With the buzz and anticipation for the Canadian 150 year celebration this past weekend, Team GDW were not likely to miss out on the festivities taking place around this milestone anniversary.  Indeed, it was several months ago, when the “Historic Homecoming” event at Butler’s Barracks was announced, that we knew this was the show we did not want to miss.  It certainly did not hurt that Blue Rodeo would be participating, as that is always an easy choice for us.  However, the opportunity to also finally get to see Dear Rouge kind of sealed the deal, as we’d been craving the opportunity to see them over the last couple of years.  With tickets in hand, we made our way to Niagara-on-the-Lake last Sunday for our first taste of Canada Day weekend music.

We arrived at the venue around 3pm, and after checking out the vendors and exhibitors, made our way towards the stage area to claim our piece of open ground.  The hour passed by pretty quickly, and Dear Rouge took to the stage in no time to commence the live music.  With the role of opening act and a strict 30 minute time slot, the band were in a position where they could either make it or break it.  Leading off into an excellent rendition of their radio hit “Black to Gold,” Dear Rouge came out firing on all cylinders.  And not once did Drew and Danielle McTaggart ease off.  They had the early arrivals’ full attention for the duration, knocking out hit after hit, as well as adding two new offerings that most likely will materialize on their upcoming release.  With unbridled energy, their retro synth-rock sound proved to be perfect for kicking off the show, and they set the bar high for those that would follow.  Drew and Danielle also took time to enter the grounds after their set, greeting their fans and posing for pictures.  This was certainly a much appreciated gesture, and while Danielle had no firm date to give me as to the release of the new album, she was optimistic that it was coming very soon.  Team GDW await this release eagerly, and really hope that Dear Rouge head to a town near us for their next promotional tour.  If you are unfamiliar with this band, and have a liking for the retro 1980s sound that has been popular over the last couple of years – check them out (they pretty much reinvented the sound and started the trend).

Dear Rouge Set List:

  1. Black To Gold
  2. Best Look Lately
  3. Boys and Blondes (New)
  4. Stolen Days (New)
  5. Tongues
  6. I Heard I Had

 

After a quick 25 minute interval, the popular Montreal-based band Stars were next in the line-up, and rocked a 50 minute set with their own brand of indie pop.  Vocalists Amy Millan and Torquil Campbell would split lead duties throughout the set, offering up several well known hits from their vast back catalog.  Campbell would take on the opening track, opting for “Hold on when you get love and let go when you give it” from their “The North” album.  The title track, and “A Song is a Weapon” would also be representatives from this popular album.  The “In Our Bedroom After the War” album would be shown similar love, with “Dead Hearts” and “Take Me to the Riot” being well received by the rapidly growing crowd of people congregating around the stage.  With an energy level on par with the opening act, Stars entertained for the duration of their set, leaving us with more satisfaction of having finally seen another one of our favorite bands finally for the first time.  And just like the opening act, we crave another opportunity to see Stars as a headliner, and really dig further into their musical history.  I’m sure that we’ll be digging out the albums that we do have very soon to reacquaint ourselves with their music.

Stars Set List:

  1. Hold On When You Get Love And Let Go When You Give It
  2. Wishful
  3. A Song Is A Weapon
  4. (Unsure – possibly: The Night Starts Here) – stepped away to meet Dear Rouge (editor’s note: We are told that the editor is to blame for this omission, as she did not write down the track name for this)
  5. From The Night
  6. Dead Hearts
  7. The North
  8. Ageless Beauty
  9. Trapdoor
  10. Elevator Love Letter
  11. Take Me To The Riot
  12. No One Is Lost

 

After another brief 25 minute intermission, the next act to participate was The Strumbellas.  We last saw this band just after the release of their hugely successful “Hope” album in early 2016, and knew that they would come out with a well-polished and energetic set.  Launching immediately into “Wars,” Simon Ward and his ensemble would opt to perform material from all three of their studio albums, rather than stay firmly rooted to the most recent release that elevated their musical status into the mainstream.  We definitely appreciated revisiting their older cuts such as “End of an Era” and “The Long Road” from the “We Still Move on Dance Floors” release.  Adding to our surprise was the inclusion of “Rhinestone” from their debut “My Father and the Hunter” album.  And while all the old songs were great to experience live, we noted that they were all ‘modernized’ to fit in with the up-tempo (less folksy) persona that the band has mastered over the last two years.  There were naturally jokes and hijinks throughout the set, with Simon and keyboard player Dave Ritter bouncing off each other with natural and comical conviction.  Dave was clearly the winner of the crowd’s affection, receiving votes in a dance-off in which he did not participate, and earning chants of “Dave, Dave, Dave” whenever he needed support to combat jokes made at his expense.  Closing with their biggest hit “Spirits,” another 50 minutes of great, uninterrupted music passed by, and we were grateful to experience this band once more and marvel at just how far they have come in such little time.  If you are craving great music and live entertainment from one of the more recent Canadian bands, you do not need to look much further than The Strumbellas.

The Strumbellas Set List:

  1. Wars
  2. Young And Wild
  3. End Of An Era
  4. We Don’t Know
  5. The Long Road
  6. Rhinestone
  7. Wild Sun
  8. Dog
  9. Shovels & Dirt
  10. Spirits

 

Taking to the stage at precisely 7:30pm, Blue Rodeo wasted no time with warmups, opting to break out immediately into “Five Days in May.”  Multi-instrumentalist Jimmy Bowskill would join the band and offer his unique touch on the pedal steel, mandolin and fiddle, adding that extra dimension to hits such as “Fools Like You” and “You’re Everywhere.”  Jim Cuddy would appease his fan base with popular hits such as “After the Rain” and “Try” while Greg Keelor offered up “Cynthia” and the always amazing “Hasn’t Hit Me Yet.”  Accustomed to seeing this band crank out in excess of 20 tunes in their normal live environment, this condensed 75 minute slot was loaded with hits, both recent (“I Can’t Hide This Anymore”) and much earlier (“What Am I Doing Here?”).  Both guitarist Colin Cripps and pianist Mike Boguski were given opportunities to dazzle with their solo instrumental pieces, while bassist Bazil Donovan and percussionist Glenn Milchem kept things moving in perfect time.  As is always the case, Blue Rodeo put on quite the show, and had the audience eating out of their hands each time one of the much more established hits was played.  Closing with their crowd favorite “Lost Together,” the band would invite The Strumbellas to join them on stage for this final number, much to the delight of the crowd.  And as Greg Keelor offered his customary “we’ll see you down the road” closing statement, both Blue Rodeo and a fair portion of their fans called it a night.

Blue Rodeo Set List:

  1. Five Days In May
  2. Cynthia
  3. I Can’t Hide This Anymore
  4. Fools Like You
  5. One More Night
  6. What Am I Doing Here?
  7. After The Rain
  8. You’re Everywhere
  9. Til I Am Myself Again
  10. Hasn’t Hit Me Yet
  11. Try
  12. Lost Together (with The Strumbellas)

 

While the headlining act “City and Colour” would follow, Team GDW decided to head out early with the other Blue Rodeo fans, having spent a good six hours at Butler’s Barracks.  The crowds had intensified, and many were just arriving as we exited through the gates and made for the parking lot.  There is no doubt that Dallas Green is a popular draw here (his hometown), and we certainly plan to catch up with him at some point.  After the long drive and time spent out in the heat, we didn’t want to push ourselves, and definitely enjoyed the four bands that we had the opportunity to experience during a monumental weekend.  Happy Anniversary to our northern neighbor – you certainly put on quite the party at Niagara on the Lake for your 150th year.  We can’t wait to see what you come up with for 151……

~ M