Friday, July 26, 2013

Vancouver Folk Music Festival Day Two @ Jericho Beach Park -- 07/20/13

The second day of the 26th Annual Vancouver Folk Music Festival was packed, so let's just get right to it.
(See day one here)

It was a day of seeing workshops, and started off with one called Songwriters' Café featuring a score of Canadian talent. Led by Justin Rutledge, who was joined by Miranda Mulholland on the violin, it also included Hannah Georgas, joined by her guitar player Rob Tornroos; Kathleen Edwards, joined by Jim Bryson; and Del Barber, joined by... no one.
The best thing about the workshops is the collaboration that can happen, and there was a touch of that here; Kathleen and Jim joined in on Hannah's song "Robotic", helping on vocals. There were also a couple of cover songs, Hannah covering "Bye Bye Love", and oft-covered song made famous by The Everly Brothers, and Edwards with a sultry version of Nirvana's "All Apologies". I was also very impressed by Del Barber, who I had only heard a little of before the weekend. His good storytelling convinced me to check out his full set later in the afternoon.

I caught a bit of Reid Jamieson and his folky singer/songwriter fare, and later on in the day there was the Going Bi-Coastal workshop, with Charlottetown, PEI's Tim Chaisson and Mo Kenney from Waverley, Nova Scotia representing the east, and Vancouver's Hannah Georgas, and Victoria's Aidan Knight taking care of the west.
There was some nice collaborating in this workshop, Aidan and Hannah being familiar with each other at the folk fest, and Chaisson joined in a Mo Kenney song on his fiddle. Hannah also covered Sarah Harmer's "Coffee Stain" and as the workshop drew to an end, Aidan got everyone -- on stage and in the audience -- to join in to "Jasper", which was one of the highlights of the weekend, and Tim wrapped it up by pulling out his fiddle and evoking a good old fashioned east coast kitchen party.

From there it was off to Del Barber for his own set. Musically, he is a pretty good folk singer/songwriter with a bit of a country edge, but it's his charm and storytelling that put him above others. Introducing most songs with a story, and chatting with the crowd between -- and sometimes during -- songs. Even when he screwed up (something he would attribute to bad karma the next day) he covered effortlessly.
There was also a great song that was about Archie marrying Veronica (an even that happened in Archie comics a few years ago) which was my favourite of the set, and he ended with a cover of "Harvest Moon"
Del was one of my favourite "discoveries" of the festival, and I will have to make sure to catch him next time he is through Vancouver.

As the sun arced over Jericho Beach Park, I caught the first couple songs from The Wooden Sky, but they were having technical issues to start and the heat was starting to bear down, so it was off to the beer garden and catch Maria In The Shower in the background. I had heard a lot about the East Van band, but never seen them live. They put on a pretty fun set, and I'll have to catch them next time they put on a show.

Not long after that, the main stage started for the night, with Danny Michel and The Garifuna Collective. Danny recently went to Belize to record and be inspired, and he came back to Canada to do the festival circuit with them as his backing band. They traded off songs, with highlights being "Survivors Guilt" and the catchy "What Colour Are You?", and put on a very energetic and fun set.

And then, ending my day was Whitehorse. One of my most unexpectedly favourite shows of the year so far was when I saw them at the Commodore, so they were one of my most anticipated of the weekend.
Married couple Luke Doucet and Melissa McClelland are excellent musicians separately, but when put together, something magic happens. With only the two of them on stage, they have an array of instruments and looping pedals at their command, crafting each song from scratch, building them up one by one. Starting with "Killing Time Is Murder", the duo wowed the crowd, especially with Melissa's voice and Luke's guitar skills.
Aside from their own songs, they did a couple covers; a little bit of George Thorogood's "Who Do You Love" slipped in to "Radiator Blues" and a JJ Cale's "Crazy Mama" in the middle of the set. They also played each other's songs as well, including Luke's deliciously bitter "Broken" and Melissa's "Passenger 49", starting soft and then exploding part way through.
After what seemed like not nearly enough time, they wrapped up with the intense "Jane". They definitely didn't disappoint.

