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‘Roll down your windows and turn up your radios!’

Brett Kissel delivers three unforgettable performances at the Richmond Fairgrounds

By Jeff Morris

Manotick Messenger

It may not have been the biggest show ever held at the Richmond Fairgrounds, but it will certainly go down as one of the most memorable.

Canadian country superstar Brett Kissel performed three drive-in shows at the Richmond Fairgrounds Sat., Sept. 19. There were 250 carloads of fans in attendance for each show, with cars strategically parked at the proper social distance from each other and with fans in their cars listening on their FM radios.

Kissel has been ahead of the curve of the temporary new normal for live concerts. He has given more than 20 drive-in concerts across the country, and he has also done a drive-up boat show on Lake Windermere in Kootenay, British Columbia.

“I know that it’s different than what people are used to when they go to a show, but we are in a different time right now and we have to make the most of the opportunities we have,” Kissel said leading up to the show.

Playing the Richmond Fairgrounds in front of 250 cars and trucks was not how the Juno Award winner saw 2020 unrolling. After his album released in January, he was scheduled to tour Europe, and then head to the U.S. where he would open up for Eric Church on his tour before becoming an opening act for Garth Brooks.

Those plans, as Kissel likes to say, were made B.C. (before COVID). But as disappointing as it must have been for those big plans to be mothballed, no one seemed happier to be in Richmond on Saturday than Kissel.

It was an intimate setting at the Fairgrounds. Interacting with the crowd throughout the shows, Kissel called out to different cars and had different areas honk their horns. The shows began with the video of his hit song ‘She Drives Me Crazy’ playing, and then a personalized message to the crowd from Chuck Norris, reminding all that “tough times don’t last, tough people do.”

Fans honked their horns and waved their arms through their sunroof or open windows. Some fans stood in their vehicles and popped out of their sunroofs. Others sat on an open window with their feet still in their vehicle. Others just sat in their cars and trucks with their windows open and their radios on.

Kissel played a combination of songs from his current album, ‘Now or Never’, some of his big hits like “Drink About Me,” and also got into the roots of his music a little. He played CCR’s “Have You Ever Seen the Rain,” saying that it was a song for his father’s generation in the crowd. CCR, he explained, was his father’s favourite band, and that song was his favourite. He also played a song from one of his favourite artists growing up, playing Garth Brooks’ “Baton Rouge.” Fiddle player Tyler Vollrath shone in that song, showing why he is considered one of the top fiddle players not just in Canada, but in the world.

Kissel also localized the show numerous times. He talked about playing at the Richmond Fair through the years. He talked about being at the fair in 2015, when he invited a young guitarist from “just down the road in Carleton Place” up on stage to play with him. Connor Riddell, that young guitar player, is now part of Kissel’s band. Kissel had some fun making Riddell stand where he was on a speaker box on that stage and recreate the guitar solo he played.

In one of the day’s most emotional moments, Kissel gave a shout out to a woman he met at the show in attendance who is receiving cancer treatments. She had asked Kissel to play “I Didn’t Fall in Love With Your Hair”, a song he recorded with Canadian country singer Carolyn Dawn Johnson. Proceeds from sales of the song raised more than half million dollars for the Canadian Cancer Society. Kissel, whose mother also battled cancer, sang the song as the crowd was hushed by a blanket of stillness and tears filled the eyes of almost everyone in attendance.

Another moment in the show in which Kissel opened himself up emotionally to the audience was when he played his hit song, Tough Times Don’t Last, Tough People Do.” He used the title from this 2016 song as the title of his drive-in concert series.

“Even though I wrote this song a few years ago for a different reason, I don’t think these lyrics could be any more true than they are today, and this year in 2020” Kissel said. “So for anybody out there who needs to hear this message, who’s going through a rough patch, let country music do what it’s always done. That’s heal. Let’s be in this together.”

After the Richmond shows, Kissel performed in Toronto and is scheduled to play in London, ON next week before returning to his family’s cattle ranch northeast of Edmonton. Although his tours were cancelled this year, Kissel said he is thankful for the time with his family and the slower pace of life that COVID-19 has brought upon him. He and his wife Cecilia have three children, four-year-old Mila, three-year-old Aria and 18-month-old Leo.

“I’ve missed a lot of time with my family over the past few years because I am on the rod so much,” he said in an interview before the show. “But being in quarantine with my family has let me take part in bath time and story time and bed time – something I wouldn’t have been able to do if I was touring. Being forced to shut down for a while has given our family some time together to create some special memories.”

And last weekend, Brett Kissel provided a lot of special memories for local music fans.