City & Colour, Blue Rodeo, The Strumbellas, Stars & Dear Rouge
@ The Commons at Butler’s Barracks, Niagara-on-the-Lake
July 2, 2017
Butler’s Barracks is not easy to get to. Especially if you have to take GO transit. A sparse bus schedule mixed with the slow moving holiday traffic made just getting to the venue an adventure worthy of it’s own article.
Thankfully, Niagara-on-the-Lake presented a line up for their annual Canada Day celebrations that made it worth the trek from Toronto to the idyllic lakeside town. Located just outside St. Catherine’s, Niagara-on-the-Lake is a wonderful little town better known for its wine then an enticing music scene. But once a year this tiny town throws one of the best Canada Day parties in Southern Ontario. Past years have included headliners Mumford & Sons and the legendary Tragically Hip. Unsurprisingly to celebrate Canada’s 150th birthday this years event pulled out all the stops to deliver a stellar All Canadian line-up.
Canadian music royalty and St. Catherine’s local boy City & Colour headlined the event, supported by Blue Rodeo, The Strumbellas, Stars and Dear Rouge. The second half of the bill very clearly had a laid back folk kind of vibe with two high-energy alternative rock bands got the early crowd energized.
Overall the festival seemed to be fairly well put together. Aside from a few Dine Alone Records tents and the always-present beer signs, Butler’s Barracks was refreshingly free of obvious corporate sponsorship. The event obviously had sponsors, but it felt as if there was an attempt made to limit the brands plastered everywhere to let fans focus on the music.
Of course line-ups for beer and food could get ridiculously long, but that’s just standard for any well attended festival (Pro Tip: the best times for a beer run are in the middle of a band’s set). The free water bottle filling station was a nice touch, and at this point should be mandatory at all summer festivals, although a location closer to the stage would have been nice. But these are fairly minor gripes to what amounted to a wonderful day in beautiful weather listening to some of the best music this nation has to offer.
Stars were an obvious standout (even if heavy traffic forced this writer to get to the festival gates 4 songs into the set). The crowd was very much a City & Colour audience. But it wasn’t hard to pick out the Stars lovers. Swaying and singing along to a more radio friendly, late catalogue heavy, set list. Their energetic performance culminated with singer Torquil Campbell inviting the audience to share a glass of wine with him at his nearby Niagara-on-the-Lake residence. At the time of writing it is unknown how many took up his offer.
Following Stars were the new wonder kids on the block, The Strumbellas. The folk pop group burst onto stage, whipping the crowd into a frenzy. It was a show that included dance competitions and frequent audience participation. Some of the songs all started to sound the same towards the end of the set.
Slowing things down were Canadian stalwarts, the one and only, Blue Rodeo. It seems fitting to have Blue Rodeo play right before City & Colour since it seems Dallas Green has been doing his best Jim Cuddy impression over a few albums now. But rest assured, Blue Rodeo were here to show the kids how it’s done. No flashy lights or elaborate stage setups, this was clearly only about the music. This is a band that’s been doing this for years, they know what songs the fans want to hear and they make sure they go home happy.
Of course the whole night was leading up to the final act. Hometown hero City & Colour. There really is no denying just how talented of a musician Dallas Green is. His voice is probably one of the most recognizable to emerge from Canada in the past decade. But City & Colour has changed a lot since the days of Dallas sitting on stage by himself with his guitar. But City & Colour made sure to reward long time fans with a set list that dove deep into his first album Sometimes and continued to mine his rich catalogue throughout the night. There was even a brief Alexisonfire cover thrown into the set list. City and Colour were a great way to cap off a laid back day spent in the sun enjoying some really great music.
If only getting home had felt as easy.
(Photography by Morgan Harris)