Photographs by Ray Williams.
With the biggest and most elaborate set design I have seen all year (and you can sure bet it’s one of the best sets I’ve ever witnessed), Brad Paisley walked out onto the stage like the southern rock star he is. Tens of thousands of people screamed as he appeared, his cowboy had glistening in the spotlight. You’d think someone this beloved with such a gigantic set would reenact the same kind of pride any rock star in his position would. He did, jokingly, have the odd remark about himself (such as calling a mascot of himself “the sexiest muppet you’ve ever seen”), but it was all tongue and cheek of course. In purest form, Brad Paisley is a gentleman and a fan with a larger passion of his own followers than his audience has with him (and that was big in the first place). The amount of audience activity during this set, which even stemmed to the lawn seats war beyond the horizon at Molson Amphitheatre, was in large numbers, and Paisley may have had more fun than we did, despite experiencing one of the best shows I have been to in 2014 thus far (and this is someone highly undereducated with country music saying this).
Every song told a story with how the set reacted. We had a different emotional rush with each song displaying a different message. There was so much to take in with the many screens displaying various things at once. One song would have dark, shadowy images with monster eyes peaking out of different “spots” at random, appearing way above the stage and even behind Paisley’s band at times. Each visual representation had a story, and many of these tales were powerful. It was rough getting choked up many times, and a lot of this came from Paisley’s admiration of his own life. He had many country singers, old and new, here and gone, put up behind him, which resulted in many cheers. He had the odd comic relief where one song had many fake tabloids about Paisley and his addiction to alcohol and sex blown up onto the massive screen. Most of these stories held Paisley’s message that he has gripped tightly for his entire career: Most country artists reflect on the past and the now, while Paisley is always looking towards the future. With Paisley being sucked into a massive wormhole behind him (which resulted in a closing in on Earth, landing at an overhead image of the Molson Amphitheatre), Paisley sang about the road he is to take in life.
With his fondness of technology, Paisley took many cell phones from the audience and took many photos for fans to share (he even took a video of us all; whosever phone that was is lucky!). With his sparkling red guitar that looks like a little red corvette and the many guitars that paraded behind that one, Paisley churned out guitar solo after guitar solo with twang, ease and impact. It’s no wonder that his biggest cheer of the night came when he signed an acoustic guitar of his and gave it to a child in the audience. A man of such generosity and talent would have made the night worthwhile alone, but then he marched his way onto the path in front of the lawn seats and performed a few songs for the many fans that couldn’t get pavilion seats. With the love for Canada he showed many a time (ranging from talking with a Newfoundlander accent to wishing us a happy Canada day), we felt that his adornment of the red, white and blue wasn’t a symbol of pride but the effort to share. Brad Paisley came out like a stud and we all left feeling adored instead of ignored. I have a feeling I know why many people, even outside of the country scene, love Brad Paisley: It’s because he loves all.