You know you’re at a Stompin’ Tom Connors concert when there’s a massive Canadian flag centre stage, a Maple Leaf projection on curtains above it, and all the spotlights are either red or white.
The nationalistic country legend took the Centrium stage on Thursday looking weathered but remarkably little changed from his 1970s TV days, with his trademark black cowboy hat, wooden stomping board — and a whole lot of corny humour.
Whether he told politically incorrect “Newfie” jokes, or sang an off-colour song about a chubby Inuit woman (The Ballad of Muk-Tuk Annie), Connors left no doubt in anyone’s mind that what you see with this crooner is what you get.
The lanky troubadour, supported by a five-man band that included Alberta country singer Tim Hus, who opened the concert, dove into his humorous Bud the Spud tune, leaving his audience of 1,200 young and old fans tapping their toes and mouthing along to “another load of badadoes.”
He then tipped back a glass waiting for him on stage and looked like he’d swallowed mud.
“Who the hell put water in there?” exclaimed Connors to a burst of crowd laughter — before launching into the song Tillsonburg, about his dreaded tobacco-picking days.
“I love you!” proclaimed one waving, middle-aged female fan from the front row.
“I love me too!” responded the poker-faced Connors, who added, “You can get me drunk, take me home tonight and have a lot of fun with me!”
His unpretentious manner and down-home sense of humour are as much keys to Connors’ popularity as his music — and probably the reasons college students in my day considered it hip to own albums by square old Tom.
Connors also sang Big Joe Mufferaw, Margo’s Cargo, about an ill-fated plan to strike it rich in Toronto, Zakuska Polka, about everything Ukrainian-Canadian, Red River Jane and The Hockey Mom Tribute.
While the audience were extra enthusiastic about The Hockey Song, Goodbye Rubberhead and Sudbury Saturday Night, more affecting were Connors’ lesser known tributes to Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, B.C., Alberta and Saskatchewan.
He delivered these tunes while seated and later half-apologized for it, saying, “when you’re on your way to 75, you get to rest once in a while.”
He didn’t apologize for blowing the second line of his B.C. tribute saying, “a Milli Vanilli show this is not” — referring to the lip-synching scandal.
Naw, there’s nothing fake about Connors, he’s a true Canadian original.
Concert guest Hus was described as a young musician who’s carrying on the legacy of writing songs about Canada for Canadians.
Hus performed some memorable tunes, including The Hurtin’ Albertan (co-written with Corb Lund), as well as songs about a rum runner in the Crowsnest Pass, a Fargo pickup, Saskatoon berries, a beer delivery truck (the song named no less than 60 Canadian brews), and a Canadian Pacific rail journey.
Hus said friends have asked him when he plans to move to Nashville “like everybody else.” He responded that someone has to remain in this country to write Canadian songs.
It might as well be Hus, who has a great ear for language and catchy tunes — and a good sense of our unassuming Canadian identity.