On Canada Day weekend, at the historic venue of Butler’s Barracks National Historic Site, fans from all over Ontario and beyond were treated to a fantastic evening of Canadian music. Five bands came celebrate Canada’s 150th.
The show started off with Stars, an Indie pop band headed by Niagara on the Lake local Torquil Campbell who welcomed the crowd to his beautiful hometown. Originally formed in Toronto in 1998 and with seven albums under their belt, Campbell was joined by keyboardist Chris Seligman, singer-guitarist Amy Millan and bassist Evan Cranley. Stars did a great job appealing to the audience with songs like “Reunion” and “Calendar Girl”. Their lyrics are filled with romance and nostalgia, with Campbell and Millan’s melodic voices alternating. The set closed with Campbell urging concertgoers to visit his town and spend time at the Shaw Festival Theatre, where his wife Moya O’Connell is a long time actor.
Next up was Canadian synth-rock duo Dear Rouge, from Vancouver. Fronted by the married couple, Danielle and Drew McTaggart, Dear Rouge put on a lively show and was very engaged with the growing crowd who were enjoying Beavertails, poutine and Canadian beer while lounging on blankets under the hot sun. For a bit of Canadian music trivia, the name of the duo is derived from the name of Danielle’s home town, Red Deer, Alberta. The songs “Black to Gold”, “Tongues”, and the well known “Best Look Lately” helped the band beautifully appeal to the audience with their liveliness, authenticity and passion.
The Strumbellas, often described as an alternative country or indie rock band, were up next. Formed in 2008 in Toronto, the band is led by Simon Ward on vocals and guitar. It was David Ritter, who was wearing a hat with the huge letter DAVE on it, who stole the show with his dancing moves and sense of humour. Joined by Jon Hembrey, Isabel Ritchie on violin, Darryl James and Jeremy Drury, the band became instantly recognizable overnight with their third studio album, Hope and the single “Spirits” in 2016. The Juno Award-winning band knocked out one motivational song after another for the entire set, with the crowd singing along to every catchy and bouncy tune.
The unique blend of bands drew a varied audience, and I was impressed at how even the youngest sang along to the next band, which have had a long and rich Canadian career. Blue Rodeo took the stage next with dual frontmen Jim Cuddy and Greg Keelor harmonizing beautifully. It’s hard to believe their first album, “Outskirts” came out 30 years ago. This Canadian country-rock band that many of us grew up with, put on a simply outstanding show – for both the long time fans who knew what to expect – and for the younger crowd alike. The band opened with “Five Days in May” featuring an exceptional guitar solo by Colin Cripps. The show was everything you would expect from the Canadian legends, but that last song gave us even more when the Strumbellas joined the band on stage to sing “Lost Together”. Simply spellbinding.
Finally, the headliner of the night, City and Colour, came out on stage to huge applause. Dallas Green opened with the 9-minute song “Woman”, a slow ballad from his 2015 album If I Should Go Before You, which was released in October of last year. Green, who grew up a few kilometers away in St. Catharines, said he wrote the song “Save Your Scissors” in his parent’s basement and it was later released in 2005. It was a favourite, along with “Lover Come Back” and “Sleeping Sickness”. Green opined that he wrote the song “The Girl” when he was first leaving Niagara to pursue his career – he never imagined that he would even come home to sing it for a crowd of thousands on Canada Day weekend.
Overall the evening was simply perfect. The combination of Dallas Green’s humility, Jim Cuddy’s eternal voice, and the motivational music of the Strumbellas, the evening will not be soon forgotten.