All music festivals should have dragonflies. It lends that beautiful edge to a festival – a shining note that you don’t get anywhere else. It was gorgeous outside for this year’s festival, and the breeze off Deer Lake helped cool down the diehards camped out in the sun in front of the main stage.
We had three stages to watch this year, with pairs of bands taking the two side stages and alternating with the main stage acts until Bettye Lavette brought everything back to the main stage for the evening. It was a great line-up throughout the day, with Blind Boy Paxton as the stand-out for me. He’s been playing since twelve, and at twenty-five he’s a virtuoso – playing banjo, violin, piano, and guitar. His music sounds like home to me, and he’s made a well-deserved name for himself.
Another thing you don’t get except at music festivals is the kids. And festival kids? They are cool. My folks brought me up while playing shows at places like the Indiana Fiddler’s Gathering, and it’s a great way to be introduced to music. The musicians brought theirs, and whole families came to see the shows. Before Wide Mouth Mason went on, we got to see Shaun Verreault’s young daughter playing on the drums – and she’s got a mean stick point. During Big Sugar’s set, there was a young girl of around eight dancing around in a glorious display of grooviness, finishing the last song with her doll held up in the air like a torch.
Dublin-born Imelda May kicked the style up a few dozen notches, bringing her classic rockabilly in a black and white dress with red accents and her trademark gold curl. She was back after a bit of a mishap last year where she jumped a fence and broke her ankle – then performed before heading off to get treated. She was excellent at working the sun-struck crowd – after a fairly lackluster chorus… “Oh my god, yous can be louder than that, I heard yous before.” It worked a treat.
I only caught a few songs from Wide Mouth Mason before I had to run down to make the photo call for the next stage, but they were in great form – super-relaxed and totally tight. I love watching musicians have fun with their playing and seeing that connection on stage. I’m a relatively new convert to Wide Mouth Mason, from Verreault’s solo show with Sit Down Servant a while back.
Bettye Lavette is playing her 50th anniversary tour this year, and she’s absolutely stunning. She put out her first record in 1962 at the age of sixteen, and finally got her big break in 2005. She thanked us for standing out in the sun – “I wouldn’t stand out there to watch Jesus walk on water, but it’s lovely to see your wonderful faces.”
She introduced “Heart of Gold”, saying she had done a Neil Young song just a few days after he did and it didn’t sell a copy. She hadn’t performed it since then because “I took all the things out of my set that didn’t sell, because I thought if you didn’t buy them… they weren’t any good. After 50 years of touring and 70 years of life, I no longer care what you think! We’re gradually putting all the songs back in.”
She ended with the namesake song off that 2005 breakthrough album, “I’ve Got My Own Hell to Raise”. Gorgeous, with an amazing sense of humour and a voice that took my breath away.
Last time Matt Anderson came to the festival, he was playing solo. This time, he brought the Mellotones, a full 9-piece band. He’s got an excellent voice, which he brought to bear on his own tunes like “My Last Day”, as well as on a classic Cocker-esque rendition of “With a Little Help From My Friends”.
He also had the best string-changing comment of the night when introducing “My Last Day,” – “If you give me a couple seconds, we’ll do the full six-string version.”
The Mellotones added a great sound, and “Ophelia” by The Band sounds awesome with the full group!
Big Sugar started with quite a few technical difficulties, but they soldiered on through them despite Gordie starting out the set with his mic turned down. Once they got through those, they played a rocking set to a dancing crowd.
I really like the addition of Wide Mouth Mason’s Shaun Verreault and Safwan Javed to Big Sugar when they’re playing together. It deepens the sound – Shaun’s vocals and Safwan’s percussion in particular really add a lot.
The concept of the medley was practically designed for bands like Big Sugar. With a back-catalogue from more than twenty years, it gives them a chance to bring in the old favourites without letting the set get taken over by them.
The show closed out with “All Hell for a Basement” and the traditional rocked-out version of “O, Canada” complete with Gordie finishing the song with the double-necked guitar behind his head, showing off the Canadian flag on the back of it.
There were no encores with such a heavily scheduled show (the emcee came out as they walked off!), so we all walked up the hill and out under the stars in the cool evening. It was a beautiful end to one hell of a day of music.
(Previously published at Bucketlist Music Reviews)