Small Town Girls' Friday night adventure - opening for Canadian Juno Award winner Brett Kissel in Barrie - can be summed up in just three words.
Best. Day. Ever.
The journey actually started more than a month ago for 14-year-old Cassie and 12-year-old twins Haley and Hannah Van Maele when they entered the Kick It With Kissel contest, an invitation to enter a video requesting a chance to open one of his Ice Snow & 30 Below shows on his tour of Ontario and Eastern Canada. On Dec. 19, the Ontario winners were announced and the three Langton sisters from Small Town Girls, along with Marshall Dane, were assigned as special guests to the Barrie show on Jan. 20.
Over the next month they practiced and perfected four songs for a 15 minute set - a three-song Johnny Cash medley (YouTube Link) and cover songs from Kacey Musgraves (YouTube Link), Ward Thomas (YouTube Link), and Kissel (YouTube Link).
Thursday morning the 'Small Town Girls Tour mini bus' aka the family minivan hit the road with mother and father Janice and Mike, and younger sister Chloe.
"Yeah, Thursday morning, very exciting," said Haley, beginning their tale, an experience the family shared together and will always remember.
"We decided to go shopping," said Cassie.
"Then we went swimming," said Hannah. "Then my feet got sore, so I started to cry. Then I went in one of those things that people drive in when they can't walk..."
"We didn't want to rush up there Friday, so we checked into Vaughan Mills," Janice noted, adding with a laugh, "That place is insane, I'll never go back there again."
"It was horrible!" Hannah agreed.
"There's like 100 stores," said Haley.
"Five miles long," Mike nodded.
Chloe needed something new, Cassie wanted a dress, and Haley found a hair piece as they added finishing touches to their concert wardrobes.
"They had a Lego store, that was pretty cool," said Hannah. "And I had a Cinnabon, it was delicious. When we got back to the hotel, Cassie said 'You know what, I think I like this dress."
"And we're like, 'what?!'" Haley groaned.
"The final decision-making, that's what it was," Mike smiled. "The final touches."
"Then we went swimming at the hotel," said Haley. "Then we watched Nashville."
"Nashville's our favourite TV show," Cassie nodded. "Every Thursday night."
"It's a country show, so what do you know?" Hannah smiled.
The Big Day
Friday, 'The Big Day' started early for the Van Maele family.
"The Big Day - we woke up and got our hair done," said Cassie.
"OK, The Big Day, I woke up at 7:30 in the morning," said Haley, continuing her narration.
"And mom wanted to go to Tim Hortons!" said Hannah.
"No, no, it was six," corrected Haley. "No, this is what happened, it was six in the morning. Mom woke me and Hannah up."
"I wanted coffee so bad," Janice laughed.
"She's like, 'Hannah, Haley, want to come to Tim Hortons with me? I need a coffee! And Hannah was like 'sure.'"
"No, that's not what happened," said Janice. "You chased me down to the lobby."
"I was half asleep when she asked," Haley admitted. "I'm like, 'where are you going?! You're not leaving me here with Chloe.' But then she left me there with Chloe.
"She brought us back cookies... and I accidentally ate Chloe's... hint, hint, she (Chloe) doesn't know about this."
"You... ate my cookie?" Chloe exclaimed.
"Then I ate two - I ate Cassie's," said Hannah.
"Then we had (hotel) waffles - they were disgusting," Haley declared.
"Haley," said Janice, "the hair...?"
"What? I'm getting there," Haley grinned. "Ok, so then we went to get our hair done. And that took about a good hour and a half."
"I got a pretty braid," said Hannah. "Mine only took like 45 minutes."
"Then, we were in the parking lot and we realized the girl's car was in our way..." Haley continued.
"Haley..." said Cassie.
"I know, I'm getting there," Haley nodded.
"Where are you getting?" Hannah laughed.
"So then we got back to the hotel... no, no, then we went back to the mall," said Haley. "And we got some cases for our stuff. Then we went back to our hotel, tried everything on, then we went over our songs."
"Then our family came, and we just talked," said Cassie.
"For about an hour," Haley nodded. "Then we talked to friends downstairs."
"Something like 25-30 family members and friends?" said Mike. "We took some family photos before we left."