That was all for day two (there were other performers after Whitehorse, but I had to leave early). Day three would feature a couple more workshops and solo shows, and another one of my favourite festival discoveries.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Vancouver Folk Music Festival Day One @ Jericho Beach Park -- 07/19/13

For its 36th year, the Vancouver Folk Music Festival took over the shores of Jericho Beach Park to put on one of the biggest festivals around. I missed last year's festival, but the lineup this year was too enticing to pass up. With three days and over sixty artists, there was a lot to take in.

One thing, though, was a new layout to the main stage, which I didn't really like. Almost the entire field was designated as a "sitting area" with tarps and blankets covering the ground, but if you wanted to stand up, dance, or groove to the music, you were pushed off to the sides of the stage, fenced off. I understand why they did it, as I assume the people on the blankets did not want people standing in front of them, but it seemed to punish people who wanted to get up and move.

Anyway, I arrived at the beach just in time for Hannah Georgas to take the main stage. The hometown hero (she may be originally from Newmarket, Ontario, but we have appropriated her for ourselves) had previously been at the festival as part of the Malahat Revue with Aidan Knight, Said the Whale, and Jeremy Fisher, but this year the flame haired singer took the main stage on opening night.
As usual, Hannah was full of energy and had a great presence, starting off with "Waiting Game" building up to "Robotic" and a set of songs focusing mostly on her new, self titled album. Other highlights were a cover of Jesus & Mary Chain's "Just Like Honey" and the incredibly danceable "Shortie". She had a little help from her friend and former touring partner, Kathleen Edwards, for vocals on "Enemies" and the final song of the set, "The Deep End", as they brought the set to a grand ending.
It's always a pleasure seeing Hannah perform, and watching her on the main stage at the folk fest was especially a treat.

Next up after Hannah was Hayden. Even though he's been around for a couple decades I never really got into the Toronto troubadour, and maybe for that reason I didn't really connect with his set. Watching the first few songs, he seemed to have a low energy -- both in his music and his between song banter -- and while his songs were well written, they were a little too slow and melancholy. Perhaps if I stayed longer it would have picked up, but I took the opportunity to explore the festival grounds; the bazaar and vendors, and especially the beer garden and food trucks.

I made it back to the main stage for the "tweener", a short, stripped down set from Aidan Knight. He warmed up the crowd with three songs, including "Margaret Downe", one of the most heartbreaking songs.
Another tweener later on the night was Mo Kenney, whose few songs included "Deja Vu" and the recent SOCAN Songwriting Prize winning "Sucker". I hadn't seen her live before, so it was a nice teaser for her full set later in the weekend.

One of the people I was most looking forward to of the festival was Kathleen Edwards, and she was out next joined by Jim Bryson and Colin Cripps. She kicked things off with "Asking for Flowers", completely capturing the crowd's attention as the sun set over the mountains. Edwards has a phenomenal stage presence and energy, and just owns the stage. Going from her heartbreaking songs to her hilarious stage banter -- at one point stopping mid-song to jokingly tease the guy in front sprawled over five spots -- she had the entire park's attention.
A few highlights of the set included older songs like "Hockey Skates" and "I Make The Dough, You Get The Glory", as well as Hannah Georgas returning to the stage to help out with vocals on "Comedian/Chameleon".
Near the end of the set, Bryson took leave for Edwards and Cripps to duet of Kris Kristofferson's "Help Me Make It Through The Night" after Kathleen told the crowd about their past relationship -- they were married for five years -- and that it was his first show with her again in quite a while.
Sadly, it was then time to wrap it up as they closed out the set with the raw emotion of "Change the Sheets", as Kathleen conducting Jim & Colin to a powerful finish.

