Watching the splendour of fall colours on the drive into Prince Edward County, you can’t help but feel a certain sense of anticipation. Passing the wineries, farms, and cautionary deer signs, you realize that The Hayloft will be no ordinary concert venue, and… well, this isn’t going to be an ordinary night.
Pulling up to the site, that singular thought is proven correct; The Hayloft is quite literally an old, well-kept barn. A place so welcoming and intimate, the only thing separating City and Colour from the Edge’s 150 contest winners is a riser a mere 12 inches off the floor. Quite honestly, this is a band that can fill the ACC, so to see them playing in a venue that was once home to farm animals is a little on the surreal side.
The band passes through the crowd to get to the stage and starts into the sonic bliss of their opening track “Woman” from the newly released If I Should Go Before You. On their record it is a bluesy tune, but the inclusion of a pedal steel guitar, with sound waves bouncing off wooden barn planks, gives off a convivial vibe. When they break into the number two track “Northern Blues” the songs’ R &B feel seems more jovial than its theme suggests. Or, perhaps it is my own buoyancy projecting as everyone just seems so damned nice out here tonight.
The lighting is understated, provided by a few bulbs at the foot of the stage and strands of yellow and white Christmas bulbs surrounding it from above, giving off a warm glow that seems to have been embraced by the audience. This committed bunch, that either entered a contest online or kept phoning until they won tickets, is exuberant and incredibly friendly. After a long bus trip, they are now soaking in the music and atmosphere, clinging to their partners and swaying to the music. The fans, about to take ‘selfies’, get willing strangers offering to take photos for them. It seems more like a group of friends, out to see their mutual acquaintances’ band, than a concert being put on by a popular recording artist.
Even the banter between band and audience plays this out. Between songs, bassist Jack Lawrence is chatting with people at the front of house and, during another such break, an over-enthusiastic ‘yeller’ gets an exchange with Dallas Green himself. Green steps away from the microphone and speaks to illustrate to the fan that he doesn’t need to yell to be heard. “We’re just a few feet from each other.” Everyone gets a good laugh from the ‘little chat’ as Green runs through a set that includes a large number of tracks from the new record and highlights from The Hurry And The Harm and Little Hell.
Illustrating the mood, “Lover Come Back” came off as an uplifting and joyous song despite its natural, broken-hearted nod towards 60’s soul music. Matt Kelly, flipping between pedal steel guitar and keyboard, had the organ sounding like the second coming of MG’s frontman, Booker T. Jones. It’s a moment which seems to emphasize that City & Colour is equally compelling live as on their albums. In this setting, there is a ‘deeper’ and more pronounced immediacy that allows Green & Co. to both embellish songs and gain a better connection to the fans, many of whom are openly singing along without need of encouragement.
The evening passes so quickly that the audience just doesn’t want to leave when the music ends. The bouncers are now outside cooking up hot dogs for patrons, groups of people are sharing favorite moments, and a few are even stargazing on this perfectly clear night. If bus drivers weren’t waiting to return people home, I’m quite sure they would have made a whole night of it.
Driving home, only a minute from the Hayloft, I round a corner and hit the brakes. There are three cows and a bull standing in the middle of the road only a few feet from the yellow deer crossing sign. The bull looks at me as if to say “great night, eh!” And honestly, who the hell am I to argue with a bull.