Bluesfest Goes Country!
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Photos by Andre Gagne
“How many bona fide, lifetime country fans do we have here tonight,” said Toby Keith scanning the opening night Bluesfest crowd. If at least two of his senses worked he wouldn’t have to ask twice. His ears would hear the loud reply. His eyes would set upon an audience that slipped off their sneakers and slid on their scuffed brown boots, pop off their ball cap in favour of something more fitting way South of the border, and broke out enough flannel shirts to blanket Wyoming.
If that doesn’t tell you how much of a country music city Ottawa is look at the stadium shows for Garth Brooks, Eric Church, Faith Hill, Tim McGraw and the Dixie Chicks. Hell, even Shania came out of the woodwork! Want closer to LeBreton? In recent years, Bluesfest has realized that country is king, almost taking up the reigns of the Capital Hoedown by harnessing that ever quickening southern musical stallion. Last year saw country stars Brad Paisley and Sam Hunt perform while this year has Justin Moore, Jake Owen and Keith.
“Ottawa is perfect for country music because we have a lot of heart and a lot of love. Plus we like to party,” said Amy Beckers, straw cowboy hat parked just North of her sunglasses. “I grew up with country music. Toby’s going to bring good beats and good times.”
It also looked like he was going to bring a pickup right onto the City Stage with a comedic intro video showing Keith barreling down a U.S. highway picking up nuns and zombies. Still, in case you forgot who was sponsoring The Interstates & Tailgates Tours, the drum kit sat on a huge replica of a Ford truck grill.
While his built tough ride wouldn’t join him, Keith would cart along hisr Easy Money Band complete with horn section and enough Americana to nearly paint over last weekend’s coat of maple leaf red paint with a layer of stars and stripes.
“How you doing Ottawa?” drawled Keith after flag-waving favourites “American Ride” and “Made in America”, adding that he didn’t know when he played last in the city (it was 2001) but it “must have been at least fourteen hundred and fifty two beers ago” before playing a couple of songs that showcased the Oklahoma born musician's quirky sense of humour.
“We’ve been around this business 20 years and things are different now. Now we just write silly songs and put them on Youtube,” Keith said with a chuckle, launching into one such tongue in cheek cut “Wacky Tobaccy”, his first new song in a year but not the first time he’s song of the soon to be legal in the Great White North great green plant. That song, “Weed With Willie”, wouldn’t make an appearance but the tracks namesake would when Willie Nelson himself appeared on the screen to duet with Keith on “Beer For My Horses”.
From one country legend to another, Keith would pay tribute to a man he says played the music better than any other, Merle Haggard. The tour was dedicated to him.
“We lost a cornerstone to our industry last year. The most important, I’d say, in at least my lifetime and maybe my father’s lifetime,” Keith told the crowd, going on to play a medley of tunes from Haggard’s career including “Mama Tried”, “Silver Wings” and “Okie from Muskogee”.
As a musician who was a loud voice politically in the Bush years and one that took some heat for performing at President Donald Trump’s inauguration, Keith opted to let Haggard’s popular 1969 hit be as close to politics as he’d get outside of wondering what things might be like if the White House was in Texas.
After playing earlier chart-toppers “How Do You Like Me Now?!” and “A Little Less Talk and a Lot More Action”, Keith would pay another tribute, this time to both U.S. and Canadian troops with two songs in an encore that saw him return to the stage carrying a star spangled guitar. One quick flip revealed the Canadian flag on the back. The musician told the audience how he’d done over 200 shows and frequently drank with Canadian troops because they were allowed beer in their barracks.
“The Canadian military is a mighty force and I’ll never forget them.”
While other shows may have had people making a rapid beeline for the exits as the night came to a close, the bulk stayed to listen to Keith’s message and songs right down to the final twang of steel guitar. Bona fide country fans? You better believe it!
Haven’t Had a Drink All Day
Made in America
I Wanna Talk About Me
Beer For My Horses
A Few More Cowboys
Mama Tried / Today I Started Loving You Again / I Think I'll Just Stay Here and Drink / Working Man Blues / Silver Wings / Okie from Muskogee (Merle Haggard covers)
Who’s Your Daddy?
Red Solo Cup
As Good as I Once Was
I Love This Bar
Should’ve Been a Cowboy
How Do You Like Me Now?!
A Little Less Talk and a Lot More Action
Stranglehold (Ted Nugent cover)
A Little Less Talk and a Lot More Action (reprise)
Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue (The Angry American)