Photos by Sean Sisk

Early shows seem to be a growing standard here in Ottawa, so when people took on the traffic to get there at 6:30, many coming straight from work, the opening acts were over the moon. Traffic was even heavier on the 417 on Thursday evening, as there were pick-up trucks backing up the highway into Kanata, all going the same place. We got through the doors with just enough time to make it through the already relatively large crowd and to our respective areas to catch Morgan Wallen as he was hitting the stage.

Wallen started the set off by setting a vibe that carried through the night, only amplifying as the hours went by, a proud and grateful country singer with a lot of heart. Although the stadium was only half full, Wallen and his band gave it everything that they had, letting every fan that came early know how much they appreciated it. “Thank y’all for coming out early to party with me,” Wallen said as he embraced Ottawa and Canada, letting fans know that his songs will be hitting Canadian radio next month. The crowd filled up with Senators jerseys, plaid shirts, denim on denim, and wicker hats galore, and both guitarists and the bassist came to the front of the extended stage for solo’s as Wallen exited.

Taking the room’s energy and using it as a force of their own, Chris Lane and his band entered the room with a big bass bang – every member jumping around. Making a point to get the whole crowd involved, Lane had everyone that was there with a partner dedicate Her Song to their significant other, and then dedicated his next song to the single ladies in the crowd. There were a couple special moments throughout the night, and Lane crouching down to sing directly to a girl in the front row and give her a rose was the first. While the auto tune was disappointingly heavy, it only took away a bit from how well the vocals contrasted between him and the other members. To close out his set, he got the whole crowd up to sing I Want It That Way, leading into a mashup of covers, and this would not be the last time we heard the Backstreet Boys.

Dustin Lynch made quite the entrance, standing atop an elevated structure behind the lifted drum kit, with a smile as big as the stage. Those pearly whites had all of the girls in the crowd screaming as if they were at a Justin Bieber concert. His performance was a true taste country meets pop music. While it can’t be denied that Lynch is a country music singer, his songs have that Taylor Swift taste to them, as does his delivery and chemistry. You could even hear the girls screaming in the distance on the mic as he touched their raised hands in passing. While it was a bit of a genre mash up and not exactly “true” country music, the air in the Canadian Tire Centre screamed “I’m so proud to be here.” Lynch even stopped at one point to say “I can’t believe this is real life right now.” The entire set was distinctly heartfelt, they really used every inch of the stage, and they appreciated everyone from the crowd to their camera man, Daniel. Nearing the end of the set, he stopped to give thanks to his camera man – with due credit, one would find themselves looking away from the stage to the screen, as the effects were quite spectacular and completely in line with the performance – who’s birthday is coming up next week. He had Daniel chug a drink and then changed the beginning of Name On It to honour him on stage. To close out the set and get everyone ready for Florida Georgia Line, Lynch played a brand new song off of his upcoming album, Love Me Or Leave Me Alone.

Rowdier, more drunk, and full of fuel for the show to come, fans patiently awaited as the curtains fell and hid the stage while the crew set up Florida Georgia Line’s absolutely breathtaking stage set up. Getting closer to the big reveal, the crowd got increasingly excited, dancing down the stairs with anyone who was into it. Much like being in the country, it didn’t matter if it was a complete stranger, if they wanted to party, people came together.

Descending side by side from the rafters on platforms with flames blazing up from the stage behind them, FGL kicked off the set with their smash hit, This Is How We Roll. The progression of the songs were as fluid as the progression of the almost two-hour set. Everything that went into the set drew the crowd in, from the stage, to the songs, all the way to video montages that the band put together to keep the crowd engaged while they transformed the stage for their next song. The lighting was sensational, the multiple backdrops, and the props used took the show to another level. As a clear homage to the name of the tour, Dig Your Roots, the band had a full stage of inflatable trees fill up around mid set, with a backdrop to match. As cliché as it’s become, it still makes you stop and grab your chest when a band pulls a young fan onto the stage. The duo noticed a little girl, Kiera, in the front row singing all of the words to their songs and pulled her up onto the stage. They asked Kiera if she played guitar and when she said no, they said “we’re going to give you your first one tonight, if you promise to learn how to play it, we’ll sign it and it’s yours.”

After a few more songs, the band left the stage, leaving the crowd with a video montage on the backdrop with the story of Florida Georgia Line. When they reappeared, it was at the back of the arena on another stage, set up to give the people in the back of the stadium a personal show. This is an outstanding way to give the entire building a show worth going to and it was a real treat to get a taste of that campfire jam. Their second stage consisted of a piano, a mock campfire, and a few barstools where they sat and played their acoustic set.

The stadium begun to clear out a bit after that set with people thinking it was over and trying to beat the traffic, but the band came back to the front stage with Lynch and Lane joining them for a song. The show in it’s entirety was terrific, but it could have done without so many covers. It’s always interesting to see a country band cover Papa Roach and know that they appreciate all kinds of music, but the fans come to see a country music show and that’s what they should get. Florida Georgia Line will be touring with the Backstreet Boys this summer, so those covers were well placed, but keeping the genre-hopping to a minimum could have made for a better ending to an otherwise fantastic show.

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