Old Dominion stakes a claim on a new dominion

Hitmakers for the likes of Blake Shelton and Kenny Chesney are now writing for themselves


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Five songwriters who first got together in Nashville to test their own music have become the latest award-winning act to join the country-music caravan to Canada Life Centre.

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Five songwriters who first got together in Nashville to test their own music have become the latest award-winning act to join the country-music caravan to Canada Life Centre.

Old Dominion, who have been named the Country Music Association’s vocal group of the year for the last five years, take the stage at Winnipeg’s downtown arena on Saturday night.

Those early songwriting sessions and nightclub appearances showed the country-music power brokers that the group’s songwriters — Matthew Ramsey, Trevor Rosen, Brad Tursi, Geoff Sprung and Whit Sellers — have what it takes.

”Quite a long road to get to where we are,” Ramsey says. “It’s definitely something we’ve been thinking about on this tour, the size of the venues and our setlist is full of hit songs and we used to be playing to empty rooms with no hit songs at all. It’s really been quite the ride.”

Their songs quickly became hits for other artists, such as Say You Do, a Ramsey and Rosen co-write that Dierks Bentley turned into a hit in 2014; Sangria, a Blake Shelton No. 1 hit that Rosen had a songwriting hand in; and Save It For a Rainy Day, a Kenny Chesney hit in 2014 that Tursi says began with a melody he thought up while singing in the shower.

“Lots of new artists, when you’re up-and-coming, you have to play cover songs to keep fans interested in your show, and we were always able to lean on our songs we had written for other people to fill that spot,” Ramsey says. “We were playing covers but they were actually our songs.”

The success of those songs helped give Old Dominion a shot at performing their own tunes, and they found out tracks such as Break Up With Him, which went platinum in the U.S. and Canada in 2015; 2017’s No Such Thing as a Broken Heart; and 2019’s One Man Band, which reached the top 20 on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart and was the Academy of Country Music’s song of the year in 2020, could be just as popular when they sang them.

“We actually heard a lot of stories about that song being a good matchmaking song,” Ramsey says of Break Up With Him, which has a video that pays tribute to the concert scene in the movie Back to the Future. “Couples have come up to us a lot and said, ‘We’re together because of that song.’

“Sometimes you forget about that. Yyou make your music and put it out into the world and you don’t get to see first-hand how people can use that music to help them. It’s really a gift when people share what it means (to them).”

Old Dominion’s success, which kept on rolling in 2021 with their fourth album, Time, Tequila & Therapy, has led to a transformation from being behind-the-scenes hitmakers to performers on stages where the lights are brighter and the music is louder.

”It did take some time growing into it and realizing we had to own it,” Ramsey says. “We had spent so long trying to become successful songwriters, once it shifted into us being the artists, it was hard to shut off (the songwriting) part of our brain. No, all these songs are ours before they’re anyone else’s now.”

The group’s latest single is Memory Lane, which has a twist on the common metaphor about the good ol’ days: songwriters Ramsey, Rosen and Tursi, along with songwriter Jessie Jo Dillon imagine a house on a road called Memory Lane.

“If I could buy a house on Memory Lane / I wouldn’t have to wonder if you missed me the same,” Ramsey sings in the track that came out in January.

”The idea of putting your memories into the physical world, into some real estate, it was exciting to think about it that way,” he says.

The Canada Life Centre concert is part of Old Dominion’s entry into the touring world of hockey and basketball arenas. They’ve appeared at Dauphin’s Countryfest in 2019 and at the Club Regent Event Centre before but the larger stages of their No Bad Vibes Tour has been a big step up for the band.

They’ve been opening acts at arenas and football stadiums for country giants like Chesney, but in 2023, the onus is on Old Dominion to carry the show, which on Saturday also includes New Mexico singer-songwriter Frank Ray, Ontario’s Steven Lee Olsen and Vancouver artist Shawn Austin.

“I just need to work out a little more to have enough stamina to make it through the night without completely running out of gas,” says Ramsey, who does yoga and light weightlifting to keep himself fit. “You definitely have to keep your energy up to reach the people in the nosebleeds.”


Twitter: @AlanDSmall

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Alan Small

Alan Small

Alan Small has been a journalist at the Free Press for more than 22 years in a variety of roles, the latest being a reporter in the Arts and Life section.

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