By Andrew Horan
When Toronto hip-hop artist Shad took the stage to kick-off CBC Music Fest, he commented that, “it feels like summer”, even though the cool temperatures were better suited to early spring.
The new host of CBC’s q performed a competent set, saying he was going to treat his 30 minute time like a party. He played tracks from all his albums including a show-stopping final number that saw the audience clapping along to provide accompaniment.
Wandering over to the second stage, veteran children’s performer Fred Penner played songs about a favorite dessert, Saskatoon Berry pie, and injected a moment of seriousness talking about the growing gap between the rich and the poor.
Toronto-via-Nashville singer Lindi Ortega trotted out songs from her forthcoming new album, playing the vintage country she’s known for. Her phenomenal vocals were perfectly suited to the large stage, as was her engaging presence.
The Strumbellas played a fun and energetic set that saw keyboard player David Ritter soldiering on despite a cut on his finger. They even incorporated rap into their indie rock/alt-country songs, joking that they had invented it.
Tannika Charles had a cool retro R ‘n B/soul sound. Joel Plaskett, a staple on CBC radio, took to the stage to ‘Through & Through & Through’ and trotted out several songs from his new album The Park Avenue Sobriety Test. Plaskett was the consummate showman and made an appeal for the Khyber, the venue in Halifax he made famous with the Joel Plaskett Emergency album Down at the Khyber.
Choir! Choir! Choir! played an entertaining set on the second stage, performing choral versions of Blurs ‘Girls and Boys’, Rihanna’s ‘We Found Love’ and other hits.
Montreal’s Coeur de Pirate was the true highlight of the day. Taking to the stage to a very atmospheric number, Beatrice Martin and her bandmates performed songs in both English and French. Her music varied from light-hearted pop to heavier indie rock numbers.
The only downside was that the sound from Coeur de Pirate’s set bled into Halifax singer/songwriter Jenn Grant‘s second stage set. She took it in stride, saying she that husband/bandmate Daniel Ledwell were both fans. They were joined on stage by CBC radio host Rich Terfry, aka Buck 65, who guested on Grant’s current release Compostella for the track ‘Spades’. It was the pair’s first time performing the track live and they pulled it off beautifully, Terfry needing to refer to palmed lyrics aside.
When Bahamas’ Alfie Jurvanen performed ‘Southern Girl’, he admitted he hadn’t performed the song in quite some time. His set varied from indie rock to country-influenced numbers, including one song that used a pedal steel to great effect. Choir! Choir! Choir! joined him for one song and he even got the audience to sing a guitar solo.
After a short DJ set from Buck 65, headliner Patrick Watson took to the stage. Using lights that looked like something out of a retro sci-fi movie, it was perfectly suited to his orchestral and cinematic music. Varying between stark minimal songs and fleshed out ones, he held the thinning crowd spellbound. The temperature had plummeted by that point in the evening. He even commended the audience for sticking around during the two song encore.
Admittedly, Watson relies a little too heavily on the slow build but his incredibly engaging stage presence and powerful voice more than made up for it.