David McPherson’s NXNE RelfectionsFriday, June 27th, 2014
Canadian Musician contributor David McPherson took in parts of the 20th edition of North by Northeast (NXNE) during its run last week and offered up a brief review of what we saw. I can only imagine how great that Outlaws & Gunslingers show would have been…
The little music fest that grew and grew turned 20 this year. Leading up to the festival, some critiqued NXNE for “selling out” to major sponsors and branding entire venues such as The Budweiser House at The Legendary Horseshoe Tavern.
Despite the proliferation of corporate money, for this music lover, NXNE – two decades on – remains all about the songs. It’s about discovering new bands and songwriters; it’s about rediscovering some of your favourites; And, it’s about letting the music seep into your soul and sweating out all the small stuff that clouds our brains daily.
Here are a few of my highlights:
Thursday, June 19
Outlaws & Gunslingers at the ‘Shoe. An Americana lover’s dream showcase. Bottles of bud with Thursday Throwback prices of $3.25 and a slew of some of my favourite song slingers: how could you go wrong?
Hogtown ‘s NQ Arbuckle motored through fan faves (some came all the way from Ohio) and songs from their latest record, The Future Happens Anyway, released on Six Shooter last month.
Next, Tom Wilson joined his son’s band,Harlan Pepper, for some groovy tunes. Fresh off a recent gig in Scandinavia to the Horseshoe stage, Lindi Ortega – another Canadian songwriter now based in Music City – joined the band for a few numbers. They closed with a spirited take on the classic “Will the Circle Be Unbroken.”
Whitehorse kept these musical memories going, joined onstage by The Devin Cuddy Band and Blue Rodeo’s Jim Cuddy. Whitehorse previewed a couple of songs from its next disc scheduled for early 2015 and joined Cuddy in playing some Blue Rodeo tunes.
After midnight was Texan troubadour Alejandro Escovedo. Joined by Susan Voelz on violin, the alt-country trailblazer told tales of family vacations, therapy sessions, and most important, he played songs from the heart. A great night of music and unconventional collaborators at one of Toronto’s finest venues.
Saturday, June 21
Sipping a Cameron ale in the backroom of the Cameron House listening to K-W’s Americana queen Lynn Jackson and her band was the perfect start to Saturday night.
Jackson picked, strummed, and powered her way through many tunes from her various releases on Busted Flat Records. Hard to compete with Zeus playing on Cameron’s outdoor stage, but Jackson admirably made the most of her NXNE appearance. Despite a small crowd, she gained some new fans. Jackson even broke out of her “folkie shell” and sounded like Canada’s answer to Lucinda Williams. She sang with a voice as worn and whiskey soaked as the benches in the Cameron back bar.
Heading outside found a perfect elixir : a summer solstice show, complete with Steamwhistle in cans, by Zeus.
The night and my 2014 NXNE experience closed with a ramble past the Bud girls handing out T-shirts on Queen Street in front of the Horseshoe – where a queue formed a block long for Joel Plaskett – into the Rivoli.
At the Riv, The Golden Dogs gave a powerful rock punch to a packed room with highlight being a cover of Madonna’s “Holiday.” Last call for me was listening to half a set from Steeltown’s The Human Orchestra.
Two nights. Air guitar chords strummed and choruses sung. Until next year, adieu NXNE, 20 years young, corporate sellout or not, you still give this music scribe an excuse to hear some new tunes and support live music, which is always better.