The moment we saw the announcement about the second annual Tall Pines Music & Arts Festival when made public back in early December, just seeing the words Blue Rodeo leap out from the advertisement naturally earned our attention. When looking a little deeper at the early confirmed acts appearing on this two-day bill, we very quickly took advantage of an early bird sale to secure our tickets, and happily circled this June weekend on our concert-going calendar. A long, early summer weekend in the Muskoka region – what’s not to like about that?
We’ll be featuring a few of the artists and offering brief recaps of their performances at the festival over the next few weeks, but as our primary draw, are inclined to kick off with a full feature covering the Saturday night headliners. While we’ve lost count how many times we’ve experienced Blue Rodeo live in concert, it has certainly been several years since we saw them transition to their condensed ‘festival’ approach, and memories of that particular ‘Canada 150’ event in Niagara-On-The-Lake come flooding back. But, here in the present day, and with just an 80-minute closing set at their disposal, the seven Toronto-based musicians kept their banter to a minimum, and let their fabulous music do all of the talking.
An acknowledgement must be made to the Tall Pines stage crew, who did an incredible job keeping things running smoothly and to time all weekend, with just 25-minutes in-between performances to tear down a set, configure the next one, and sound-check all of the instruments and vocals. Watching them do their predetermined assignments during the pause in the action was almost like watching bees around the hive, each one with a specific role to play within a much greater and coordinated collective. And right on cue, just a few minutes before their 9:35pm slot, Blue Rodeo made their way on to the stage – to a lively welcome – and over the course of their allotted 80 minutes (due to noise ordinance curfew), delivered a 13-track flurry to delight fans both old and new.
Tell-tale high end guitar rings from Colin Cripps offered immediate hints of the opening tune, quickly confirmed when co-vocalist Jim Cuddy took center-stage to commence the show with “Trust Yourself.” Of course, for many (ourselves included), all eyes were focused on co-vocalist Greg Keelor, curious as to his choice of guitar – and the cheers and cries from the crowd showed appreciation for the electric variety that he strapped across his chest. Multi-instrumentalist Jimmy Bowskill also donned an electric six-string from back behind his pedal steel setup, making his way to the front for an instrumental break to go toe-to-toe with Colin, the band’s established lead guitar slinger in an all-out duel. Four electric guitars cranked up and ringing in unison – what more could we ask for to kick off this show?
Perhaps sensing that this very question was being asked, the answer came immediately following the dimming of the lights as “Trust Yourself” came to a close. And yes, it would be Greg Keelor, the electric guitar still present, who only needed to cry three significant words into the microphone to lead the crowd into another frenzy – “And Our Love.” Considering once more their limited set time, we did not expect to be privy to “Diamond Mine” on this given evening, but loved hearing this fun 9-minute prog rock tune that allows keyboard player Mike Boguski an improvised moment in the spotlight. Greg would later revisit this well once more, sharing his brief tale that precedes “Disappear,” another 9-minute corker. And not to be outdone, Jim’s recognizable harmonica blasts to open “Five Days in May” signaled the arrival of their epic 10-minute crowd-pleaser of an anthem. We had to marvel at a third of their stage time being consumed by just three tunes – something that only a band as established as Blue Rodeo could possibly get away with.
Following their tremendous “Songs Seldom Heard” concert at Massey Hall back in February, and the subsequent inclusion of a few lesser-played tunes being incorporated into recent shows, it was still quite the surprise to witness one such tune on this stage. Once again, Colin’s opening guitar rings left us in awe, not quite believing that Jim would fill one of his lead spots with “Walk Like You Don’t Mind” – a tune heard at Massey Hall, and one that allows each and every member of the band to shine. From the pounding drums, care of Glenn Milchem (sporting a noticeable pony tail back there), to the thumping bass lines from Bazil Donovan (as cool as ever, complete with sunglasses), the guys went all out. And talk about a sublime lead guitar solo mid-song from Jimmy Bowskill – whipping up an all-out assault on the senses.
Once Jim traded his guitar for the mandolin, and joined Greg front and center, we all knew what was expected of us; that this was the time to become an integral and valuable part of the show. “Thanks a lot everybody, we’re gonna leave you with this number,” Greg announced. “And we want you to sing along.” With a few thousand in attendance, this communal vocal delivery of the opening verse and chorus to “Hasn’t Hit Me Yet” was overwhelmingly beautiful, as were the reactions (as always) to Greg’s ‘thumbs up’ once we arrived at those immortal words: “that leave you feelin’ so stoned…” Cue the dazzling light show as the band all kicked into life, delivering this epic, timeless, 100% pure Canadian anthem. The adrenaline once again consumed us. The music engulfed us. The moment became another forever etched into the memory, guaranteed to last long after the show is over. And, with the band’s regular 3-song combo of “You’re Everywhere,” “Try,” and “Lost Together” to close, the evening ended on a powerful, high note. A stunning finale for the Tall Pines Music & Art Festival, and another reminder of just why Blue Rodeo remain as popular as ever across their homeland.
- Trust Yourself
- Diamond Mine
- What Am I Doing Here
- Head Over Heels
- Bad Timing
- I Can’t Hide This Anymore
- Walk Like You Don’t Mind
- Five Days In May
- Hasn’t Hit Me Yet
- You’re Everywhere
- Lost Together