with Tom Wilson, Colin Linden, Stephen Fearing

Blackie and The Rodeo Kings with Grammy award-winning producer, songwriter and guitarist Colin Linden, Juno award-winning Tom Wilson, and Canadian singer-songwriter Stephen Fearing at the helm offered up their talents in songwriting, musicianship and showmanship to a sold out crowd on Friday night at the National Arts Centre’s Southam Hall… with opener, Harlan Pepper.

Linden provided warm, generous introductions of Harlan Pepper, saying they were the best band he’d produced. And for 30 minutes, Harlan Pepper entertained the crowd with tunes forthcoming on their new album and a few from their last CD. Missing from their lineup was the hit, Great Lakes… meaning something new was on the way.

with Thomson Wilson (Harlan Pepper), Stephen Fearing and Dan Edmonds (Harlan Pepper)

Having come up together as hockey mates, the next evolution came when they uncovered their musical talents together. And while they are now in their early twenties gaining experience and public momentum, this band, as Linden mentioned, has the talented influences of their upbringing and the support of many. If you’ve seen Harlan Pepper perform in the clubs around Toronto, you know how talented and endearing they are. They are a roots-rock band from Hamilton with Wilson’s son, Thompson, on bass and vocals, accompanied by Jimmy Hayes on guitar, Dan Edmonds “the hat” on lead vocals and guitar, and last but not least, Marlon Nicolle on drums.

For Blackie and The Rodeo Kings this performance was a continued celebration of their success from their June 2011 release, Kings and Queens. For Ottawa fans who welcomed them at BluesFest last year, this was yet another dose of great Canadian talent, but with an added treat…   a guest lineup comprised of Juno-winning songwriter Ron Sexsmith, the marquee vocals of Amy Helm, internationally acclaimed Canadian blues guitarist Matt Andersen, and three time Grammy award-winning American bluesman Keb Mo.

Togged in their rhinestone-studded suits, the core members of the Blackie trio, opened the act on their own with ‘Water’ and ‘Gasoline’ and then ‘Let’s Frolic.’ Wilson then moved the performance into his Hamilton roots with ‘Stoned.’

Canadian fiddler Kendel Carson, joined Blackie with her stunning virtuosity and vocals. Her long golden straight hair and intensity on stage added an elegance to ‘Another Free Woman,’ which Fearing and Wilson composed in dedication to those struggling in women’s shelter.

Sexsmith then joined Linden and Fearing on stage for the 5th song, “Got You Covered’ filling in for Roseanne Cash (who appears on the album track), which Sexsmith co-wrote with Linden.

Amy Helm, daughter of legendary drummer, Levon Helm, graced the stage with ‘If I Can’t Have You’ in duet with Wilson.

Andersen then appeared kicking out this portion of the performance with his acoustic guitar and powerhouse vocals in ‘I Don’t Wanna Give In.’

Stopping by before finishing his Canadian tour in Quebec, blues singer-songwriter and guitarist Keb Mo was definitely a highlight as he took the lead with ‘Life is Beautiful’ in a duet with Linden.

The full entourage returned to stage, including Andersen, Helm, and Keb Mo, for the congregated number, ‘God Trying To Get Your Attention.’ The guests then left leaving the hosts to finish the evening with their version of ‘The Band’s Remedy,’ which paid tribute to the late Levon Helm, Rick Danko and Richard Bell… their ode to the spirit of songwriter Willie P. Bennett… and the reason Linden, Wilson and Fearing formed the band almost 20 years ago.

The lovely Brenda Gale Warner hosted the after-party held at Galerie 240 on Guigues Avenue exhibiting Wilson’s beautiful eclectic paintings. Among the guests were Amanda Bon, Harvey Glatt, David McDonald, and oddly enough my son’s former baseball coach, Pierre, whom I haven’t seen in years.

with Harvey Glatt and Amanda Bon

with Colin Linden

with Matt Andersen

Photos courtesy of Dave McDonald