Canadian Musician Does the CBC Music Festival 2016Monday, May 30th, 2016
Canadian Musician writer Samantha Everts & photographer Mark Matusoff braved the sweltering heat on Saturday, May 28th, to take in the CBC Music Festival at Toronto’s Echo Beach. Check out Sam’s thoughts & Mark’s shots.
Outdoor festival season kicked off in Toronto in the most Canadian way with CBC Music Festival on Saturday, May 28 at Echo Beach. An all-star lineup led by Hey Rosetta!, New Pornographers, and Alvvays, promised a packed CanCon-themed day. The crowd was made up of 30-somethings sprawling across the beach, any shady areas, and a local food truck fair selling everything from vegan Bahn mi, gourmet burgers, and stacked smoked meat sammies to pickles on a stick. (Yeah, that was the actual name.)
The sun beat down as the first act of the day, Maestro, often called the Godfather of Canadian Hip-Hop, showed no signs of heat stress but reminded everyone that perhaps the Raptors stole a pair of games from the Cavs in the NBA Eastern Conference final because he was there to play the halftime show. A roar erupted at that as he launched “Conductin’ Thangs” as his last song on the main stage.
Tanya Tagaq hit the nail on the head as she told her audience that her style of throat-singing music is “really cold-weather music.” Regardless, she gave this writer goosebumps with her unique and intense sound. Unfortunately, she was without her regular female backing vocalist and had just a drummer and violinist so a dynamicism was missing. Because of the heat, she also hung back in the shady part of the stage so it wasn’t as interactive and compelling a performance as we’ve come to expect of this Polaris Prize winner.
Whitehorse was a surprise standout. While I had long been aware of them (and dance in my kitchen while CBC’s Tom Power praises the song “Downtown”), I was unaware that it was just the two artists looping all their music live. They debuted a Chuck Berry song, “Nadine,” from their new EP, The Northern South, comprised of reworked standards that will surely be on next week’s “Under the Covers” morning show segment. Just a fantastic energy, sound, and overall performance.
Young families took advantage of the free under-12 admittance and were treated to CBC Kids activities, their own performance tent, a screen printing workshop, and a rock-star hair salon (where they got their hair spiked or braids temporarily emboldened in brilliant colours). A true testament to how family-friendly this concert was, not once did this writer smell or see anything being smoked.
Ria Mae is a quickly-rising Joel Plaskett prodigy, and after missing her during Canadian Music Week, I was eager to check out her live show. It was just her and a drummer with her singing over a loop for her songs “Gold,” and “Clothes Off.” She had a dedicated audience up front singing the lyrics back to her. She’s got a real Serena Ryder vibe to her, and the buzz is legitimate, but she’d benefit from having a full backing band.
Tokyo Police Club delivered the standard strong performance expected of them, closing with an oldie, “Nature of the Experiment,” that had the crowd shouting the chorus back at the stage.
Now Zaki Ibrahim has been on my radar since the South African/Canadian R&B singer was nominated for the Polaris Prize in 2012. Sporting the coolest outfits of the day, Zaki and her two backing singers donned purple-galaxy clad leggings and purple and blue sparkly makeup to match. They were a pleasure to watch with their cool dance choreography and how Zaki played off of them. Zaki also let the crowd know a new album had just been completed and performed a few songs from it.
The crowd had grown considerably for Alvvays, with space at the front now at a premium. They closed out their set with “Archie, Marry Me,” and have grown stronger as a festival-worthy performer. A good chunk of the audience left after them. Between sets it was fun to play spot-the-CBC-host during the short walk between stages.
Being that it was a CBC event and all of the performances were being filmed to play on Canada Day, I had high hopes that Neko Case would join The New Pornographers. She wasn’t there but that didn’t stop the band from proving why they should be held in the same Canadian indie esteem as bands like Arcade Fire with their spectrum of hits like “Electric Version,” “Mass Romantic,” and “Champions of Red Wine,” that the crowd eagerly danced and sang along to.
CBC Radio 2 Drive host Rich Terfry played an all-Bowie/all-Prince DJ set before Hey Rosetta! took the stage to close out the day.
With the band cast in blue light for their first song, “Gold Teeth,” Hey Rosetta!, commanded the stage, covering a wide mix of their albums’ big songs like “Red Heart” and “Cathedral Bells.” In a touching tribute to Gord Downie, the band also performed The Tragically Hip’s “Ahead by a Century.”
This was a well-run festival and with the only complaint being the extreme heat, I’ll definitely be returning to the next edition of the CBC Music Festival in 2017.