The last day of Boots and Hearts was a busy one, with a total of 12 heavy-hitting acts gracing the Main and Front Porch stages, along with a 90-minute gospel-and-pancake brunch at the latter. Although campers were noticeably weary from the previous three days of music, straggling from bed to bathroom to shower rather than sauntering as in days past, they still kept up a remarkable show of energy — no doubt a result of the youngish age demographic present at Boots and Hearts. And with Florida Georgia Line the biggest entertainers of the night, the main grounds of the music festival were full all day (and even featured fans striding by with cans of beer in their hands at 9:30 in the morning).
Overall experience-wise, there were several tricks to keep in mind to make the whole music festival as efficient as possible. The first: when you wake up at the crack of dawn, use that time to take a shower (the trailers opened at 7:00 am) to take advantage of hot water and no lines. The second: check your email and Facebook while there’s a scarcity of users and you can still get reception. And third: visit the free water tent early and often to avoid getting dehydrated and spelling an early end to your day. With a music festival like this, endurance is the key factor.
The first event of the day was the gospel brunch, but yours truly took a nap after a shower and breakfast so as to preserve energy and stamina for the rest of the day (as well as getting work done). But by the time 3:45 rolled around and Juno Award-nominee (and two-time Canadian Country Music Association award-winner) Kira Isabella took the stage, it was time to get the party going.
Isabella is an interesting artist, as she has the chops to make it as a popular audience but not necessarily as an enduring favourite. She has a certain amount of stage presence where she can interact with fans, but her performance would be better suited to a mid-size venue instead of an arena or stadium (think: the difference between Freddie Mercury and Michael Bublé). But in all fairness, she’s just 21 and has been professionally active for just the last four years, so there’s still plenty of time and room for her to grow and expand her repertoire and technical ability.
Canaan Smith was highly recommended by a photographer friend, so it was off to the Front Porch Stage for his 4:15 set. He was almost 20 minutes late for his show, although the fans in the audience didn’t seem to mind, especially when he and his bandmates strutted onstage with all the confidence of seasoned stars. Like Isabella, he’s been professionally active since 2011 but he also out-ages her 11 years, and the confidence showed. Smith, in his fashionably-ripped jeans and broken-in baseball cap, strutted around the stage like it was his to own and took no prisoners for the duration of his 60-minute allotment.
There was hardly any rest before heading off to the Main Stage where Dallas Smith was set to perform at 5:15. The 37-year-old Canuck walked onstage to much love from the audience, taking a few moments to soak in the adulation before launching into a 60-minute set that had fans screaming and cheering throughout. He’s a consummate performer who knows how to work the crowd without lapsing into cheesiness, and his 16-year career in country and alt-rock is a reflection of how he’s mastered his scene in a subtle yet captivating way.
Perhaps it was because of how eloquently Smith performed, or perhaps because it was an off day for the next musician up on the Main Stage, but Georgia-native Thomas Rhett felt like a pretty big letdown. He walked onstage for his 7:00 pm set with a blue plastic cup in hand — although nearly every other performer was drinking before and during their performance, none made it as obvious as Rhett did — and spent the first song lazily singing it while still holding the cup. For the next few songs, he did switch the cup for his guitar and made his way onto the catwalk, but it still felt like half the effort he could have given. Rhett performed mainly his own songs and tossed in the Isley Brothers’ “Shout” in between, but it fell way short of quality delivery. To add to the painful delivery, his onstage chatter felt canned and cheesy — is this truly the best the five-year veteran of country music can do?
Luckily, Florida Georgia Line (Brian Kelley, Tyler Hubbard) more than made up for the previous performer’s shortcomings. Also professionally active since 2010, they’ve made their mark by touring and opening for some of country music’s biggest names (Justin Moore, Dierks Bentley, Rodney Atkins, Luke Bryan, etc.) while carving out a seriously impressive name of their own. And in an impressive display of their professionalism, they hardly batted an eye when a wayward fan made his way to the roof of the stage where he “enjoyed” a few minutes of uninterrupted listening before the OPP escorted him away.
After four days of high fives from shirtless guys, a Spiderman-clad music fan on a 5:30 am bathroom run, countless barbecues and incredibly long lines for just about every vendor, Boots and Hearts 2015 had to come to an end. It was the first time the music festival staged the event in Oro-Medonte, which was much more centrally located within the GTA and proved to be a comfier experience all-around for campers and music fans. And despite some hiccups over the weekend, it was impressive to see how well the organizers kept the grounds in an orderly, yet enjoyable, fashion.
See you next year at Boots and Hearts 2016!