Well, slap my head and call me silly! I just went to a Country Music Festival, and let me tell you, country folk certainly know how to party. This past weekend I had the opportunity to take in Canada’s biggest Country Music Festival: Boots and Hearts. It takes place just over 100 kilometres north of Toronto, ON and every year they bring in some of the biggest names in country. 2017 was no exception with Luke Bryan, Keith Urban, and Brantley Gilbert acting as the headliners for this year’s festival.
After the six hour drive from Montreal, QC, we finally arrived in the mid evening to our camping spot where we set up and got comfortable; four nights of camping and music was just beginning. The first night was the Coors kickoff party which we, unfortunately, missed most of stuck in traffic. We did, however, make it on to the festival site to check out the layout and take in Doc Walker who had the party going with some good old tunes.
Most people that come to this festival camp so when the show is over the party doesn’t stop. This meant every night the festival goers kept the party going. The great thing about this is everyone gets along making for a great atmosphere. The amount of beer pong tables, solo cups, beer cans, and funnels was ridiculous; this was a huge frat party and one of the funniest things I heard all weekend was when I woke up at 8:00am to someone saying, “Wanna do a funnel, bro?” Like I said, the party was never ending.
That takes care of the atmosphere, but what about the music? Well, there was plenty of that to go around with the sets starting at 2:00pm every day until 11:00pm. The first day I was impressed with the sets from Brooke Eden, Frankie Ballard, and Kiefer Sutherland. Yeah, you heard correctly; Jack Bauer of 24 is a country star and a fine good one at that! His set was tight and entertaining, and Kiefer is a great story teller to boot! He spoke about how his father used to pick him and his sister up from school in a 1964 Ferrari. He played some original songs and some covers, explaining that it was hard to perform a bunch of songs to a crowd that might not know all his material. The covers got the crowd going especially Merle Haggard’s “The Bottle Let Me Down” and Bob Dylan’s “Knockin’ On Heavens Door.”
Day one wasn’t without its hiccups. Mother nature interfered with the festival; rain and lightning fell and the crowd was asked to evacuate back to their cars. After about an hour and half, everyone was invited back in to take in Keith Urban’s set and Dan+Shay’s set was moved to the small stage after Urban’s performance. The crowd was delighted by Urban’s performance. He invited Dan+Shay to do “Somewhere in My Car,” “ Tonight I Wanna Cry,” and Brook Eden’s for “We Were Us.” All in all, it was a great first night that ended with a nice display of fireworks.
On the second day, we discovered more new country artists like Nice Horse, JJ Shiplett, Jesse Gold, and Aubrie Sellers. Nice Horse is a band comprised of four badass women playing some down and dirty country. Their energy was really great. JJ Shiplett had that country swagger with his ginger hair and a voice of gold. Jesse Gold was the heartthrob with gals yelling his name and screaming at every chance they could. And Aubrie Sellers, well she just charmed the hell of the crowd at the main stage. Chad Brownlee and Eli Young Band had great sets to warm the crowd up for the bad boy of Country, the outlaw himself, Brantley Gilbert. Gilbert just melted everyone’s faces off. Can’t say he didn’t warn us by starting with “It’s About to Get Dirty,” and it just kept on going from there playing sixteen songs in just over an hour and fifteen minutes. This was “My Kinda Party.” Pun intended.
The final day the day that most festival goers were waiting for. Luke Bryan was gonna close this thing out, but first, we got hear from two great country bands Midland and Cold Creek County; these guys are the real thing. But, my discovery of the day was Jess Moskaluke. She has a wonderful voice and is the first Canadian woman since Shania Twain to get a Platinum Country record. She was wonderful singing her hits “Drive Me Away” and “Cheap Wine and Cigarettes” to finish her performance.
Brett Eldredge was the last to take the main stage before the headliner and let me tell you he could have fooled me cause he made a great case to be a headliner for the future. This guy can sing! And he had the crowd singing along with him during his hit “Drunk On Your Love.” Just brilliant!
Luke Bryan took the stage to the cheers of the 40,000 in attendance. This set was my favourite of the weekend as Bryan just knows how to entertain. Highlights of his set were “That’s My Kinda Night,” a cover of Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline,” “ Drink A Beer,” and “Country Girl (Shake It For Me).” Luke Bryan is a comedian, folks. The guy has jokes and that alone is worth the price of admission. People were throwing things up to him from hats to underwear, and he tried them on! Well, he tried with the underwear but failed. He did put on a Pac-man hat which was hilarious and later, after his Neil Diamond cover, he asked the crowd to google the lyrics to “My House” by Flo Rida. He took a concert goers phone to read the lyrics but before that he took the liberty to call a random person which was priceless. The whole festival came to an end as the band played Guns and Roses’ “Paradise City” with fireworks going off along with the music.
In the end of it all, I had a really awesome time, discovered some new music, and checked off an event that was on my Bucketlist. My only disappointment was that a lot of the bands playing earlier only played in front of a handful of people. The crowds showed up in the early evening missed some pretty awesome acts. I hope to enjoy this festival again in the future and you should too; it’s a blast! See y’all next year at Boots and Hearts 2018!
Written by Eric Brisson
Photography by Danny Donovan
*edited by Danielle Kenedy