Brett Kissel Returns to Thunder Bay Community Auditorium

Story by Sidney Ulakovic, Photos by Emily Turner

It may have been a Monday night, but Brett Kissel made it feel like a Friday for the crowd that came to see him play the Thunder Bay Community Auditorium last night. If one thing’s proven to be true about Thunder Bay concert-goers, it’s that they love country music. As the Auditorium filled with people donning their finest plaid shirts and cowboy hats and boots, the crowd was ready to show opener Ben Chase, performing in Ontario for the first time, some love before giving Kissel and the band a warm welcome, already on their feet in anticipation before Kissel graced the stage. 

With six years between now and his last performance in Thunder Bay, Kissel made a point to tell the audience from the jump that tonight he was making up for lost time. The show kicked off with a high-energy performance of “We Were That Song,” and it certainly felt like absence had made the heart grow fonder for both Kissel and the crowd. Driving that sentiment home for the crowd was that there was no hiding just how much fun everyone was having onstage. Kissel was backed by a full band, including Brennan Wall and Xavier Leahy on guitar, Tyler Vollrath on the fiddle, Justin Kudding on bass, Brenden Waters on piano, and Spencer Cheyne on drums – all smiles from song to song and allowing moments for each member to showcase what they were capable of. At the halfway point, Kissel strategically pulled out his secret weapon: the banjo, to wild enthusiasm from the audience. This was a crowd that could really appreciate a little banjo interlude.  

Kissel never missed an opportunity to engage with the audience, with the excitement in the room growing each time he interacted with them. Many fans in the crowd made some noise to let Kissel know they had seen him before, and just as many newcomers got loud when Kissel asked who was here for the first time. Groups of young fans danced together throughout the set, singing along with all their energy for each song. Couples, both old and young, swayed along and sang each other the words to Kissel’s love songs. Children stood up in their chairs so they could take in everything onstage. Kissel worked the entire auditorium, from waving to fans up in the mezzanine to showing off his throw as propelled merch into the crowd. It didn’t matter where you were sitting, you were part of the action.  

As much as the evening was a good ol’ country party, there were some truly heartfelt moments, a standout being a fan near the stage shedding some tears during “Tough People Do,” which Kissel dedicated to his late grandparents. Kissel encouraged everyone to shine a light for someone they love, and the Auditorium lit up with the audience’s phone flashlights. 

Kissel’s two hour set wrapped up with a spirited double encore, with the highlight being some dual fiddle action from Vollrath and Leahy. With the show ending on such a lively note, I’m sure many people left really feeling like it was a Friday night.