Night number one of Ottawa’s Grey Cup Concert Series at TD Place Arena offered up some Canada’s best country music artists. There was something for everyone from the knee-slapping, hand-clapping classic forms to the realms of rock, pop, soul, and hip-hop influences.
You knew from the moment Calgary native JJ Shiplett boarded the stage and began belting out the first few lines a cappella in that big ol‘ gravely voice of his, everything was going to spell p-o-w-e-r. The band followed suit with their solid country-rock muscle of sound, and they pumped out a variety of material including songs from Shiplett’s newest album, Something To Believe In.
From ballads like the beautiful “Always For You“, the thick guitar tones of “Darling Let’s Go Out Tonight”, to the faster running pace of “Higher Ground”, each song offered wonderful textures and intensities of rhythms and changing melodies. There was a very soulful and almost anthemic quality to the album’s title track that for me exhibited not only the diversity and maturity of Shiplett’s songwriting but the band’s tightness and talent as a whole. They proved they could rock it like nobody’s business with their fantastic take on The Tragically Hip’s “Grace Too”. It was an impressive start to the evening.
Vancouver trio The Washboard Union – filled out with three additional touring members – certainly got some dance activity going with their vibrant wallop of banjo, guitars, mandolin, bass, drums, heaping helpings of three-part harmonies, and of course… washboard. Their latest single “Shine” demonstrated their energetic and uplifting down-home country sound, plus their stage chemistry was absolute pure delight to watch.
No sooner had I begun to compare them to legendary country band, Alabama, when they broke into “Mountain Music”, which then led into a foot-stomping hillbilly version of Queen‘s “Fat Bottomed Girls”. A brand new unreleased song, “That’s What We’re Made Of”, had an infectious pull with a chorus that found its way directly into my heart. Another fun cover mash of Alabama’s “I’m In A Hurry” into Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing” followed by another earworm, “Shot Of Glory”, tied the set up nicely. I could see how these guys manage to a party wherever they play.
The icing on the cake came with Saskatchewan’s Jess Moskaluke, whose career has been going full steam ahead with her Juno Award win earlier this year, and the release of her new album Past The Past. Dressed in black shorts, black thigh-high boots and a bright blue cropped top, she not only looked the part, she sang pretty too. In fact, her crisp clear pitched vocals hugged tightly around every challenging note in her songs – which were riddled with them.
I loved the fast-paced, banjo-laden energy of “Drive Me Away”, the great rocking groove of “Kill Your Love”, and the hip-hop flavoured “Camouflage”. Some of her past hits like “Cheap Wine and Cigarettes”and my fave, “Kiss Me Quiet”, soared with energy, delivered by the driving sound coming from her five-piece band of three guitars, bass, and drums.
Moskaluke still carries her love of performing cover material too, and acknowledged the heavy influence it had played in moulding her into the country singer she would become. I enjoyed her take on Chris Stapleton’s soulful “Parachute”…one of her favourites. By the end, she had managed to rev up the crowd who clearly hadn’t minded staying out late on a school night. It was evident that night number one of the Grey Cup Concert Series had been a shin-digging, countrified success. Two more to go!
The Grey Cup Festival continues at Lansdowne Park until Sunday November 26. April Wine, Trooper, Sloan, and Dwayne Gretzky are all performing concerts in the TD Place Arena this weekend. Tickets cost $45 online. Visit greycupfestival105.ca for information.