That was it for me on the first night, with great sets from Hannah and Kathleen. The next day would start bright and early with workshops from everyone seen today -- Georgas, Edwards, Knight, and Kenney -- as well as a few surprise discoveries, and another big highlight: Whitehorse on the main stage at night.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Keloha Festival @ Waterfront Park -- 07/05 - 07/07/13

On the sunny shores of the Okanagan lake in Kelowna BC, the Keloha Festival celebrated its second year. And what a celebration it was. From local heroes like The Matinée and The Zolas, to national favourites like Arkells and The Trews, to international headliners Mutemath, Matt and Kim, and MGMT, the Keloha lineup was the one I was looking forward to most out of all the "local" festivals this summer.
Day one: Friday

I arrived in Kelowna Friday just in time to catch the last couple songs from Yukon Blonde (thanks to a lack of signs and getting blocked out by a body of water and a fence trying to get into the festival). The band sounded great in their hometown, and were definitely a great way to start things off.

After getting settled in and getting the lay of the land; checking out the Island Stage in the middle of a lagoon and the Sandbar Stage right on the beach, and all the vendors in between, it was time for The Trews to take the stage. The Antigonish rockers started with the high energy "The Power of Positive Drinking" and hardly slowed down. They had the hillside crowd singing and clapping along, especially to songs like "Not Ready To Go" and one of my favourites, "Poor Ol' Broken Hearted Me". As they are wont to do, they also had a couple covers slipped in to songs, like U2's "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" in the middle of a new song "Lord, Keep Me In Mind".
After what seemed like not nearly enough time, they ended the set with "Hold Me In Your Arms" to thunderous applause, the crowd definitely revved up.

The night ended with Mutemath, who were the band I was most excited about. I hadn't seen them live in a few years, and was afraid I had hyped them up too much in my mind, but from the minute they hit the stage (and drummer Darren King wrapped his headphones around his head with electrical tape) and started into the title track of their most recent album Odd Soul, I knew I had been worrying for nothing.
The whole band had incredible energy, but especially lead singer Paul Meany. When not at the keyboard, or playing keytar, he would be right up at the barrier, leaning into the crowd singing. He even performed a few of his trademark "keyboard handstands".
Highlights of the set included the relatively-mellow & heartfelt "Noticed", and the explosive "Typical", as well as the grand finale, "Break The Same" which transitioned into "Quarantine" as an air mattress with lights around the side was thrown into the crowd, and Paul got on top to surf the crowd while singing. And as he got back on stage, they ended the set with another bombastic percussion breakdown, leaving the crowd spent and drained for a first night of Keloha that would be hard to top.

Day Two: Saturday

The second day started with a couple Vancouver bands on the Sandbar Stage. Rococode started off the day and were followed by Dear Rouge. Both put on strong sets, despite the early afternoon heat draining everyone's energy (okay, maybe just a certain blogger's energy) and both had a good, dancing-on-the-beach vibe.
(Dear Rouge would later put on an absolute rager at Doc Willoughby's with The Zolas as part of the After Party series)

Over on the Island Stage, Malibu Knights had a pretty generic rock sound, while Fields of Green tore it up for their hometown crowd; their high energy prog-rock sound continuing to grow and amaze me. I caught a bit of Gold and Youth but their dark and synthy sound would be better suited to a dimly lit and smokey venue, not a bright and sunny day.
I also was able to squeeze in a few songs from Shad on the beach stage, "Rose Garden" and "Ya, I Get It", where Shad jumped into the front of the crowd, before his DJ's laptop crashed, and he got the crowd to provide the percussion for the next song.

But I had to leave his set early to go catch The Zolas back at the Island Stage. The crowd was gathering and started to groove as they kicked off with "In Heaven" and "Knot In My Heart", the opening tracks to their most recent album Ancient Mars. As usual, the band had a strong stage presence and energy, especially Zach Gray, who is like a pot simmering over, always ready to erupt.
Most of the set focused on the new album, including the quirky "Observatory", but they also tossed in a couple older songs, like the fiery "Marlaina Kamikaze" and the passionate "You're Too Cool", which ended off the set.

