LEWISTON – Artpark’s gorge-side summer amphitheater was a sea of sunny faces, music fans in an extra celebratory mood on Tuesday night: Canada Day, the first of July, is a scant few days away from Independence Day. It’s a big holiday week for both countries, marked with outdoor celebrations and fireworks on both sides of the border.
The Tuesdays in the Park concert on Canada Day featured a solid Canadian line-up with two bands revered on both sides of the border – 54-40 and headlining Blue Rodeo.
Thousands came ready to party. The crowd appeared to be an equal blend of Canadian and U.S. fans of both of the bands, judging from band T-shirts, and apparel festooned with Old Glory or Canadian flags.
Neil Osborne, lead singer for 54-40, hit the stage with “Hello everyone, Happy Canada Day! Let’s hear some drummin’ … and some bass … and electric guitar!” before his bandmates joined in for “Nice to Luv You,” a welcomed and familiar hit.
It was on to lovely “Crossing a Canyon,” met with screams of approval. A beach ball, so appropriate for a sunny summer night, was batted about the front of the stage.
Osborne’s vocals were solid, the band stoic and down to rock business.
Osborne’s inter-song banter included a reference to the U.S. soccer team’s “valiant effort” and an audience member in front shouted “Who cares?” It was on to their brand new tune “Waiting,” short and not a particular rabble-rouser.
The singer decided it was a perfect time to lead the crowd in “The Happy Birthday Song” for Canada. “Aw, I love those spontaneous moments,” he said as the last “you” hung in the lovely summer night’s air.
Osborne would mention the U.S. soccer team again minutes later with a very neighborly and extemporaneous song about the World Cup – fun but assuredly not bound for the recording studio.
54-40’s set high point (besides the lovely rendition of “I Go Blind”) was the band-crowd interplay before “Casual Viewin’ ” as the action approached “seventh inning stretch time.” “You look like the All-Canada singers to me,” shouted Osborne before coaching the crowd to be energetic, melodic, and then soulful.
It was a truly lovely moment. “Ocean Pearl,” with guitarist Dave Genn walking way out onto amps to perform over the crowd, ended their divine set.
Between the two bands Bob Barker (yes, that’s really his name, I saw his ID – but his mom calls him Matthew) was waxing poetic about the night.
He was at Artpark with a dozen residents of what they refer to as “west Black Rock” and “west Riverside,” from Fort Erie and partaking of fun things just “twenty minutes away.” He was dressed in a 54-40 T-shirt and Chicago Cubs ball cap. He and his pals are all fans of both bands and were spending the night in Lewiston.
Blue Rodeo hit the stage at 8 p.m. sharp in their usual unassuming manner, wandering out and grabbing for their instruments, each a breathtaking musician as they prove at each gig. They took it slow and gradually built upon the energy of their set, touching on all of their three decades as a rock enterprise.
Lead vocalist and guitarist Jim Cuddy commented “I’m so glad it’s not raining this year. You were tough as nails last year, that was awesome,” referring to the deluge (and half-inch hail) that hit the venue as the band was about to perform last year at the same site. “But I’m steady as rain,” Cuddy sang, in the lovely “Head Over Heels” getting things going, with the singer making magic on harmonica, highlighting their country-rock prowess.
The Greg Keelor-led songs, always a rich treat, included the ever-lovely “Diamond Mine” with very trippy keyboards by Cuddy. It was on to several long and luscious keys/drums/pedal steel jams that were as steamy as the night.
The band seemed to lose momentum along the pathway of their set, choosing some deep cuts and new songs along the way before they headed back into proven winning hits.