Multi award winning, internationally renowned, Canadian Country Music Hall of Fame inductee Michelle Wright wrapped up her first concert since 2019 with a crowd cheering and calling for an encore at Leamington’s Seacliff Park Amphitheatre last Saturday. She obliged by performing her hit song “Shut Up and Kiss Me.” The cheering crowd might not have “shut up” but would have definitely kissed her if they could have, that’s how strong of a connection they felt to her. Wheatley native and country blues singer songwriter Ryan Bradley opened the concert. The show was part of the town’s Music OnThe42 Concert Series, hosted by the Municipality of Leamington and produced by The Bank Theatre.
Leamington Mayor Hilda MacDonald introduced Michelle to the crowd by asking, “why do we love country music?” She continued, “we love it because there’s so much emotion that we all connect with. Tonight we’ve got an awesome star here. She’s won a ton of awards, 40 awards, can you believe it? Junos, Diamond Jubilee, she travels all over the world representing Canada singing her wonderful music. We are so excited too because she is one of our own. I think that’s why we identify even a little bit more with her. She’s a local gal from Merlin, Ontario. Ladies and gentlemen, Navigator Records presents their recording artist, the beautiful, the lovely, the talented Michelle Wright.”
We agree with Mayor MacDonald that the local aspect was a great connecting point, and country music is filled with emotion that we all connect with but it takes gifted artists to ensure the connection is made with fans. Michelle Wright is unquestionably gifted at connecting with the audience in many ways and it showed. She charmed the crowd, not only with her captivating music and stage presence, but by interacting with them and sharing stories about her life and songs. Above all, despite her celebrity status she lacks arrogance, it’s Michelle’s gracious down to earth nature that makes people feel like she is a friend or family member they can easily connect with.
Michelle, now based in Nashville, was born and raised just outside of Chatham. She told the crowd “it’s a pretty awesome place to grow up. I have great memories of working the farm and working the fields. I also picked a few tomatoes in my day.” She asked the crowd, “is Leamington still the tomato capital of Canada?” Michelle said she was paid 25 cents per basket and she picked 100 baskets of tomatoes per day. One fan jokingly called her a slacker, which got a chuckle out of Michelle. Small town living and tomato picking was something many in Leamington were able to relate with her on.
Michelle’s gift to connect starts with a conscious effort to write and record songs that resonate with fans. During the concert she stated, “I like to write songs. On the one hand it drives me crazy because I’m not sure if I’m covering anything that anyone is going to care about. On the other hand I’m hoping you’re going to relate to what I’m writing about. So know that when I sit down to write a song, I’m always trying to find a way to connect to you.” With that said she went into performing “Another Good Day” which was quite fitting since as Michelle stated, “we drove in from Nashville last night, had no problems at the border crossing. Did all the right things with the COVID tests and all the documentation. John the promoter had some sandwiches for us at the hotel and some beers and wine. Then we got up to this beautiful day, so it is in fact another good day.”
Midway into performing “Another Good Day,” Michelle was happy to see the crowd holding their lit up phones swaying in the air. “Look at those lights boys,” she told her band, and “thank you, I love seeing your lights out there,” she told the audience.
Early in the concert a fan complimented Michelle’s singing to which she smiled, thanked him and explained, “Singing is the greatest thing I get to do.” She reminisced about how she just turned sixty on July 1st. “40 years you guys have let me be out here on the road. I turned 20 my first week on the road so I can always remember exactly how long it’s been and how wonderful this journey has been.” She shared that when she first signed with Arista Records in Nashville that she was presented with a song to record. Thanking fans for making it a number one hit, she delighted them with “Crank My Tractor.”
Audience member Susan Gignac also felt connected to Michelle. As she told Eyes On Windsor she has been a long time fan and fondly remembers meeting Michelle when she performed in Windsor at the Freedom Festival back in 2001. She proudly showed us a photo she was in with Michelle from that time.
Michelle’s humble and playful reaction to technical difficulties during the concert, as opposed to some stars who get annoyed and respond unkindly, is another attractive trait that allows her to connect with the audience. During the first few songs in her set there was some audio feedback which she jokingly mimicked and the spotlights were not working. After performing “What Love Looks Like,” she teased that if longtime guitarist Lee Warren didn’t get his spotlight that he would go back to where he came from, England. Seconds later Lee did a happy dance when a spotlight hit him. Michelle then pouted asking, “Lee you got a spotlight, what about me?” By the time Michelle performed her hit “What Love Looks Like,” she finally had a well deserved spotlight shining on her. She teased once more, saying, “Okay guys that’s too bright now, you can see my spanks.”