Another one of the main bands I was there to see were up next, Arkells. Even though they had been at a festival the previous night in Toronto, they were advised not to miss this show, thanks to the setting alone, and they made sure to point out it was definitely worth it.
"On Paper" started off the set, with the band's energy through the roof, as usual. They are a fantastic and tight live band, and lead singer Max Kerman has an amazing and effortless stage presence. Highlights included "Oh, The Boss is Coming", which got the crowd yelling along, and they also dug into a little Motown that they save for special occasions with a cover of Jackson 5's "I Want You Back".
They wrapped up the set with one of my favourites, "John Lennon", and the raucous "Whistleblower".

Australia's Atlas Genius was up next, but while they were starting to amass a bigger crowd who were getting the dance party started, I thought their set felt a little flat. It was a pretty upbeat rock sound, and they were certainly very fine musicians, but a lot of the songs sounded pretty much the same and I just couldn't get into it.

And finally, wrapping up the second night was Matt and Kim. I had heard they were good live, but I had no idea just how nuts Matt Johnson on keys (and the odd sample, like the explosion he used to punctuate things) and Kim Schifino on drums (sometimes literally standing atop the drums to play, or clap, or "shake her booty") would be. They came right out with an incredible energy and fantastically likeable personalities to whip the crowd into a frenzy. They weren't just playing for the crowd, they wanted to party with them.
From throwing out balloons, to getting everyone to simultaneously jump, to Kim running atop the crowd to dance while people held her upright, both musicians were full of raw enthusiasm, which was absolutely contagious.
I wasn't too familiar with their music -- only recognizing the bouncy "Cameras" and "Daylight" -- which ended the set, but they definitely put on an amazing show and I wouldn't hesitate to see them again.

Day Three: Sunday

Unfortunately, I had to head back to reality early on Sunday, meaning I would miss MGMT, but I did manage to catch a few local favourites before departing.

I got there just in time for Maurice to take the Island Stage, joined by a couple familiar faces, including Andrew Rasmussen on keys and Stephanie Chatman on violin. Starting off the set with "Get Mad", JP has an effortless stage presence and fills his songs with raw emotion, and highlights included the undeniably catchy "Mistake" and the best song that deals with the repercussions of a threesome, "Robin".

Wake Owl was up next, and I'm not sure if it was where I was perched on the hill, but the sound wasn't too great; their rich and lush orchestral sound didn't seem to translate very well. They played some songs off their Wild Country EP, the eponymous song being a highlight, and a few new ones which were a bit more upbeat and jaunty.

At that point, The Matinée was supposed to be taking the Sandbar Stage on the beach, but they had a little bit of highway trouble and were still on their way, so they swapped with Saskatchewan grunge band One Bad Son who were pretty much an average and generic grunge band.

But The Matinée did manage to get there just in time for their new set on the Island Stage, and despite the ten hours of travel they had just endured, they still put on one heck of a set. Starting off, as they usually do, with "L'absinthe", they put boots to the ground and kicked things into high gear. They got people clapping along to "Sweet Water", which also featured a great banjo solo from Matt Rose, threw in their cover of Zeppelin's "Bron-Y-Aur Stomp", and wrapped it up with "The Road", with its top-notch percussion breakdown.

And with that, I had to head back. I was disappointed to leave, but not too sad of missing the rest of the day, as they were mostly artists I had seen or didn't have too much interest in, and the weekend was already packed with enough memorable moments to last a dozen festivals over.

If the lineup is even a fraction as good as this next year -- and if they keep the "After Party" series going, with smaller bands playing in small local venues -- I will be back to the Okanagan in a heartbeat.

