The Rolling Stones’ Canada Day show at the lush 600-acre Burl’s Creek Event Grounds in Oro-Medonte (cottage country 90-minutes north of Toronto) on Saturday (June 29) was supposed to be the band’s last stop -- and only Canadian date -- on its No Filter Tour, but after singer Mick Jagger’s emergency heart surgery in April and remarkably fast recovery, the show became the third date on the now-rescheduled North American leg, ending Aug. 31 in Miami.
“Hello Canada. Happy Canada Day, everybody,” greeted Jagger after opening songs “Street Fighting Man” and “Let’s Spend The Night Together” (Canada Day is officially July 1), before launching into “Tumbling Dice.” It would be the first of many Canadian references he would make during the two-hour set, some demonstrating he’s done a quick study of our local politicians.
Billed as “Canada Rocks with the Rolling Stones” -- the ‘O’ in “rocks” being a maple leaf -- the day featured an all-Canadian lineup of support acts on the main stage and second stage on the opposite side of the 70,000-capacity venue -- The Glorious Sons, The Beaches, Sloan and One Bad Son and a post-show set by cover band Dwayne Gretzky for the overnight campers or those wanting to avoid the two-hour-plus nightmarish exit from the parking lot.
The Stones have had a long history with Canada, particularly the Greater Toronto Area: Keith Richards was busted for heroin possession in 1977, leading to the band playing a court-ordered free charity concert at the Canadian National Institute For the Blind in Oshawa; portions of 1977's Love You Live were recorded at the El Mocambo in Toronto. When Toronto-born concert promoter Michael Cohl landed the Stones as a client for many years, they would sometimes rehearse in the city and play various surprise club shows (RPM, the Horseshoe, Palais Royale, the Phoenix). And the Stones came to Canada's emotional rescue when the 2003 SARS epidemic threatened tourism, headlining the so-called SARSfest to an estimated half a million people -- the largest outdoor ticketed event in Canadian history.
As Jagger noted at Burl’s Creek, “the first time we played Ontario was 1965 and this is the 34th time we’ve played here.”
The concert couldn’t have gone any better. With a dozen Canadian flags waving in the wind against a perfectly clear sky, the Stones' famous tongue logo appeared on the gigantic four-panel digital backdrop, which changed to an explosion of different colors and patterns as a rock guitar version of the country’s national anthem, “O Canada,” introduced the legendary band.
An estimated 60,000 people took in the show, according to figures provided by Republic Live, who bought the show from AEG Presents.“Gold Circle” fans (who had paid over $400) were in the closest section, while general admission folks of all ages stood and danced further back; some chilled at the far end to get more personal space in the beautiful setting surrounded by trees and greenery. Republic Live, which owns the property, also erected grandstands on the north and south sides for those who wanted to sit and get a spectacular view of the entire space.
Jagger (turning 76 at the end of this month) was a force of nature, just months out from heart surgery and putting us all to shame. But Keith Richards, 75, drummer Charlie Watts, 78, and Ronnie Wood, 72, are equally remarkable; they might not strut and prance like their frontman but moving about under hot lights for two solid hours in their seventies is something that is inspiring, full-stop. Anyone who makes “old age/rocking chair” jokes has clearly not seen a recent Stones show.
Jagger, ever the gentleman, thanked each opening band by name early in the set, then teasingly told the crowd “For the next 15 minutes, it’s a buck-a-beer, courtesy of Doug Ford,” noting a legit campaign promise the Ontario Premier (and brother of the late, infamous Toronto Mayor Rob Ford) fulfilled, while he cut funding to education, environmental protections and health programs.
After “Sad Sad Sad,” Jagger also thanked everyone “for coming out here in the middle of the country,” then introduced the song that the public voted on out of four choices for the band to play -- the psychedelic beauty “She’s A Rainbow,” whose familiar opening was played by long-time Stones keyboardist Chuck Leavell.
For “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” Jagger got the crowd singing along, adding we could sing in French, if we felt like it, “avec moi.” The sun just about to set, the band extended the song into a boogie-woogie jam, and came “a bit closer,” walking down the lit-up runway to a much smaller round stage in the middle of the crowd. There with the simple acoustic set up, just Mick, Keith, Charlie and Ronnie played the gorgeous “Angie” and the country-style “Dead Flowers,” then headed back to the big stage.
When they re-emerged, joined by the auxiliary players -- Leavell, bassist Darryl Jones, backing vocalists Sasha Allen and Bernard Fowler, multi-instrumentalists Matt Clifford and Tim Ries, and saxophonist Karl Denson -- Jagger was in a sparkly tailcoat and hat for the lyrical masterpiece “Sympathy For The Devil” and equally classic “Honky Tonk Woman." Jagger then shouted out some “special Canadians": Bryan Adams, Joni Mitchell, Gordon Lightfoot and added that he invited Drake. He then made fun of Toronto Mayor John Tory, who was in the house. “He’s still wearing that dirty blazer,” Jagger quipped in reference to the black-and-gold Raptors claw-patterned jacket he wore all week after the team won the NBA championship a few weeks ago. “How about those Raptors?” he added as “We The North” flashed on the screen.
He continued his sports references by calling Charlie “the Maple Leafs’ mascot” then shifted to a locale-specific nickname for Ronnie, “the cockatoo of cottage country.” But he introduced his Glimmer Twin straight-up, “and now on guitar and vocals, Keith Richards,” as cheers erupted for Keef’s requisite two-song spotlight. "I don't know if we have an England Day," he chuckled, before singing a seven-minute version of the dreamy ballad “Slipping Away” and wiry rocker “Before They Make Me Run,” written in response to his 1977 arrest in Toronto.
When Jagger returned, he amped up the moves for the disco-era “Miss You,” making everyone surely marvel “that’s ridiculous he’s 75.” “Paint It Black” and “Midnight Rambler” followed, with Jagger playing harmonica as the band jammed out the latter song to a bluesy and blistering end. The set concluded with must-plays “Start Me Up,” “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” and “Brown Sugar"; the two-song encore consisted of Mick's vocal duel with Sasha Allen, "Gimme Shelter," while closer “Satisfaction” capped at 11:11pm with a fireworks display.
After the full band lined up to take a bow, the touring musicians left Mick, Keith, Ronnie and Charlie to take their own. It’s a rare time in rock history to watch a band of septuagenarians perform, but the Rolling Stones satisfied our every need.
“Street Fighting Man” “Let’s Spend The Night Together” “Tumbling Dice” “Sad Sad Sad” “She’s A Rainbow” “You Can’t Always Get What You Want”
B-stage/acoustic: “Angie” “Dead Flowers”
Back to mainstage: “Sympathy for the Devil” “Honky Tonk Women”
Keith Richards on vocals: “Slipping Away” “Before They Make Me Run”
“Miss You” “Paint It Black” “Midnight Rambler” “Start Me Up” “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” “Brown Sugar”