Back in early May, we saw a unique concert series announced that we absolutely did not want to miss – and promptly secured tickets to the most convenient date for a Sunday evening in London, ON. Only after committing to this particular show, did we later see Blue Rodeo announce a performance taking place that same day, but at a winery with which we had no familiarity, located in St. Williams on the shore of Lake Erie. And, let’s be coy here – an outdoor concert in Southern ON in November meant being at the full mercy of Mother Nature, and who knows what mood she’d be in come that time of year. Alas, Blue Rodeo – this unfortunately did not fit with our schedule.
Taking advantage of a long weekend, Team GDW arrived in London late in the afternoon this past Saturday, ready for a relaxed evening and a day of leisure on Sunday prior to the concert. What happened as we arrived downtown, however, could never have been predicted. As we walked towards the entrance to our hotel on Dundas St, we saw a gentleman pulling some travel cases out of an SUV, and remarked just how similar he looked to Blue Rodeo’s Greg Keelor. And as we were about to pass, the gentleman turned around and we stopped dead in our tracks – it was Greg Keelor! Ever the opportunist, I struck up a conversation, and whilst waiting in line to check in, Greg informed us that Blue Rodeo were in the city for a private event that evening, and then had the winery show the next day. Kudos to you Greg, for planting the first seed.
Bidding Greg farewell after checking in, we found our hotel room and dropped off our own suitcase and travel items, before I headed back out to move the car from the temporary parking to the regular hotel lot. Stepping into the elevator, this time I encountered Blue Rodeo drummer (and good friend) Glenn Milchem – and we were both certainly surprised to see each other. Chatting as the elevator descended, I learned from Glenn that the winery event was only a short drive away, and had an early start time of 3pm. Another seed planted.
As Glenn and I exited the elevator, we bumped into bassist Bazil Donovan, and after exchanging some pleasantries, the entire surreal chain of events hit me as I went out to park our car. Even the weather forecast was playing ball, offering unseasonably warm temperatures with zero chance of rain. The opportunity to catch a show from one of our favorite bands was too good to pass up, and once we determined that traveling to Burning Kiln Winery for the show (with no opening act), and being back in London with time to spare for our evening show, we drew conclusions that fate could not be any more obvious. It also occurred to us that Blue Rodeo were the last band we saw live in Canada before borders closed due to the global pandemic – we were long overdue catching up with our favorite guys once again. Purchasing a pair of tickets right now made perfect sense. Keeping my credit card provider happy made perfect sense. Who needed a casual Sunday anyway?
Burning Kiln Winery proved to be a fabulous venue for a concert of this magnitude, with a full-size professional stage set-up, a fabulous sound system, and plenty of open ground to accommodate the almost 2500-fans in attendance. Blue Rodeo (complete with now full-time multi-instrumentalist Jimmy Bowskill) were graciously welcomed to the stage, prompting our curiosity as to whether the show would open with a Jim Cuddy or Greg Keelor tune. The opening few seconds of instrumentation very quickly provided the answer, as Cuddy stepped up to deliver a lively performance of “Trust Yourself” from their 1990 “Casino” album. Following immediately with “Diamond Mine,” another tune from their early days, Greg Keelor nailed his 10-minute prog-rock favorite, engaging and intensifying the crowd from the start.
“What a beautiful day, we lucked out folks,” stated Greg following the applause earned for “Diamond Mine.” “We’re gonna sing a song here about the Erie County Fair, just down the road. [One] about the shittiest show we ever had to play” – receiving cheers and laughter in response from those familiar with the tale about that experience, and for those who were not, the events are summarized in the always enjoyable “What Am I Doing Here.”
With the lead vocal baton transferred once again, Jim Cuddy would address the crowd. “We could not have asked for a better day, this is spectacular,” he announced, before his burst of harmonica signaled the arrival of “Bad Timing,” the second of four cuts from their defining 1993 “Five Days In July” album. Props again to the sound crew at Burning Kiln Winery – the supporting harmonies during this popular tune were crystal clear, and Blue Rodeo fans love to hear the two lead vocalists singing together in unison. Yes, the sound engineers deserve a nod of appreciation for tweaking those microphones settings to perfection.
I must confess to being pretty surprised that only one track from their 2021 “Many A Mile” album would make the set list, but selecting Greg’s “Ride Your Bike” for that lottery pick was a fabulous choice – as was the awesome higher-octave ‘spaghetti western’ style guitar intro courtesy of Colin Cripps. Seeing all four guitarists up at the front of the stage, decked out in sunglasses as the orange ball of warmth in the sky remained directly in their sightlines, was a sight to behold – the few wispy clouds remaining above us burning away as the show progressed – and, as if timed to perfection, every cloud was gone by the time Blue Rodeo delivered “Disappear” under a clear blue sky. An extended bass and drum solo to open this epic tune, care of Baz and Glenn, would later be complemented by Mike Boguski’s improvised keyboard solo. Cripps and Bowskill would take center stage shortly after, their dueling guitar riffs adding an extra instrumental dimension to kick off Keelor’s cover of Lee Hazlewood’s “The Railroad.”
Cranking out popular hits “Til I Am Myself Again,” “Rose-Coloured Glasses,” and “After The Rain” down the stretch, once Jim Cuddy exchanged his guitar for the mandolin, the crowd were up and ready for their own lead vocal duties to commence the closing number, “Hasn’t Hit Me Yet.” Hearing 2500 people collectively delivering the opening verse and chorus to this song, accompanied by some sweet emotional pedal steel from Jimmy Bowskill was a truly moving experience. Jim Cuddy’s harmonies stood out much more than usual too, in this open-air environment – and as Greg progressed into the poignant bridge, this British Guy and the American girl up near the stage took pride in hearing those lines about being out in the middle of Lake Ontario. All “Rodeoheads” out there (thanks to Laura Scott – Blue Rodeo super-fan and friend of GDW for that reference) know exactly what we’re making reference to here.
Returning for a three-track encore performance, Greg would kick off with “You’re Everywhere,” another cut from “Casino” (five tracks in total were performed from this album). As expected, Jim would follow by seating himself behind the keyboard to deliver their breakthrough hit, “Try,” before the band went all out to close with the iconic “Lost Together.” Enjoying seventeen tracks over the span of two hours on the grounds of this beautiful winery setting in Norfolk co. proved to be a perfect way to spend a Sunday afternoon – and yes, we did indeed make it back to London in time for our ‘regular scheduled programming.’ Shame on us for originally dismissing the idea of attending this show – and thanks to those chance encounters with Greg Keelor and Glenn Milchem, we wound up experiencing one of our finest Blue Rodeo concert experiences to date.
- Trust Yourself
- Diamond Mine
- What Am I Doing Here
- Head Over Heels
- Bad Timing
- Ride Your Bike
- I Can’t Hide This Anymore
- Five Days In May
- The Railroad (Lee Hazlewood cover)
- Til I Am Myself Again
- Rose Coloured Glasses
- After The Rain
- Hasn’t Hit Me Yet
- You’re Everywhere
- Lost Together