Around 20,000 people made their way down the QEW to Niagara-on-the-Lake on Sunday afternoon, fighting holiday traffic, heat and hangovers from Saturday night. But when City and Colour, Blue Rodeo and the Strumbellas are headlining a party, there’s no better way to cap off your country’s 150th birthday. Food trucks, beer tents, booze huts, and even a pop-up theatre featuring an extended peek at Christopher Nolan’s new movie Dunkirk, lined the perimeter of Butler’s Barracks Historic Site. The venue itself was an apt setting as it is teeming with history and Canadian heritage. Built by the British as a military compound in 1812, the site was used as a training ground for Canadian troops into the 1960’s. Its rebirth as a concert site was put to good use Sunday, and only seemed fitting that it was on land that had been a part of Canada for the last 150 years. Despite calling for thunderstorms, the weather held out. In fact, much of the event was held under a beating, hot sun. Patrons didn’t seemed mind as many laid out on blankets and beach towels, soaking up the rays and beer between sets.
As the sun finally set, a cool breeze settled through the Commons. The grass littered with emptied beer cans, food trucks dangled ‘sold out’ signs as the crowd pushed toward the stage. The last of the pink sky dipped behind the horizon as Dallas Green and his bandmates took the stage. “We’re City and Colour, thanks coming to see us tonight”, Green said before leading the band into Woman. As if buoyed by being back in front of his hometown crowd, the native of St. Catherines, Ontario continued a powerful set of hits; Wasted Love and Weightless. Normally reserved, Dallas even moved around the stage, leaving his fortress of monitors, to rip through solos and soak in the lighting. “Most people think this is a sad song, but i don’t think so”, he said before easing into the soft and melodic, We Found Each Other In The Dark. Of course, the night wouldn’t end before playing The Girl, Lover Come Back and Sleeping Sickness unfortunately minus Gord Downie. What a Canadian birthday treat that would’ve been! During the encore, the audience was teased with This Could Be Anywhere In The World by Alexisonfire, Dallas Green’s other hugely successful project, while playing the apropos, Comin’ Home. Alexisonfire has made headlines lately, continuously taunting a reunion after announcing a 4-night stand at the Danforth Music Hall in Toronto, only to be forced to postpone due to doctor’s orders. The show would go on in Montreal, with a promise to return to Toronto. No word yet on whether or not this will lead to a new album. Though, with the band playing on and off again since 2015, it doesn’t seem likely.
The Strumbellas’ fun and light hearted set proved a perfect backdrop to a summer’s afternoon. Entering the stage, Simon Ward rode piggyback on keyboardist and fan-favourite Dave Ritter to the delight of the crowd. The group then danced, bopped and jived through a set that included hits We Don’t Know, Shovels & Dirt and Spirits.
Few bands are universally loved in Canada as much as Blue Rodeo. And few bands seemingly love to do what they do as much as Blue Rodeo. The 70-minute set featured such staples as Lost Together, Try, and Hasn’t Hit Me Yet. The band also peppered in some newer songs from 2016’s release, 1000 Arms, that blended seamlessly with with their old hits. But it was the candor and chemistry of original members, Jim Cuddy and Greg Keelor that proved to delight the crowd. It was truly a celebration of what Canadian music as to offer, past present and future.
Words and photos by Drew J. Nihill