For many of us the May long weekend signifies the unofficial beginning of summer. Summer – with its warm days and long nights, gathering with family and friends to enjoy good eats, fine weather and the great outdoors.
Q the music…
CBC Music and Live Nation had a recipe for success when they teamed up at Ontario Place’s RBC Echo Beach in Toronto on Saturday May 27th, to kick off the start of summer (and Festival season) with the CBC Music Festival.
This 1 day festival was packed with land and water activities (SUP, kayak), food and beverage vendors, a VR tent, a scavenger hunt and showcased 20 Canadian artists performing across 4 stages for 9 solid hours.
And perform they did, for large and small crowds alike – including an impromptu gig by Scott Hellman in the commons with an intimate gathering of lucky fans. There really was something for everyone to enjoy, as was proven by the number of families in attendance. The fact that kids under 12 were admitted for free wasn’t just a brilliant marketing maneuver.
The Kid Zone had a wide range of activities for the little people, including a Rock N’ Roll Hair Salon and Tattoo Parlour (of the washable variety), an instrument petting zoo, as well as their own stage shows – hosted by CBC Studio K’s ‘Cottonball’. The area in front of the Kid’s stage became very crowded in the hour before Walk Off The Earth swung by to hang out for a Q&A session. Many in attendance wondering “What kind of instruments do you play?” “What’s your favourite song?” and “Who’s your favourite Super Hero?” to which each member of this down to earth group took turns answering.
Before leaving the stage, they left their indelible mark on one tiny fan when they all agreed to sign her ukulele.
The first act to grace the Main Stage was an all-girl indie rock band called The Beaches, appropriately named for the Toronto neighbourhood they hail from. The smallish crowd that had gathered against the security fence surrounding the stage started growing from their very first electrified notes. Don’t let the idea of girl band confuse you, this wasn’t a Spice Girls performance; their sound was more Blondie meets The Runaways. Comprised of vocalist & bassist Jordan Miller, guitarist Kylie Miller, keyboardist Leandra Earl and Eliza Enman-McDaniel on the drums, these chicks know how to Rock N’ Roll and they brought it loud and hard! Performing a couple cover songs in between their own hits like “Little Pieces” and “Give it Up”, which is gaining radio play. This quartet quickly set the bar high for the rest of the day, and I’m sure gained more than a few new fans, myself included.
A wander past the food trucks and assorted market vendors was up next. It was a good thing too, because you couldn’t get near them later in the day. A sampling of pulpo, duck tacos, and curry fries filled the gap, washed down with a refreshing sudsy beverage. One nice thing about Echo Beach is that that the entire grounds are licensed, so attendees could wander from stage to stage with a can in hand, able to enjoy the music in person instead of relegated to far corner tent.
Needs sated, I detected a rhythmic hum filling the air, seeming to beckon me closer and drawing me in. It worked as I found myself standing outside the Tent Stage, catching a part of the Birds of Bellwoods set. These four young men from Toronto know how to bend the strings! Chris Blades on the electric guitar, Adrian Morningstar on the acoustic guitar, Steve Joffe on the Mandolin and Kintaro Akiyama on the upright bass (think cello). Their harmonies were smooth and I found myself wishing that I’d caught more than their last few songs. Definitely watch out for these up and coming talented musicians!
Back at the Main Stage we were treated to the stylings of William Prince. A phenomenal singer, songwriter, and storyteller, there’s a reason he was nominated for Aboriginal Artist of the year and won Juno for Contemporary Roots Album of the Year in 2017. His thought provoking lyrics and soft baritone voice were hauntingly beautiful. As people lounged on blankets around the stage soaking in the folk-country musical tales that were being sung, it seemed metaphorical of the ease with which William interacted with the gathered crowd, relating history and personal stories between songs. It’s hard to understand how we’ve not heard more from this Winnipeg native, but there is no doubt that we will be treated to future performances. In fact you can catch him for free at the NAC in Ottawa on July 13th at 6pm. Head to their website to secure free tickets.
I didn’t want to miss BROS over on the Q Stage, and arrived just in time to catch their introduction.
You may know them from a little group called The Sheepdogs, however if that’s what you were hoping to hear, then you might have been disappointed…. but not really. Ewan and Shamus Currie added a brass ensemble to their keyboard and guitar and turned the funk WAY UP. An initial gathering of mainly classic rock fans exploded into an all ages dance-athon. From the tiny toddler wigglin’ his way into inadvertent splits, to the would-be Willie Nelson, and every type of stripe in-between, BROS got the crowd moving, grooving and loving what they were offering up. And when they broke news of the passing of Gregg Allman and dedicated a song, it only put pause on the festive spirit out of reverential respect.
