Despite being woefully under-attended (which I’ll comment on later), the audience at the Essar Center in Sault Ste. Marie Canada was treated to a fantastic evening of country music on Saturday evening with the “Certified Country” tour.
Canadian artists Autumn Hill opened the evening up with a stylized set of country-pop hits, including “Can’t Keep Waiting” and “Fire”. Theirs was truthfully the act I was most excited for; this is not to mean of course that I was any less interested in the headliners, but Autumn Hill has songs that are more recognizable to me despite their relative newness to the country music scene (in comparison to Bamford and particularly Nichols). They certainly delivered- Tareya Green and Mike Robins, along with their band, breathed fresh air and life into a crowd who was already suffering the effects of a non-air conditioned arena (we were notified by friends at the Essar Center that the air conditioning had broken the day before the show, and they had been unable to fix it in time).
CCMA Male Artist of the Year Gord Bamford was welcomed to the stage next, and delivered a set of some of his most well-known hits, along with some tracks off of his newest album released this year entitled “Tin Roof”. Despite some technical difficulties with his in-ear monitors, Bamford worked the stage and the crowd like a pro, at one point bringing up a bride to be to help sing “When Your Lips Are So Close”. He also allowed time for his touring band to take center stage with a medley of classic rock songs, which was certainly one of the highlights of their set. The band was comprised of some extremely talented musicians in their own right; multi-instrumentalist Denis Dufresne was especially incredible on fiddle, guitar and banjo as well as backing vocals. It truly appeared to me that Bamford appreciates the talent in his band and was happy to take a backseat to allow them a moment to shine on their own. It certainly says a lot about his character as both an artist and a person.
Finally, Joe Nichols took to the stage as the final act of the evening, and the majority of the floor-seated crowd rushed to the front to be closer to the action. Songs like “Yeah”, “Sunny and 75” and “Tequila Makes Her Clothes Fall Off” were obvious crowd favourites, as audience members bobbed, swayed and danced along with the band. The only critique I can make would be on the sound; I wasn’t the only person who found it nearly deafening during Joe’s set, and it became more difficult to hear his vocals as compared to the sets before his. A slight tweak on the volume of the instruments could have helped to add clarity to an otherwise fantastic set. In any case, the crowd didn’t seem to mind, and happily sang back every word. A surprise cover song in the form of “Running Down a Dream” by Tom Petty was well received by the crowd as well; further proving that classic rock and country music can compliment each other and help unite fans across genres.
All in all, it was a fun evening of live music in Sault Ste. Marie, but here is where my criticism turns to the slightly more bitter. It was truly upsetting to see so many empty seats in an arena that can seat 5000, and each time the lights flashed on so the artists could see their audience, I cringed. I don’t believe that the Essar Center was the best venue to host this tour, and The Machine Shop may have been a better alternative. However, venues and promoters in this city are working hard to bring more entertainment and musical acts here for our enjoyment, and the fact of the matter is that if we as a city don’t buy the tickets to support them, it will be much harder to get the talent here. I do realize that country isn’t for everyone (speaking as someone who has preferences leaning more to punk or alternative music ), and that tickets are often pricey, but please consider supporting touring artists as they come through. They constantly live on the road, away from friends and family and they work hard to bring people together and put on a show that everyone can enjoy. There are many opportunities to go see some amazing talent local to Sault Ste. Marie as well; just consider this next time you’re planning a night out and are looking for something fun to do.