his life: music and nature.

by Bill Donahue
 
When the call for the phone interview with Les Stroud goes to voice mail, one assumes it’s because Stroud is in an area with bad cellphone reception. Besides that, one imagines Stroud is busy fending off a grizzly bear …or trying to outrun a jaguar … or traversing the maw of a bottomless crevasse.

When Stroud returns the call moments later, he says he’s in Oregon—“just visiting,” he says—and explains he’s taking his 70-pound chocolate Labrador retriever, Rogue, for a walk. In other words, he’s much more of a “normal guy” than most people would assume.

Such assumptions are understandable, considering how Stroud found his route to fame. As the creator, producer, and host of the TV show Survivorman, he traveled to remote and often dangerous locations around the world, spending a week alone, simply surviving, with only his wits, his camera, and his trusty harmonica as company.

That harmonica, among other instruments, has helped Stroud make a name for himself beyond the world of Survivorman. A singer-songwriter since the age of 14, Stroud will bring his act to the Sellersville Theater on Nov. 12, in support of his new album, Bittern Lake. We caught up with him to get his thoughts on songwriting, the importance of connecting with nature, and how he became a pioneer in wilderness adventure.
 
Q&A
What kinds of stories do you tell in your songs?
With everything I’ve ever done, it has been about connecting people to nature. I don’t want to debate people, but what I want to do is get them back to appreciating nature. I like to keep the takeaway message balanced without being too heavy. Besides the songs themselves, performance to me is vital, too. … One of the things I remind my band is that, no matter what we’re going through prior to getting up on that stage—maybe we’re [mad] at each other after just having spent eight hours together on a bus—there are 430 people out there in that audience, and for some of them, this is all they’ve got to be happy about this year. Some of them are hanging on your every word and every note. You want to make sure those people to go home happy.
 
How did Les Stroud become the man we first met on Survivorman?
Persistence. Survivorman began an entire generation of survival TV. How the hell did that happen? I don’t know; I just wanted to share my love of nature. By all measurements, I shouldn’t be doing what I’m doing. I don’t come from a wilderness adventure background; nor did I come from a musical background. I should be working in shipping and receiving at a warehouse in a suburb of Toronto, Ontario. A lot of the people I know are still driving a forklift, and I mean no disrespect to that. My belief in myself is what got me here, because I was taught, “You can’t do that.” Everything I’ve ever done comes from me being 19 years old, reading self-help books.
 
Parts of Survivorman seemed hellish, and other parts seemed like a lot of fun. Is that an accurate assessment?
I enjoyed the adventure of it. To me, I was being Jacques Cousteau and Tarzan, which is what I grew up watching. I was playing when I was out there; I was pretending. … The part I hated was the loneliness. Go and spend three days completely alone and see how bored you get, how much you think of having pizza with your buddies. It never ceased to suck. The passion, of knowing there would be a 12-year-old kid somewhere, hanging on my every word, that’s what got me through it.
 
I like to think you’re on constant walkabout, always outdoors, but I have the sense you’re about to disappoint me.
Most people would be happy to hear I was raised by wolves or something like that. The reality is I’ve spent a lot of time in the suburbs of Toronto, Ontario, hanging out with normal people. I love dispelling whole “celebrity” stuff. It puts me in a funny position when I go to L.A. The wannabe guys are laughing all the way to the bank, but I’m just the guy who grew up listening to [Led] Zeppelin and drinking Canadian beer.   
 
I understand your upcoming show in Bucks County won’t be your first time in the Greater Philadelphia Area.
I spent three years coming to Philly every other weekend. I was seeing a woman there at the time. I got to hang out in Rittenhouse Square and listen to the street musicians, and I used to jog along the Schuylkill. [This time] I might go to Talula’s Garden or one of the 300 other awesome restaurants downtown. And I might go to La Colombe Coffee [Roasters] and see my friend Todd Carmichael. … I know Todd pretty well. When he went to Cuba for his show Dangerous Grounds, I did a cameo appearance. We got sidetracked by rum and cigars and suckling pig, but we were there looking for coffee. 

Photograph by Laura Bombier
 
Published (and copyrighted) in Suburban Life Magazine, October 2018.  
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