Blue Rodeo and Friends in Toronto

Glenn Gould Studio, Toronto | October 29, 2012

With Hurricane Sandy raging outside, the state of Canadian roots music may have been in peril for a moment. If, heaven forbid, the roof had caved in on The Glenn Gould Studio, we’d have had to imagine that scene without Blue Rodeo, Great Big Sea, Ron Sexsmith, The Sadies, Whitehorse, Justin Rutledge, Skydiggers, Oh Susanna, and Cuff The Duke.

Yes, that’s the seriously star-studded lineup of guests who performed Blue Rodeo classics in this superb celebration of the much-loved veterans. Coinciding with the release of their huge box set retrospective, Blue Rodeo: 1987-1993 and on the 25th anniversary of the release of their groundbreaking debut, Outskirts, Blue Rodeo invited this group of their musical (and personal) pals to join in the fun.

A lucky group of media and industry types and contest winners filled the intimate and acoustically excellent Glenn Gould Studio for this two hour concert that confirmed the timeless strength of Blue Rodeo’s best material. The band actually backed up many of the guests, then took centrestage with a handful of their classics to close out the show.

After an eloquent intro to the evening by longtime BR pal Molly Johnson, Cuff The Duke kicked things off with an extended version of “Five Days In May,” one not light years away from the original. Oh Susanna dazzled on “Bad Timing,” assisted by the harmony vocals of Jim Cuddy and Greg Keelor, followed by Devin Cuddy (Jim’s talented son) leading the group through a rendition of “Rain Down On Me” that featured a proud dad on harmonies. Justin Rutledge confirmed he’s the best country-folk crooner we have with his take on “Falling Down Blue,” accompanied by sparkling guitar work from BR drummer Glenn Milchem. You might have expected Ron Sexsmith to choose a ballad, but he delivered a real show highlight by rocking out on “Love And Understanding,” abetted by fine guitar playing from Cuddy and Colin Cripps. Whitehorse slowed things down with a dramatic take on “My Dark Angel,” with Luke Doucet channelling Keelor effectively.

The energy level rose rapidly when Great Big Sea took the stage, joining forces with Blue Rodeo for a 10-man romp through “Rose Coloured Glasses.” Next up were The Sadies, in this scribe’s view the best roots-rockers (along with Blue Rodeo) we have. They delivered big-time on “Palace Of Gold,” followed by an equally convincing version of “Hasn’t Hit Me Yet” led by Andy Maize and Josh Finlayson (Skydiggers). Maize admitted his band had been offered the song before Blue Rodeo recorded it, but couldn’t quite nail it. They did just that here, though, aided by nice pedal steel from Bob Egan and Jim Cuddy’s mandolin.

The hits just kept on coming, as Great Big Sea returned to assist Blue Rodeo on “What Am I Doing Here,” and the headliners then scored on “Try” (Cuddy can still hit the high notes) and “Til I Am Myself Again.” The night then moved to a triumphant climax, with The Sadies joining in on a knockout version of “Diamond Mine.” This scribe’s favourite BR song, it was given real punch by two drummers (Milchem and Mike Belitsky) plus psychedelic glory via the guitar work of Dallas and Travis Good. After pointing out that all the night’s guests had opened shows for Blue Rodeo in the past, Greg Keelor then thanked them all “for inspiring us.” On cue, the entire cast then took the stage for a massed finale of “Lost Together,” another transcendent moment.

It can validly be claimed that no Toronto band has had a bigger influence on the local music community over the past quarter century than Blue Rodeo. This night also confirmed no other group can match the peer respect (and love) they now deservedly receive.

NB: A live recording of this show can be heard on CBC Radio 2 on Thursday Nov. 8 at 7 p.m.

Photography by: Jesse Kinos-Goodin / CBCMusic

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