Heading back to the Main Stage where I would ultimately end up the rest of the evening; the upcoming entertainers being part of the draw, the massive growing crowd being the other. Staking out a spot close to the stage would have required a lawn chair, a bottomless bladder and an unwillingness to enjoy any other artist since The Beaches took the stage hours before. Scott Helman was up next, and the squeals of teen and tween girls rose as he began his set with a little ‘PDA’. Relegated to standing on a small strip of pavement leaning against the VIP area, we were entertained by many of Scott’s familiar radio tunes, including: ‘That Sweater’, ‘Kinda Komplicated’ and ‘21 days’ – my personal fave, but that’s likely more a result of it being a song about zombies, and love, or maybe zombie love… but I digress. Whether he’s of the school of thought that “no press is bad press”, or he was experiencing overwhelming excitement, the crowd responded with amusement when he strangely exclaimed “Keep stealing my music!” Then realization set in, and he recovered with …. “or pay for it, if you want!” Scott’s genuine love and appreciation of his family was particularly evident when he enthusiastically exclaimed “That’s my Grandpa!” as one of many video cameras covering the event panned to a shot of a very proud looking patriarch grinning ear to ear, projected upon the side stage big screens. Scott ended his set with the catchy tune ‘Bungalow’ which brought more than half of the attendees to their feet, dancing and applauding.
I made the unfortunate decision to get food before Ruth B took the stage. However as mentioned previously this would become a futile exercise which resulted in missing most of her set. Hungry and dejected I gave up my quest and returned just in time to catch her original song ‘Lost Boy’ which was thoroughly enjoyable.
Up next was the day’s first headliner, Walk Off The Earth. By this point the sun had started its descent in the western sky and Echo Beach lived up to its name. The crowd’s thunderous greeting of the band’s arrival on stage was only the beginning of one of the best live shows I’ve ever seen. Gathered with Whirley Tubes, and bells (and a back-up band) they opened the set with a recognizable YouTube cover of Adele’s ‘Hello’. They had the entire park on their feet from the moment they stepped on stage. Gianni, Sarah, Marshall, Joel and Mike Taylor aka Beard Guy, brought high energy and familiar tunes, of both original songs and covers, and were flawless in harmony and execution. Covering Ed Sheeran’s ‘Shape of you’ and Pharrell Williams ‘Happy’, the audience certainly was as we moved and danced along. They also delighted with a number of originals such as ‘Gang of Rhythm’, ‘Fire in my Soul’ and ‘Home we’ll go’ – a song written while on the road about missing Canada.
When the band asked for a song suggestion someone in the crowd yelled out ‘Queen’, to which Beard Guy agreed to play Bohemian Rhapsody on the piano as long as the audience sang along. It’s a good minute and a half into the song before I realized the other band members have disappeared from the stage, as myself and the other karaoke Kings and Queens in attendance belt out the lyrics. The rest of the band returned in time for the head banging guitar solo, and we all continued to jam out like it was one big backyard party. The night wouldn’t have been complete without a 5 peeps 1 (modified) guitar setup, and again the group delivered, playing Goyte’s ‘Someone that I used to know’, and morphing into snippets of a variety of familiar covers, including ‘Twist & Shout’. With beach balls flying through the air, the palpable feeling of inclusion, the pyro and glitter, the on stage Ninja fight during the ‘Tae kwon do’ song, the entire show was brilliant from beginning to end. As fireworks exploded overhead signifying the end of the set, WOTE walked off the stage and into the hearts of all in attendance.
Most of the families with young children headed out before the final act, but a couple of young girls camped out next to me told me they had waited all day to see their idol. Six time Juno award winner Serena Ryder took the stage and owned it for the remainder of the night. Opening with Stompa and like an implanted suggestion, the crowd got moving. The stage filled with lights and smoke, three guitarists including herself, drums, keyboard and two backup singers, she engaged the audience with her jazzy pop hit Electric Love. We were also treated to a song from her brand new Album ‘Utopia’ released just the day before. She returned to more familiar tunes such as ‘What I wouldn’t do’ before slowing the pace a little with a few songs like ‘Baby Come Back’ and ‘All for love’, which had the crowd swaying in unison. An intimate acoustic setting was created on a portion of the Main stage, complete with side table and night lamp, for which she asks the audience’s permission to continue. (Yes please! Do we mind?!) Serena’s song writing prowess speaks for itself, but to combine her powerful voice which conveys such emotion with gut wrenching lyrics can actually make one ‘Weak in the knees’; the performance of which had the crowd serenading her. Every phone in park swaying high overhead in her honour.
All in all the end of the night came too soon. So many Juno and various other award winners, many new up and coming acts, what an amazing way to showcase Canadian talent in a setting that is family friendly and that invites inclusion and participation. There were many other artists I didn’t get a chance to check out, but that gives me an excuse to return next year. I was blown away by the whole experience and would urge anyone that has any interest in music to check out the show. In fact you can catch highlights from the day, in a 1 hour special broadcast on CBC on Canada Day. For more information visit CBC Music Festival online