There aren’t many bands or musical acts that can put together a career than spans a decade, let alone more than 3. The potent union of two of Canada’s most beloved songwriters, Jim Cuddy and Greg Keelor, started out prior to Blue Rodeo, but in 1984 the fabled folk-rock band was formed alongside Bazil Donovan and former member Bob Wiseman. The lineup has grown and evolved, eventually welcoming Colin Cripps, Glen Milchem and Michael Boguski into the fold, and this lineup makes an annual trek east to treat the Maritimes to a well-known and well-loved set list of classic tunes, such as “After the Rain”, “Rose Coloured Glasses”, and “Diamond Mine”.
For an act that has been here so often, you’d think the crowds would wane at some point, but they seem to grow with each subsequent visit. It’s an audience that has grown up with these songs; many folks in attendance are easily in their 50s, some folks are bringing their younger kids to their first concert, and there is also a strong contingent of folks in their early 30s and early 40s enjoying a night out. For many this is not their first Rodeo (to quote one of the band’s tour shirts), it’s a 2nd or 3rd,or 13th show. It’s highly unlikely you’re going to see a set list comprised of obscure or unknown songs; you pretty much know what you’re going to hear on a given night and that is the reason we’re all here, to indulge in these classic cuts. Well, or so I thought.
Never did I expect that a potential donnybrook would break out at a Blue Rodeo show, but that’s how things go sometimes. After spending my time in the photo pit, and snagging a Jud Haynes/Midnight Oil print at the merch table, I made my way to my seat as “Rose Coloured Glasses” wafted through the Scotiabank Centre. I settled in alongside a younger, well-dressed couple and soaked in another tremendous Blue Rodeo performance. The fact did not go unnoticed that these two weren’t content to just enjoy the show, all the while chattering away during quieter tunes such as “After the Rain”. It got to a point that the couple in front of these two asked the pair of Chatty Cathys to quiet down, but instead of simply complying, the lady to my right immediately got heated and an argument ensued that needed an usher’s intervention to calm. It was quite surprising, but goes to show that not everyone has the ability to just accept the situation (as annoying as it was) and just enjoy the show.
The combatants seemed to chill out, and we were all able to settle back in and enjoy the tail end of the evening. With a set so tightly jammed with fan favourites and classic cuts, it’s hard to believe that the final 5 songs of the night included 1 cover and 4 of Blue Rodeo‘s most beloved tracks (“Til I Am Myself Again”, “Hasn’t Hit Me Yet”, “Try” and the staple “Lost Together”). It was fun watching the look of concerned bewilderment on the face of the girl next to me as the main set wound down, and they still hadn’t played “Try”. I smiled a knowing smile (I was following a recent, identical set list) and told her to just wait.
As I mentioned to a fellow fan of Blue Rodeo, they are what I would consider to be the Pizza of Canadian Rock, because no matter how many times you’ve had a piece of pizza (or heard a Blue Rodeo song), there is nothing like it. Even on an off night (which is a rarity), you still get to enjoy the ease and familiarity of these classic tunes (or a slice of pizza) that you’ve grown to love over the years. They are nothing short of Canadian royalty, and if you don’t believe me, just walk into any arena or hockey hall where Blue Rodeo is performing, and wait for the room to belt out “Hasn’t Hit Me Yet”. It’s going to happen, and it’s magical each and every time.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the opening act, as longtime Canadian folk rockers The Skydiggers had the honour of warming up the room. For those unfamiliar, The Skydiggers were amongst that late ’80s Canadian folk-rock scene, and stood alongside Blue Rodeo, The Tragically Hip, 54*40 and The Cowboy Junkies. They enjoyed a modicum of success with their pensive “I Will Give You Everything”, but never managed to reach the heights of their peers. On Saturday night they were magical. Andy Maize is animated and energized and looks to be having a ball every time I’ve seen him perform, and to see the juxtaposition of the more reserved Josh Finlayson step to the mic and sing is captivating. Then there is the effervescent Jessy Bell Smith who, alongside Andy, provided some fantastic harmonies. When I first saw The Skydiggers at the Marquee, I liked them, but after Saturday night, I walked away loving the band.