"A lot," Haley nodded. "Then we were off to go to the theatre."
"No!" Chloe interjected. "Then we got to ride on that... thing."
"The thing you put your suitcases on," Cassie laughed, enjoying the memory.
"The luggage cart," Hannah nodded. "We stood on the luggage cart and Jason (Holbrook) pushed us. Haley was like, 'Farewell!' It was really funny."
"And then we were on our way," said Cassie.
"To the Georgian Theatre," said Haley.
"On the way there, I was live on Instagram @hannah_vanmaele ... just wanted to put that out there," said Hannah.
The 'Small Town Girls Tour mini bus' arrived in time for an interview.
"Alison and Darrin (Schott), they made us this beautiful video, and I started to cry," said Hannah.
"So did I," Cassie nodded.
"And then I wasn't nervous at all," said Hannah. "I knew it was them as soon as I heard it."
"I didn't cry," said Haley. "I guess I'm not that emotional."
"And didn't Randy Owen send you something too?" Mike asked.
"Oh yeah, and Randy Owen sent us something," all three girls said together.
"A video," said Cassie. "Then, Marshall Dane did his sound check and he sang daddy's favourite song, Fire Away."
"And then we started laughing during the interview," said Hannah.
"Your words cut like a razor," Haley sang. "Whenever we hear that song, one of us always has to say that."
"That's the best part of the song," Hannah laughed. "It's so awesome."
"Then it was our sound check," said Cassie.
Small Town Girls' sound check included Hit the Road Jack and their Johnny Cash 'mashup.'
"Then we went into our dressing room and we talked," said Haley.
"Then we went downstairs and we um, um, um, um..." said Chloe. "We went downstairs and he was there!"
"Me, Haley and Chloe (with Cassie not far behind) went downstairs to look for a bathroom," said Hannah, "and then I looked out at the stage to see what people were doing and I heard Kevin's voice - and then I saw Brett Kissel, because I knew what he sounded like. And I was like, 'oh my gosh, oh my gosh, Brett Kissel!' and we all started running up to the dressing room."
"Almost plowed me down," said Cassie.
"We just met Brett Kissel!" said Hannah. "And then we went back down to the stage to talk to him. And daddy was like spying on him."
"No I wasn't," Mike corrected. "I wasn't spying on him."
"Yes you were!" said Hannah. "After we were walking back to the dressing room, Brett Kissel saw us and said, 'So are these the Small Town Girls?"
"And I got to hold his dog, Charlie," said Cassie.
"And that was while he was signing my beautiful Canadian flag iPad case," said Hannah.
"No, he was signing my phone," said Haley. "See? I want to show you his autograph. And on Hannah's he wrote..."
"To Hannah, great performing with you," said Hannah. "From your friend, Brett Kissel."
"He said, 'how do I spell your name, frontwards or backwards?" Janice smiled.
"I'm like, 'doesn't matter to me!'" said Hannah.
"He was really funny," said Cassie. "Really cool."
"Yeah, he was nice," nodded Haley.
"He's way cuter in person," said Hannah. "Just sayin."
"He has really big hands..." Haley added. "I don't know... you go to shake his hand and it's like, 'what the?' He's not tall, but he has really big hands. That's a 'Fun Fact!'"
"You did say he was cute," Chloe noted.
"Next, we went back up to the dressing room," said Hannah.
"And then we all got ready for our show," said Cassie.
"Then the fiddle player..." said Janice. "Tyler Vollrath."
"Yeah!" all the girls exclaimed.
"Then we met the fiddle player," said Hannah. "He was awesome."
"I took this picture with him," said Haley, showing it on her cell.
"He was really cool too," Cassie nodded. "And he's really good - he plays so many instruments."
"He's the best," said Hannah.
"He's very nice," said Haley. "He has an Instagram account, I follow him."
"So do I," Cassie nodded.
"Seriously? I want to!" said Hannah.
JD Printing prepared posters for the merchandise table. Selling at $5 each, they made about $100, and will have Small Town Girls posters to sell at future venues.
"So then we go back into our change room, we talk to Canadian Beats for a little bit," said Haley.
"And we got all dressed up and ready," said Cassie.
