Country Thunder: Final night a rolling success

Terri Clark performs on the third day of the Country Thunder music festival, held at Prairie Winds Park in Calgary Saturday, August 17, 2019. Dean Pilling/Postmedia Dean Piling/Postmedia

Share Adjust Comment Print

It was a bad marriage that turned into a good song.

That was the way Terri Clark of Medicine Hat shared the backstory to her breakthrough song If I Were You, on the mainstage at Country Thunder Alberta Sunday, where Clark was one of the stars of the festival.

His name was Ted. They married at 21, three years after Clark left Medicine Hat for Nashville, where she went to live her country music dream.

“I wanted to be a country singer so bad,” she told the huge, hot, happy and liquored up crowd of around 17,000 that bathed in the sun on the final day of Country Thunder, featuring a closing night lineup headlined by Jason Aldean and featuring Jimmie Allen.

“I wanted to be Reba,” she said.

If there was a theme blowing through Prairie Winds Park Sunday, it was about maintaining your resilience in the face of a pile of rejection slips.

Clark spent eight years shuttling between Nashville and Medicine Hat, working at Tootsie’s for tips, selling boots and bartending. She auditioned for and was rejected by every label, until Mercury auditioned her in 1994 and she performed If I Were You — the song chronicling the breakdown of her marriage to Ted — and the next day, she got a phone call.

“How would you like to be a recording artist with Mercury Nashville?” they asked.

Clark’s set hearkened back to the 90s, with tunes like Emotional Girl, Three Mississippi and Northern Girl, her homage to Alberta, even if ‘homage’ sounds a bit fancy.

Recently, If I Were You was certified as having received one million airplays. (“Bottom line, If I Were You paid for the divorce from Ted,” Clark said.)

On One Drink Ago, Clark was joined by Dallas Smith for a duet that brought the two singers out onto the thrust stage, and they lit the park up.

When she wanted to slow things down, she was never better than on her single from her new album, Raising the Bar, where she sang a tune called Young As We Are Tonight by David Lee Murphy.

Clark was followed by country superstar Jason Aldean, who immediately turned up velocity of the festival in all the best ways.

“The way I figure it, you guys bought a ticket to hear me sing, not talk,” he said.”Plus, a lot of shows these days are full of choreographed dance moves.

“I don’t do that sh– either,” he added.

“What I do is throw one hell of a party,” he said. “So let’s go!” He then cut into a searing rendition of Crazy Town, a countrified ode to L.A. filled with ragged, searing guitar solos and Aldean’s gritty growl of a voice.

Throw all that guitar and growl into the mix with spectacular cinematography — it was magic hour when Aldean took the stage, and the big screen images on either side of the stage could have been nominated for an Academy Award — and you got a closing night party to remember.

The party actually started early in the evening, with Jimmie Allen, who has broken out in Nashville in the last 18 months, thanks to songs like Best Shot, a mid-tempo ballad that rose to No. 1 on the country charts in 2018.

Allen — who has survived a heart attack (at 21!), performed in a Taylor Swift video, worked the all-night shift at Walmart and spent a spell living in his car in Nashville — was an electrifying presence on the Country Thunder mainstage.

He sang some songs — including Shallow, the Oscar-winning ballad from Lady Gaga —  and closed with Underdog, with an added bonus: an a cappella O Canada, that got all 17,000 people in the audience up on their feet, hats off, and singing along.

The best moment of the festival may have been when Allen — who went 10 years between arriving in Nashville and landing his first record deal — flanked by security and a cameraman, left the stage, and set out into the crowd where he high-fived his way all the way to the hill that overlooks the mainstage, which was filled with sun-splashed fans.

“I told you I was gonna come to the hill!” he shouted, and the crowd returned his effort with a huge roar.

Over on the other side of the hill, at the Alberta Stage, there were glimpses of the sort of songwriting talent that Calgary’s country music scene continues to produce, with a pair of songwriter circles hosted by JJ Shiplett, and Kailey Bird.

At the act I caught, Michaela Sheedy, Joni Delaurier and Troy Kokol performed a few of their tunes, like Pickup Truck, the hit penned by Delaurier and Kokol that Shane Yellowbird recorded.

It was a lot less party than the one Aldean, Clark, and Allen were throwing on the mainstage, but in their quiet, detailed way, the songwriters threw out a few gems of their own.

You never know … they might be one bad marriage and one good song away from a hit.