Canadian Music Week
March 7 - 10 2007
Celebrating 25 years of independent music, Roger's Wireless Canadian Music Week, featured some of Canada's finest undiscovered musical talent and a few surprise guest performances. Attracting music enthusiasts and industry folk from all four corners of the world, everyone was on the hunt for the next big thing.
Friday March 9
Making my way down to the Cadillac Lounge, located in the not-so-nice end of Queen St, I quickly found a public parking lot that was well lit and close to the venue. The Lounge may look a little scary from the street but once inside, its' friendly pub style atmosphere puts you at ease or maybe it's the cool leopard print wall paper. I was here to catch the opening act, a Montreal based bluegrass band called Little Birdie. As they started to play, I thought they were starting a bit early as it wasn't even 9:00pm and their songs seem to have an abrupt start and finish. By the time they were into the third short song, I realized we were just witnessing their sound check. The sounds of the applause after each song led me to believe that I was not the only one fooled. After working out the kinks, five musicians squeezed onto the tiny platform and led us through their ethereal set. With lyrics like "I fell in love with a man who didn't love me", "your broken heart" and "all alone, I think of you", they sounded more country-folk than bluesy. Lead singer/songwriter, Orit Shimoni, has the voice and timid stage presence of a young Margo Timmons of the Cowboy Junkies. Paired in perfect harmony with Andre Kirchhoff's soulful rich tones, Orit did have some stronger vocals in the more up beat track near the end their performance. "Farmer's Daughter" was probably their strongest song and featured Orit on the accordion and Andre on the harmonica. I had read that they usually have a fiddler accompany them which may have helped pull out a more bluegrass sound that I was hoping to hear.
Heading up the street to the Art Bar, I had to pop into the Gladstone Hotel to hear what all the buzz was about in the line up outside. Karaoke? People actually line up to hear wanna-be rockstars? As it turns out, the bar is more of a huge sing-a-long karaoke club, with words on a screen facing the masses to accompany (or in some cases drown out) the "singers" on stage. If you're ever tired on the same old bands playing the same old gigs, Friday night karaoke at the Gladstone may be just the place to lure out the hidden rock star in you.
Right next door, is the dimly lit, small intimate setting of the Art Bar; a perfect background for the singer/songwriter showcase. Billy the Kid, is a petite brunette with rocker tats, new wave short hair, alternative cool glasses and the most pure supple voice I heard all week. With only her guitar in hand, Billy gave us a too short set of her latest solo endeavors. She opted to plug in the guitar so as not to be over-powered by the karaoke madness adjacent to this room. Gently strumming her guitar, Billy shared her deeply personal writings like "it was the drugs girl"; "it'll all come back but you try to push it down" and the poignant song "The Accident". Even when she wasn't singing, Billy the Kid offered inspiring words; "Find your passion and make it happen." All of this is summoned up in the last song, "The Lost Cause", which details her own struggles in following her passion with "they call it a lost cause, I call it my reason for breathing". Prolific and incredibly talented, this is Billy's passion and she will make it happen. In fact, it's happening already.
Saturday March 10
The Drake hotel is easily one of the trendier spots on Queen St. with a rooftop patio, DJ and dancing on the main floor and live acts in the "Underground". I started with some dinner on the covered rooftop and headed to the "Underground" to hear a young solo artist. Kyle Riabko of Saskatoon may be young in years but he is definitely an old soul resurrected to entertain. Playing an acoustic set accompanied by his pal Lyle on a strange box-like bongo that he tapped with numerous gadgets he had on hand. Like most songwriters, Kyle writes about his life experiences and shares them in his music. Songs like "Do You Right" and 'What Did I Get Myself Into" from his latest, Before I Speak
, examines his past relationships. Unlike other artists in the same genre, Riabko rises above in his soulful performance, hammering out tunes on his guitar with vigor and throwing in bursts of killer falsettos. You can only be born with that kind of soul. This kid's raw talent was evident as he confessed "I feel like jamming" and ripped right into Michael Jackson's "Thriller". Incredible.
Leaving Queen St. and heading down the packed downtown streets, I had to hustle to make it to Healey's on Blue Jays Way. Whitfield, the quartet from Vancouver were already on stage when I arrived but I hadn't missed much. This band is well recognized is BC and have garnered some impressive awards like, Best Pop/Rock Band at the 2006 Independent Music Awards(International) and the People's Choice Award at Toronto's Indie Week. Maybe after experiencing such a stellar solo act, I just couldn't grasp what all the hype was about these guys. Sure, they put on good solid live show and they had the best stage and lighting of the evening, complete with just the right amount of dry ice. They played a few tracks like "Bright Lights" and "She Takes Me" off of their newest CD, Well Behaved and Working For You
, but I just wasn't buying it. Or maybe it was their tartish groupies swarming the front of the stage that turned my stomach and threw me off the music. They do have a certain cute appeal, especially lead singer Jobbie Mallet, originally from the UK, who still carries a strong accent that resonates in his vocals nicely.
I was curious to see who the special guest listed in the CMW's brochure would be tonight, when I was quickly informed by an overzealous fan, that it was Wide Mouth Mason's lead singer, Shawn Verreault. What a treat! Verreault's solo acoustic performance would prove to be the highlight of the CMWs for me. All eyes and ears were tuned into Shawn's explosive set as he assured everyone that "Wide Mouth Mason is still intact but we are not a musically monogamous band". Never have I witnessed such intense and creative guitar playing; Verreautl's fingers were all over as he strummed out bluesy rock tunes. Completely entertaining from start to finish, Shawn even through in some comedic relief with "a song about a relationship or if you were drowning and I threw you a towel and you'd be like 'what the heck is wrong with you?'".
Similar to what I witnessed earlier in the evening with Kyle Riabko, Verreault through it into high gear as he busted out an astronomical version of Prince's "When Doves Cry". Being a huge fan of whatever name or symbol Prince is going by these days, this was without a doubt the best of the best of the weekend.
Getting ready to wrap up the weekend, I headed back to the Royal York to catch the final gigs at Pipers, the hotel lounge bar. As Canadian Music Week was coming to an end, it was time to reflect on all the multi-talented artists showcased and the hopes of discovering a few gems in the mix.
I had such an opportunity as I was invited to listen to an impromptu solo acoustic performance. There were only a handful of us in attendance as singer/songwriter, Travis, of a band called Joshuas Habit serenaded us. This Calgary power trio performed earlier at Pipers and took part in the Radiostar National Songwriting competition, which they won (regionally) for "Pointing Fingers" penned by Trav. Completing the group are Eddy Whiskey (guitar/vocals) and The Gooch (drums). Spinning their disc, Wash The Filth, on my long drive home, secured it for me; this is my "gem" to watch.
For more on Joshua's Habit visit www.joshuashabit.com.