The Irrelevant Show was also there to do a live taping, and the music was spread across two stages, the main stage by the lake and a smaller "garden" stage off to the side.
Some of the early music in the day included local up & coming Wake Owl and the winner of the CBC Music Searchlight competition for "best new band", Lauren Mann and the Fairly Odd Folk, but the first act that I caught was Vancouver's own Hannah Georgas on the main stage. The half-hour set ranged from "Shortie" which got people moving in the misty rain (one girl in the audience loudly proclaiming it was her jam) to the other end of the spectrum, the softer and touching "Ode to Mom". And as the set came to a close with "Waiting Game", Hannah's voice single-handedly beat back the clouds, and held off the precipitation for the majority of the day.
Next up on the main stage was the pride of Hamilton, with the well-earned reputation as one of the countries best live band, Arkells.
They teased their upcoming new album by leading off with a brand new song, "Come To Light", but aside from that and the slow-burning jam "Never Thought That This Would Happen" they stuck to older material.
"Oh, The Boss is Coming" had Max whip the crowd up with a singalong, and "Pulling Punches" featured an aces piano solo from Anthony Carone on keys.
And as is Arkells way, they slipped in some brief covers; a dash of Al Green in "Michigan Left", and part of Shad's "Rose Garden" during "Book Club" (specifically, the hook reminded Max of the weekend's weather: "There's gotta be some rain sometimes"). They invited a special guest on stage for a full-blown cover, Talking Head's "Psycho Killer" with Arkells fronted by Jian Ghomeshi.
Early on, lead singer Max Kerman mentioned it was their job, as an opening band, to pump the crowd up and that is exactly what they did, ending their explosive set with "Whistleblower"
The festival ran like clockwork, and almost immediately after Arkells ended, The Belle Game started on the Garden Stage. It was a change of pace from Arkells' high-tilt rock to their darker and moodier indiepop, but they still got people moving, starting off with the groovin' "Wasted Light".
The all-too short set included a new song, possibly called "Mess Around", which they have played a few times before and it has always amazed me, and of course Andrea Lo's powerful voice filled the park on songs like "River". They ended off as they usually do, getting people dancing with "Wait Up For You" building into a fantastic ending of duelling guitars.
Back again on the main stage, Searchlight winner Lauren Mann (who had "never played for this many people") was briefly out to perform her Searchlight winning song "I Lost Myself", before what was was essentially the debut of Dan Mangan + Blacksmith. Aside from a small UBC show, Dan hadn't played in his hometown in about a year and a half, and this was the unveiling of his new band, Blacksmith. The members were largely the same; the usual faces of Gord Grdina, Kenton Loewen, John Walsh, among others, but the new name signalled a new direction in his music, with the writing process being more collaborative.
And based on the new songs -- "Mouthpiece" and one I didn't catch the name of -- it is a great new direction. Both new songs were very intense, dense and layered, but still felt very "Mangan". It seemed like the natural progression for Dan, judging by the last couple albums.
While there were only couple brand new songs, the "new sound" was very much spread across their entire set, through the older songs. "Post-War Blues" started with a swell of instruments before the passionate song swelled to its explosive climax, and "Sold" was slowed to a calmer pace.
Part way through the set the band took a break for Dan to perform the heartbreaking "Basket" alone, and during the usual massive singalong to "Robots", he spotted a couple of girls with cardboard robot heads in the crowd and invited them on stage.
They wrapped up the set with "Rows of Houses" which built to a chaotic display that, once again, got me really excited about the sum of Dan Mangan + Blacksmith.
As his set wrapped up, Dan urged everyone to head over and see Chad VanGaalen, who was headlining the Garden Stage for the day. Of all the bands playing, I was most excited to see CVG, as I hadn't seen him live in a couple of years (and also I was interested to see how he would be in a big festival setting).
As Rich Terfry made his introduction, Chad played drums behind him before being joined by his two bandmates for the first song of the set, "Cut Off Your Hands" -- also the lead-off track to his new album Shrink Dust. "Where Are You?" was a little more bass-y than the album, and ended with CVG pulling out his saxophone for a jazz-influenced jam ending, before picking things up with a couple of more punk-ish songs. "Poisonous Heads" ending with Chad shushing the crowd and indicating for a bass solo... only for his bass player to decline and Chad take the bass and perform the solo himself.
Once again feeling way too short, he came to a close with "Hangman's Son" for yet another excellent set.
I could have left right there and it would have been a day to remember, but there were still a couple acts left. While I have have never really gotten in to Spoon, I had heard nothing but good things, so I made sure to stick around for them. And despite only knowing a couple songs -- "Don't You Evah" and the fun and bouncy "Underdog" -- they put on a very enjoyable set. Lead singer Britt Daniel had a great presence, and the whole band was incredibly tight. It definitely made me want to delve into their six-album history.
After a DJ set from Buck 65, Tegan & Sara took the stage, but I've never been much of a fan, and the rain had come back with a vengeance, so I decided to beat the inevitable rush of leaving traffic and take off early.
In all it was a fantastic festival -- I can't remember the last time I saw so many excellent sets in a row -- and I really hope CBC gets enough support to continue the festival every year, be it in Toronto, Vancouver, or if they decide to move it around the country.
Robotic, Somebody, Shortie, Enemies, The Deep End, Ode To Mom, Waiting Game.
Come To Light; Ballad of Hugo Chavez; Michigan Left; Never Thought That This Would Happen; Book Club; Oh, The Boss is Coming!; Kiss Cam; Pulling Punches; Psycho Killer [Talking Heads cover]; Whistleblower.
The Belle Game
Wasted Light, Keeps Me Up At Night, Little Wars (Causing Your Trouble), [new song], River, Wait Up For You.
Oh Fortune; About As Helpful As You Can Be Without Being Any Help At All; Mouthpiece; [new song]; Post-War Blues; Basket; Leaves, Trees, Forest; Robots; Sold; Rows of Houses.
Cut Off My Hands, Where Are You?, Burning Photographs, Poisonous Heads, Peace on the Rise, Hangman's Son.