The final two “spotlight-less” songs Michelle performed went from the extreme of one of her oldest to one of her newest. “Rock Me Gently,” an Andy Kim cover that she recorded in Canada in 1987 is what she credits with leading to her signing with Arista in Nashville in 1989. “It changed my life and I’m forever thankful for that,” exclaimed Michelle. The other was a fabulous brand new song written with the help of her cousin from Tilbury called “Small Town.” Michelle actually had no plans of writing the song. In fact, she wanted to learn more about Cindy when they were hanging out so she could write a song about her. Instead, Cindy insisted on Michelle talking about herself and her life, which she hesitantly did. “I said well ok,” explained Michelle. “Cindy is like 25, she got me to write this song and I’m really glad that she did!” We look forward to the release of “Small Town” and judging from the audience reaction, when that happens, the spotlight will definitely shine on it. Notice that when she talked about those songs, and others throughout the concert, she came from a place of appreciation which is another trait that solidifies her connection to the audience.
With the spotlight on, Michelle performed the two tracks off her latest EP which include “Lovin’ This Day” and “Attitude is Everything.” She was excited to share that she recorded the songs with her guitarist and good friend Bob Funk. That is his real name as Michelle told the audience, and Funk is not only her guitarist but an established music producer and husband to Patricia Conroy. Michelle also announced that she is excited and proud to have Conroy join her in “the club.” Michelle was referring to the fact that Conroy will be inducted into the Canadian Country Music Hall of Fame this year. Michelle was inducted in 2011. Michelle’s humanity and show of love of her friends is yet another trait that allowed her to connect with fans in Leamington.
Oddly, even candidly admitting being forgetful at times, something that happens to the best of us, helped Michelle build rapport with the Leamington crowd. At one point while introducing her band she said she loved and missed her bass player, Sean Smith but quickly caught herself and joked by asking, “what is wrong with me? Shame on me, his name is Sean Power (Smith was a past member of her band). That’s called, menopause brain.”
One fan was calling out asking Michelle to perform “Now And Then.” She replied with, “I love you for asking but we haven’t played that song for years. How does that go again?” Michelle managed to remember and sing some of the lyrics but gave up. She once again joked with the audience, “I haven’t sung that song in so long. I’m standing here with my pants down a little bit, actually I’m having a hard time keeping them up. I lost a little COVID weight (since preparing to get back to touring). Thank God!”
About half way through the show, Michelle went from Country Music to performing the soulful sounds of Motown with a fun cover of Al Green’s number one hit, “Let’s Stay Together.” The crowd had as much fun as Michelle did dancing and singing along. Michelle reminisced with the audience of hearing the sounds of Motown on the airwaves of CKLW. “I was raised just across the border from Motown, The Motorcity, Detroit,” she explained. “The sounds of that Motown music, that soul music, it’s a part of me, it’s a part of my musical DNA, so I figure a little Al Green never hurt anybody.” In addition, she performed another soulful cover. Back when Michelle was with Arista, along with Alan Jackson, Diamond Rio and many other of her record label mates, she contributed to a gospel record. The song she chose to record was none other than The Impressions 1965 hit, “People Get Ready.” Motown and soul music, that those living in Canada across the border from Detroit grew up with, was just one more facet of the Leamington crowd connecting with Michelle.
The evening continued with fan favourite hits including “The Answer is Yes,” which peaked at #4 in Canada in 1996. The 1994 #1 hit “Guitar Talk.” The very sassy “My Give A Damn’s Busted,” which Michelle says was one of her favourites to record. Her 1994 Juno Nominated Single of the Year, “He Would Be Sixteen,” which crossed over to the American Country Charts, and one that, as Michelle says, “changed this little Canadian girl’s life and is very special to a lot of people out there.” Most touching was her performance of “Strong” because she dedicated it to her mother who recently passed away. Michelle told the audience, “she taught me how to work hard and just love people and not be afraid to go after my dreams and imagine success in my life.” Choking up on the last few words, she said, “I know she’s with me always.”
The band’s huge set ended with “Take It Like A Man,” her highest charting song in the U.S. peaking at #10, a feat no other Canadian female artist before had ever pulled off. The crowd loved it and sang the chorus as Michelle held the mic out to them. The audience cheered and called for an encore.
The band returned to the stage and Michelle said, “okay twist my arm, stay up on your feet so you can dance with me.” The connection between Michelle and the audience was evident as she performed, “Shut Up And Kiss Me (Or Shut Up),” with everyone, including the band, smiling and dancing away.
For more about Michelle Wright visit https://www.michelle-wright.com/
The Bank Theatre President and emcee for the evening, Corey Robertson, was all smiles when Michelle returned for the encore. Moments before he was on stage saying,” I’m not ready to go home yet, it’s been 19 months without live music, what do you say?” His words had the crowd chanting and cheering even more for an encore. In addition, Robertson encouraged the audience to check out the amazing entertainment coming to The Bank Theatre including productions of My Friend Irma and A Christmas Story.
For more about upcoming entertainment at The Bank Theatre visit https://banktheatre.com/
Ryan Bradely opened the show thrilling the audience with his unique bluesy delivery of country music. Several of this Wheatley native’s songs, 4 or 5 as he told the crowd, have made it to Canadian Country Radio. A couple of his songs made the charts and the audience loved the second last song in his set called, “Next Weekend.” It was, as Bradley said, “one of my best singles when it comes to chart position.” He left the audience with a fantastically performed cover of one of his favourite songs, Jamey Johnson’s “In Color.”