• By: Dan Donovan

Blue Rodeo – Canada’s Band

Photo By Dustin Rabin

Canada’s Band is the only way I can describe Blue Rodeo. Since 1987, Blue Rodeo has been a fan favourite on the Ottawa (and Canadian) music scene.  They are as symbolic and important to Canada as the beaver, the maple leaf, poutine, the toque, hockey and politeness. Their music spans three decades, 14 studio albums, 4 live albums, 1 compilation set, 54 hit singles and an important part in life’s soundtrack for millions of Canadians. They sing about love and loss, the land, pain and redemption, joy, forgiveness, drinking, dancing and hope. At times they touch on politics – rarely – but when they do they have an impact. They wrote the song “Fools Like You” back in 1992 to describe Canada’s treatment of aboriginal peoples and their September 2015 song and video “Stealin’ All My Dreams” helped shake the foundations of Stephenharperdom as it concisely and angrily described the failings of the Harper government and captured people’s collective anger towards the many misgivings of the Harper regime. You know you’re in big trouble in Canada as a politician if Blue Rodeo has actually taken the time to write a song and produce a video slagging you. That’s because for three decades their songs have connected with Canadians at an intuitive level. Their presence on the Canadian music scene is prolific. Blue Rodeo are inductees in the Canadian Music Hall of Fame (2012) and received a Governor General’s Performing Arts Award in May 2014 for Lifetime Artistic Achievement, which is Canada’s highest honour in the performing arts. They are recipients of the Massey Hall Honours award which celebrates the cultural contributions of great artists and their commitment to performance at Massey Hall. According to The Canadian Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, Blue Rodeo has sold in excess of four million records and won an unprecedented 11 Juno Awards, establishing themselves as one of the premier groups in Canadian music history.

For younger musicians and upcoming bands, Blue Rodeo has legendary status. Jim Cuddy and Greg Keelor are regularly referred to as Canada’s Lennon/McCartney and their songbook easily backs that claim. Blue Rodeo’s current tour landed in Ottawa on Valentine’s Day and the band gave another exemplary performance that ended with a standing ovation by the 7500 plus fans in attendance.

Ottawa Life Magazine met with Greg Keelor before the show and asked him about the song “Stealin’ All My Dreams and the timing of the release. He said “the song started out as me trying to figure out why the CBC was so “Fu—d UP” and the trail led to the PMO and then it led to what Harper was doing on a whole bunch of other things in Canada.” Keelor added that he thought the Canadian bands Hey Rosetta! and Yukon Blonde song “Land You Love” by Yukon Gold was a great protest song but that his favourite was a song called “Vote that F—ker OUT” which he said “was both true and hilarious and could apply to anyone doing a bad job in any elective office in the world when you think about it.” Keelor has a wonderful sense of humor and a subtle defiance to him that comes out in conversation. Although I don’t know it for sure, I think he may be the guy in the songs who brings the edge while Cuddy brings the melody. However they do it, it works. We get a chance to have a quick meet and greet with the rest of the band before the show and they are all genuinely pleasant. A local singer is in the room and she hands Jim Cuddy a CD of her music and asks him if he’ll listen to it, adding nervously that “I don’t think it’s that good.”

Cuddy responds – “don’t say that, I’m sure it is great.” (The CD actually is great, and she is a talented singer, but her nerves upon meeting Cuddy got the best of her).

After a high energy and melodious opening set by Toronto rocker Terra Lightfoot, Blue Rodeo took to the stage with “Trust Yourself,” followed by a series of rootsy alt-rock country hits from previous years before mixing in several new songs including “Superstar” and “Rabbit’s Foot”, both strong additions to the Blue rodeo songbook which are sure to get lots of commercial radio airtime. It wasn’t long before the fans were on their feet singing along with Cuddy and Keelor as lead guitarist Colin Cripps created his own magic with well-timed riffs and the occasional solo. Bassist Basil Donovan stayed in the background, as always, while pianist Michael Boguski was front and centre for a few solos of his own on “5 Days in May” and “Dark Angel”. A highlight of the night was the Cuddy-Keelor acoustic segment and Cuddy’s still amazing rendition of “Try”, which he has probably sang 10,000 times but still makes it sound new, and Keelor’s haunting rendition of “Dark Angel”. The finale featured Terra Lightfoot and her band along with Blue Rodeo and thousands of fans singing “Lost Together”. A magical moment for sure. It occurred to me that the reason Blue Rodeo concerts are so good is that these guys genuinely love to perform. They just love what they are doing and it shows and they seem happiest on stage when their fans are singing and dancing along. Years ago Jim Cuddy wrote a line in the hit song “Rena” that says it all: “I taught myself to play so I could be where people danced.” We’re still dancing.