One may not think of Stratford, Ontario as a place to rock out for a weekend but 'tis true my noble music lovers. With bustling venders and the best chip truck fries I've had, Perth County did us proud, playing host to some of Canada's finest musical talent.
Friday, September 8
Thanks to a wrong turn off the highway and a major accident, I had to sprint through the gates to catch one of my choice acts, Vancouver's Stabilo. Chris John and Jesse Dryfhout, two superbly talented singer/songwriters, along with Karl Willioume (bass) and Nathan Wylie (drums) got things rocking early. Blasting into their latest single "Kidding Ourselves", brought on cheers from the crowd of about 1000, not bad for a Friday afternoon. Although, Jesse's voice seemed a little strained, he persevered and got us all toe tapping with hands in the air for the popular "Everybody" and "Flawed Design". Chris's silky smooth upper register pipes were right on for the title track "Happiness and Disaster". These guys, without doubt, could have and should have engaged in a much longer set, seriously. If you haven't had the privilege to see these guys play a full gig, check them out at Lee's Palace on October 14, they won't disappoint.
To the satirical "Blame Canada" tune, Hedley's boisterous frontman, Jacob Hoggard, burst onto the stage and blew us away for a full forty-five minutes. Try as I might to despise all of his over the top stage theatrics, Jacob just has to flicker his boyish grin my way and all is forgiven. Yes, even the longer than necessary flash of the Hedley tattoo on his derriere is endurable because this guy is freakishly good at getting us to love him. Backed by Dave Rosin(guitar), Tommy Mac(bass) and Chris Crippin(drums), Hedley ripped through their hits, "321", "On My Own", "Street Fight", "Johnny Falls", "Trip" and a stripped down version of their latest single "Gunnin"÷brilliant.
As the crowd and anticipation grew, Sloan strutted on and rocked us 'till the sun set. This four piece from Halifax are as diverse in their look as they are in their tunes; having four singer/songwriters in one band may be confusing but it works for them. Don't ask me who sung what, it all sounded cohesive as they smashed through crowd favourites like, "Rest Of My Life", "Other Man", and "Good in Everyone". As sugary sweet as their music, guitarist, Chris Murphy, had an "oh so cute" moment, as he pulled up seven year old, Hillary Parson (daughter of concert organizer, Chris) up to sing with him. To her credit, this petite Pavarotti held her own and belted out the tune "Underwhelmed" with a little guidance from Murphy. Needless to say, Sloan will be invited back next year.
With the threat of rain looming in the air and lightning flashing across the sky, the audience roared as surprise guest, Divine Brown along with MC Saukrates, graced the stage in prelude to Nelly Furtado. Ms Brown didn't miss a beat as she greeted the crowd and left us all singing along to her hit "Old Skool Love". As Divine welcomed her friend Nelly, the perilous weather miraculously cleared and an ominous orange moon gleamed over the Canadian diva's performance. Nelly's solid bass brand of hip hop had her fans, of about 10 000, bumping and grinding to old favourites, "Turn off the Light", "I'm like a Bird", and "Powerless".
The band and dancers added all the groove needed to launch Furtado into a few new tracks from "Loose", her hit summer album. "Maneater", the latest single, is already a smash hit in Britain and judging from the crowd's reaction, Canada will soon follow. In true diva fashion, Nelly saved the best 'till last, performing this summers break out single, "Promiscuous", in the encore.
Cold and wind blown, everyone headed through the fields to their perspective abodes for much needed rest. There were, after all, two full days left of musical madness to conquer.
Saturday, September 9
At my noon awakening, the hustle and bustle of people hammering into town for one of the biggest shows in Stratford was everywhere. From the get go, there was a different vibe to this usually quaint Shakespearian city÷a little "hipper" feel. By 4pm, the festival parking field was packed with hipsters loading up for a day of reveling.
Bobnoxious, a heavy metal foursome from London, kicked the day off with their loud, lewd raunchy performance. Led by Bob J. Reid, the leather clad, fierce, twisted faced man with the voice to bout, the noxious ruled the stage. Even though their set ended with a pretty predictable, old fashioned metal guitar smash, the band still gets props for original, in your face, tunes.
Next up Controller, Controller, an eclectic five piece, fresh on the scene from Toronto. I'm not sure if this was the right venue for their cool wave sounds as they seemed to lose the crowd part way. That said, Nirmala Basnayake, offered up some refreshing vocals featuring some new music from Controller's latest CD "X-Amounts".
Preceding the Hip is not an easy task, as the pack is anxiously waiting for their band to take front stage; you best be prepared. Hawksley Workman came fully geared up to take on such a challenge. This Toronto musician of incredible velocity brought on his style of folk-pop with lyrical wit and musical flair. Workman's rich voice carries him through abrasive baritones to razor-sharp falsettos as he led his captives through his philosophical yet romantic set. The infusion of The Who's "Don't Get Fooled Again" in the middle of one of his best known love songs "Jealous of Your Cigarette", was dazzling. Brazen enough to pull out one of his new songs from his latest CD "Treeful of Starling", Workman got the job done.
After what seemed like an hour long wait and the masses easily growing to what looked like 30 000 but felt more like 100 000, Gordon Downie calmly strolled onto the platform. Sporting a squeaking clean "Glad Man" all white outfit, complete with a military kepi cap, Downie drew us into his obscure world for a full 90-minute set.
Offering up early favs like "New Orleans in Sinking", "Springtime in Vienna", "Wheat Kings" and "Gus the Polar Bear", the Hip through us back to the days of their earlier smoky club venues. Bandmates, Robby Baker(guitar), Paul Langlois(guitar, vocals), Gord Sinclair(bass, vocals) and Johnny Fay(drums), are used to seceding the spotlight to Downie's spastic but methodical stage moves Yet some of the best moments came from Baker and Langlois' blasting riffs in tandem with Downie's twists and flips. True to the Hip, there were numerous reverberations that spilled out of Downie, some audible, some lost in translation but no matter, it's the voice, pitching into falsetto regions that we commit to memory.
Leaving us with "Heaven is a Better Place Today" in the encore, The Tragically Hip left this picturesque theatre town transformed into a totally "hip" place, at least for a day.
Sunday, September 10
Sunday was an early afternoon start at the fest and the parking lot was noticeably sparse. I stuck around to catch a couple of Stratford's local performers, Dana Manning and Brittlestar but unfortunately I had to opt out of the rest of the day, which was being headlined by Bachman Cummings.
Manning's very cute, very folk, with a sticky sweet voice reminiscent of Jewel and the lyrics to match. Nice affair for a Sunday afternoon.
Brittlestar's, very odd, very rock, with cool synthesizer sounds and strong vocals. Their new CD "Secrets" just may be worth a listen, and maybe a trip to the Horseshoe next time they're in T.O.
For their second edition of this fest, Standing Ovation, despise all the line ups on day 2, put on an immense weekend that showcased stellar Canadian musicians.
Writer: Lisa Kerr