Leading up to the night, there was also a series of videos posted on Vancouver is Awesome of the bands joined by the kids of SJMA for a song (see them all on their Vimeo channel), and these were shows throughout the night between sets.
As there were almost a dozen acts, each had a short set of three acoustic songs, so I won't linger too long on each act.
Arriving just in time for the last song by Aaron Nazrul of The Boom Booms, he was joined by just about the whole band for a song about East Van, where they're from. It sounded pretty much what you'd expect from The Boom Booms; upbeat and energetic.
Next up was The Belle Game, starting off with "Sleep To Grow", including a fantastic ending with Andrew Lee on trumpet. Even stripped down acoustically, the band had a lush, rich sound that seemed to fit perfectly for a theatre venue like the Vogue; I would love to see them do a full set there sometime. They wrapped up their set with "Shoulders and Turns" with a good number of the other musicians coming out for percussion to end with a bang.
Rococode was next, their raucous sound translating acoustically very nicely (the use of the xylophone definitely helped out with that). The songs -- "Empire" especially -- were no less catchy, and "Dreams" possibly worked even better as an acoustic song, being much more haunting stripped down, and getting the crowd to sing along for the end of it.
Up next was the man of the night, David Vertesi himself. With just Andrew Rasmussen joining him on keys, he played some of the softer songs from his album; "All Night, All Night, All Night" and "Learn To Run", the latter building to an intensely emotional ending. He ended the set with a surprise guest, calling out Hannah Georgas to sing backups on "Mountainside", bringing up the energy a bit more to wrap up his set.
Ben, Tyler and Jacelyn of Said The Whale were up next, with Ben taking care of the vocals, since Tyler was still recovering from having his tonsils removed (seriously). Every year the band puts out a Christmas song or EP, and their set consisted solely of some of these Christmas songs, with the dreary "Puddleglum" being one of my favourites of the night. Even in a post-surgery haze, Tyler had pretty good energy, and Ben's great voice effortlessly filled the venue.
Wrapping up the first half of the night was Aidan Knight who started off with the most heartbreakingly beautiful song, "Margaret Downe", and even managed to break a string. At an acoustic show. After some of his usual hilarious banter -- a story about how his guitar got the name Burnt Reynolds -- and some deliberation, he played a brand new song and ended, of course, with "Jasper", bringing up all the kids on stage to sing with him.
At this point there was a short intermission, and then Adaline kicking off the second half. She had a bit of a auspicious start, as the keyboard she rented wasn't working, and the one they had been using all night wasn't ready. But she handled it like a champ, first encouraging the kids to continue on with music, then ready to sing a capella, with Robbie Driscoll on bass. Just as she started, though, they got the keyboard fixed and she was able to launch into her somewhat dark, sexy sound, starting with "The Noise" and then bringing out Laura Smith to help with background vocals for "Keep Me High", ending with her own Christmas song from the Light Organ compilation.
Next, Vince Vaccaro was out solo, armed with just his guitar. I've always found Vaccaro's music kind of hit or miss, personally, but I rather enjoyed his acoustic set, and I can't deny he is a pretty great performer. After his first song, he invited all the St James kids back on stage, and they helped out -- along with Ash from Hey Ocean and everyone's drummer Johnny Andrews -- for "Costa Rica" to wrap up his portion of the night.
Another surprise guest popped up between sets when Shad came out to fill the time before the next act with a couple freestyle verses, including his soliloquy from the end of "Live Forever"
Then it was the only non-Vancouver act, Michael Bernard Fitzgerald coming in from Calgary. After a new song, and teasing an upcoming album, he launched into "Movie Life", with a little but of "The Thong Song" (cleaned up a little, for the kids) slipped in at the end, and another new one with Vertesi -- and the kids back up on stage out to help out with singing. MBF is always incredibly fun to watch live, as he just exudes charisma, and you can't help but be charmed by him.
Zach Gray of The Zolas was the penultimate act, coming out with a couple new songs; "Strange Girl" and, after taking a survey of his own (which went about as conclusive as Aidan's) a brand new one called "Ancient Mars", which Zach described as a nerdy love song that he never played all the way through before. It had me at the first line, "I want to believe in time travel". He ended the set with everyone getting into "You're Too Cool", and some great singing along from the crowd.
And finally, wrapping up the night was Hey Ocean starting with a really cool version of "Big Blue Wave" -- which I may have liked even more than the full band version. They threw in their new Christmas song, which had the best intro; first Vertesi introduced in each instrument as they came in (including everyone's favourite holiday instrument: the keytar) and then brought out the awkward dancers, with the greatest dance moves of the year from Aidan Knight and Alex Andrew from the Belle Game. They wrapped it all up with the St James kids back on stage, and all other musicians as well, for a giant singalong to "Alley Ways", for a pretty great moment to end the night on.
It ended up being a four hour long night, but it hardly felt like it, as there was never a dull moment or a lull in the show. All the performers were top notch, and they kept the changeover times to a minimum, with the videos or the lovely emcees from The Peak keeping things running smoothly.
It would be cliché to call it a magical night, but there is hardly any better description, and I hope some variation of this turns into a yearly event.