"Then it was showtime," said Haley.
It was at that moment that nature struck... they needed to find a washroom, but had limited time.
"But we were fine," Cassie laughed.
"At 7:28 p.m.," Mike chuckled, noting the girls were scheduled to go on at 7:30.
"It wasn't 7:28," Hannah corrected. "It was like 7:15 and daddy wouldn't let us go..."
"You kept saying it all the way up to 7:29 I think," said Mike.
"There was no bathroom backstage for them," Janice noted.
"But it was fine," said Haley.
"Then we went on stage and we realized that you can't see anybody," said Cassie. "So it was really cool. Once you get on stage all your nerves go away.
"Yes we could," said Haley. "You could see like these two people."
"I could see five people in the front row," said Hannah.
"I could see two people, that was it," said Haley. "There was a lady in a green shirt, blonde hair, up to her shoulders."
"I remember that," Cassie laughed.
"And then there was a boy, he had short blonde hair," Haley added. "I think they may have been a couple. And he had a black shirt with a smiley face."
It was only afterwards they got to see the full crowd of about 690 people.
"At first daddy said there was like 1,200 people and then we found out there was only like 689," said Hannah.
"It was 681, to be exact," said Haley.
"It was really fun," said Cassie.
"It was very exciting," said Hannah.
"When we got on stage, we gave it our all," said Haley. "While we were playing we heard 'woohoo, woohoo.' It was just really fun."
After the Johnny Cash medley and Kacey Musgraves' Pageant Material, they launched into their newest song, a cover of Ward Thomas' Carry You Home.
"It was a nice song, it was just perfect for them," said Janice. "They just released it in December 2016."
"Everyone liked that one," said Hannah.
It took a couple weeks to get it right, said Cassie.
"I had it in a couple days, they did not."
"How nice of you," Haley laughed.
"Whatever," Hannah smiled. "It wasn't two weeks. Listen Cassie, you're not all perfect, so let's just be real."
"Let's say a couple days, then cleaned it up," said Mike.
Haley, on the mic Friday night, had only one minor miscue talking to the crowd.
"I messed up," said Haley. "I kind of like, sometimes, lose focus."
"She dazes off into the crowd," Hannah quipped.
"I don't know why actually," Haley smiled.
"Probably looking at the lady with the blonde hair and the green shirt," said Hannah.
After singing Carry You Home, there was a brief pause before their final song, Kissel's Canadian Kid.
"I had to tune my guitar," said Cassie. "Haley could talk, but..."
"Then it was 'YOU'RE DOING GREAT VAN MAELE!'" said Hannah, recalling a shout from the crowd.
"Cassie's best friend," Haley nodded.
"And everybody started cheering," said Cassie. "When I was done, then Haley talked."
"Ray Pichette, their Youth Minister, he was on the other side," said Janice. "He was like, 'YOU ROCK GIRLS!'"
"No, he was on the same side," said Haley. "Aunt Jill was on the other side (whistling).
After a quick washroom break, the girls watched the rest of Marshall Dane's 20 minute set, then Kissel, who stayed late to sign autographs after a two-hour set.
"After we got off the stage, we were exhausted," Haley added.
"Really? What are you talking about?" Hannah laughed.
"I wasn't," Cassie agreed.
"But then when Brett Kissel started singing I was all happy and jumpy again," said Haley. "It was amazing."
"3-2-1, I was so sad that he didn't do it," said Hannah. "And then he came back on and did it."
"Me and mom knew he was going to come back," said Cassie. "So we stayed (for the encore)."
"But then we saw him on the other side of the stage and gave him a high-five," said Hannah.
"Do you remember what he said?" said Mike.
"Yeah, he stopped his show to talk about us," said Haley.
"It brings up how things started for me when I was just a kid," Kissel told the sold out Georgian Theatre crowd. "And watching the Small Town Girls was very inspiring. Coming up here and just having the guts to perform like that, it's so special. And I think we might have just seen for the first time, The Dixie Chicks. You know what I mean? If you fast forward 10 years we're going to be watching them on the CCMAs or the Grammys. We're all going to be like 'yeah, we watched them there..."
"He's like these girls are the future Dixie Chicks and I'll be just washed up and be asking to open for them some day," Cassie laughed.