Friday, July 5, 2013

We Are The City @ Vogue -- 07/04/13

Sometimes a lineup comes along that is almost too good to be true, which was the case for We Are The City's album release part. Celebrating their new album, Violet, they stacked the bill with local favourites for an incredible showcase of the city's talent.

Starting the night was an all-too-short set from the violin looping Hannah Epperson. She came out on stage, alone and barefoot, to create beautiful sonic soundscapes using masterful loops of nothing but her violin, sometimes plucking, sometimes tapping on it to get percussive beats.
A couple of the songs were just instrumental, but she added fragile yet captivating vocals to a new song, "Shadowless" and "We Will Host A Party", which ended the set.

After a short turnaround, Jordan Klassen took the stage, alone at first launching in to a song that started soft and tender before the band slowly joined him one by one and the song swelled to a rich ending. It's a formula that a lot of his songs follow, the quiet start with the slow build and climactic finale, and he pulls it off well.
Klassen also has a great energy on stage, full of enthusiasm with his pure joy infecting the audience, and he clearly has fun on stage; as demonstrated when he introduced his bandmates with a rap.
A few old members joined him for "The Horses Are Stuck", which was a very fitting song for a venue like the Vogue. "Sweet Chariot" started with a very impressive vocal display from Jordan and Jocelyn Price, and they wrapped up the set with another high energy ending on "Where Is Your Sound".

The last time I saw The Belle Game, I mused that the Vogue would be a perfect venue for their rich, dark, orchestral pop, and that was certainly the case. The six-piece was at their best, despite a brief microphone issue during "Blame Fiction", as they filled the room with huge songs like "Bruise To Ash", a bit of a sexy slow-jam, and Andrea Lo's incredibly powerful voice captured the crowd, most evident on "River".
The band had a strong energy and stage presence, too, including Katrina sharing a story, confessing their disastrous first show with We Are The City years ago.
They wrapped up the set, as they usually do, with "Wait Up For You", getting people moving and building to an intense ending.
It seems like The Belle Game has been a go-to "opening band" for a lot of local heavyweights recently, and they are always in danger of stealing the show. Soon enough, they'll be the ones headlining the Vogue.

That alone would have been a satisfying show, but of course we still had We Are The City to come. The stage was adorned with a couple video screens, linked to cameras perched on Cayne's keyboards and Andrew's drums, which they moved around throughout the set.
When they took the stage, they launched right into "Bottom Of The Lake", the first song on the new album, exploding with a cacophony of drums. Their dense sound was intricate and layered, creating a much bigger sound than should come from just three musicians.
With a mix of old and new songs, the trio went back to their debut album for "Time, Wasted" and the gorgeous "Astronomers", and played most of their High School EP. "Happy New Year" started only for Cayne to pause the band and urge everyone to "lose it", and restarted with the floor section around the stage jumping wildly, and the entire Vogue singing along.
The trio was in awe of the support of the fans, expressing how they were incredibly grateful to be there a few times, and they were feeding off their crowd's energy with their own amazing and intense energy, backing their gratitude.
Among the new songs, highlights were the emotion-filled "King David", the calm and hypnotic "Friends Hurt" -- during which Andy dove into the crowd to surf a little -- and "Baptism", a beautiful song that bursts into a massive ending.
And the ending seemed like a definitive one -- the band even choosing "Don't Dream It's Over" by Crowded House as the first song to play over the PA after they walked off stage -- but in what may have been a rare "actual encore", Cayne came back out alone to play one more song, "Mourning Song" after someone in the crowd shouted it out (unless he was calling for the similarly named "Morning Song")

We Are The City has been one of my favourite local bands since just about the first time I saw them live, when I knew they were going to be big, and it was incredible to see them perform in a venue like the Vogue. They've more than earned it.

Bottom Of The Lake; Legs Give Out; Get Happy; Time, Wasted; King David; That's It, That's All; Astronomers; An Angel in White; Happy New Year; Friends Hurt; Dark/Warm Air; Baptism. 
(encore) Mourning Song.