Country in the Capital: Stephanie Brooks on heading down to the Hoedown

Country group Rascal Flatts closed the Capital Hoedown Saturday

Tens of thousands of cowboy-hatted, plaid-wearing fans filled the grounds of LeBreton Flats this weekend for the second annual Capital Hoedown.

People from all over the city and across the country, according to the Y101 host, traveled to the crowded venue to watch live music from artists like Carrie Underwood, Kenny Chesney, Miranda Lambert, Rascal Flatts, Sara Evans and Billy Currington, among others.

Chesney kicked off the festival with Thursday night’s show. Student and fan Andrew Retfalvi saw all the weekend’s acts and said, “hands down, Kenny and his band put on the best outdoor concert that Ottawa has seen in years.”

Two of country music’s most powerful ladies, Underwood and Lambert, rocked the stage on Friday night. 

Being one of the many honky-tonk-loving fans that attended this weekend, I donned my cowboy boots and headed out to the festival’s closing night on Saturday, where the headlining act, Rascal Flatts, were sure not to disappoint.

The Flatts hit LeBreton Flats playing a lot of their older, signature crowd favourites like “What Hurts the Most” and cover “Life is a Highway,” but mixed it up with songs off their new album and even a rock medley. “Summer Nights” and “Unstoppable” garnered huge cheers, but the lead vocalist, Gary LeVox, sang their new slow single, “I Won’t Let Go,” angelically and pitch-perfect. At one point during their set, member Jay DeMarcus commented on the diversity of the Canadian crowd and said “country music is clearly taking over the world.”

While the trio played another high-energy, fun Ottawa show, it was newcomer Justin Moore and powerhouse Sara Evans who shone onstage.

Moore played second in the evening’s lineup after The Keats, and instantly amplified the atmosphere with his recognizable twang and upbeat country anthems.

He had the crowd on their feet as he sang (not enough) of his latest hits like “Small Town USA,” “Flyin’ Down a Back Road” and “If Heaven Wasn’t So Far Away.” He connected to the crowd with ease on his first visit to Ottawa, getting a loud reaction when he asked the audience if it knew what a “hollar” is.

The Arkansas-native flew to the top of the charts in just the past year and gained a large following after touring with Brad Paisley. His popularity should have placed him further up in the lineup, but Easton Corbin took the stage after Moore and had fans in their lawn chairs singing along to his low-key acoustic tracks.

Sarah Evans wows the crowd with heartfelt vocals

Corbin left the limelight to seasoned professional Sara Evans, whose sweet and charming persona came through as she sang for 45 minutes. The sweetness in her voice was evident in songs like “I Could Not Ask For More” and “A Little Bit Stronger,” but the audience was thriving when she belted her oldie but goodie, “Suds in the Bucket.”

Having seen both Moore and Rascals in concert before, Evans pleasantly surprised me with her pure and sincere performance. If it’s any indication, I sang along to every lyric of her every song – much to the annoyance of my own audience around me, I’m sure.

Talented trio Rascal Flatts

The rain held off over the festival’s three-day stretch, and thankfully, the stage stayed intact. Overpriced (but delicious) lemonade kept many, including myself, hydrated in Saturday’s heat. The chaos that ensued as part of a busy outdoor gathering was inevitable, with incredible vendor station and bathroom lineups and mass exodus at the end of the night.

This Hoedown was amped up from last year’s show, where the biggest names were Alan Jackson, Dwight Yokam and Vince Gill, and held at the Rideau Carleton Raceway in the south-end. In the future, acts like Lady Antebellum, Eric Church, Jason Aldean or Zac Brown Band would have me back in a heartbeat, in the front row screaming “yeehaw!”

Needless to say, I can’t wait for next year. Let the countdown begin!

Thanks Stephanie! Next up on Ottawa’s music festival scene: Folkfest.