"So Brett Kissel finishes, we say hi, then we talk for a couple minutes," said Haley. "And he signs some more of our stuff. Then we were signing some of our stuff."
They had one more Kissel meet and greet with their friend Danielle, who brought her phone case to be signed by the Canadian Kid.
"I said, 'Danielle, maybe it'll be your lucky day, maybe you'll see him," said Haley.
Then they saw Kissel walking down stairs with a big bag.
"And then Danielle's just like..." said Haley, pausing. "Then she said, 'that's Brett Kissel!' Yeah, I know."
"And then Brett Kissel said 'yeah, these are where we keep the dead bodies when they have bad openings," Hannah laughed.
"And then Danielle's like, 'I just met Brett Kissel!'" Haley smiled. "Then she got her phone case signed."
The Small Town Girls already had autographs, but joined the queue to get more photos with Kissel - and photos with friends.
"We got to see him right after his gig too," said Mike.
"And he was all sweaty," Cassie laughed.
"It was gross," said Hannah.
Looking back on the whole Brett Kissel concert experience, they could each note something new they learned.
"I learned that... hmmm," said Hannah, continuing with a laugh, "I learned that you should never go in a hot tub when it's dirty."
Both Hannah and Haley had a great posts on Instagram that summed up the experience, said Mike.
"I learned that I belong on the stage," said Cassie, who had performed for the first time with her sisters in May 2016 at Langton's Relay for Life. "Because, now I'm not really afraid any more."
"I realize this is me and this is where I want our paths to lead," Haley wrote on Instagram.
"I learned that it's way funner to perform with your sisters than performing alone," she added.
"They also learned from Brett Kissel's sound engineer that these girls have better mic technique than most adults," noted Janice. "He posted that on Twitter and on Instagram."
"He has Instagram?" asked Hannah, identifying another potential social media contact.
"And Brett Kissel is very cool," said Haley. "And so is his violin person."
"I also learned that I need to start doing some more violin," said Hannah.
"Even though I don't really want to," she added under her breath. "It was very difficult, but the other guy said I should do it again, so..."
"She tried it (violin) for about seven months," Janice noted.
"It's very difficult," said Hannah. "Only once every other week because I want to do mandolin still."
Hannah is a bit more versatile with instruments, having skill in four, but Haley noted she'd also like to learn more.
"I play three," said Haley. "Guitar, the ukulele, and my vocals."
"Ooooo, the ukulele," Hannah laughed.
The fiddle, however, is the most challenging by consensus.
"Fiddle is like almost impossible," said Hannah.
"She (Hannah) couldn't keep up with the other two on guitar because they had been doing it for a year and a half," said Janice, "and she was doing piano for the first year and a half."
"I love piano," said Hannah.
The Small Town Girls already have a few gigs lined up in 2017, including a Feb. 25 show at the Tillsonburg Legion where Haley will open for the Cash Ultimate Tribute with Paul Anthony (8 p.m. - call the Legion 519-842-5281 for tickets), Wendall Ferguson, Steve Ruddick and Steve Petrie. MC is Randy Owen.
The sisters are scheduled to perform at The Doll House Showcase in London March 19, celebrating Canadian women in music at the Tabu Nightclub (6 p.m., 539 Richmond Street), a tip-based show for rising Canadian female musicians. The event is free to attend.
"Next we'll probably be in Kitchener," Cassie noted.
"And in March, Wasabi Beach (Wasaga)," said Hannah.
"I don't know if anything will come of that one," said Janice.
"Don't forget to put down our Instagram page (@smalltowngirlsmusic) so we can keep people updated," said Cassie, noting people can also watch their videos on YouTube (search for Small Town Girls) or follow them on twitter (@thesmalltwngrls).
"I imagine they're going to do most of the festivals they did last year again," said Mike.
What they really want to do this year, however, is develop their song writing.
"Haley's writing some stuff," said Janice, "but she needs to learn how to do it properly. We want somebody that can help them learn how to do it."
"I wrote something today... it's very bad though," said Haley.
"You can only do so much with cover songs," said Mike. "Eventually you have to do your own thing. But for them... 12 is very early."