Sam Roberts Band.
CBCMusic.ca Festival at Echo Beach, Saturday, May 25. Rating: NNN
The inaugural CBCMusic.ca Festival at Echo Beach was so well-documented, I wondered if I was really experiencing it first hand or if it had, in fact, already happened.
The 9-hour concert was streamed live on the CBCMusic.ca (formerly CBC Radio 3) site and audience members were encouraged to tweet about their experiences.
For those listening to the sold-out event at home, or ticketholders trying to decide when to show up, the CBC posted set times and even set lists - so fans could tune in or show up right in time for their favourite song. Though this made for an incredibly punctual music fest, it didn't leave much room for spontaneity.
Because it was being streamed and because the stages were so close together, there was only one performance at a time; this coupled with a mildly condescending "Rules For Festivalgoers" comic on the flipside of the schedule, gave the festival a mini-festival on training wheels vibe.
The carefully curated lineup covered a wide range of genres and geography (though it was a little Toronto heavy), and seemed designed to appeal to a broad audience. The CBCMusic.ca page tracks what people like, after all, and therefore can give it to them.
I arrived to the raucous country sounds of Corb Lund's band, the Hurtin' Albertans, and caught some of Aidan Knight's set as I looked for water (there was a bit of a water debacle as security made everyone dump their at the gates, and the only stuff available for free was water bottles at guest services - people were paying up to $8 for water elsewhere at the fest).
With Sloan's late-afternoon main-stage set the crowd started cheering and dancing in earnest; the 90s alt-rock power-pop heroes touched on songs from various albums throughout their 20-year career as red beach balls flew everywhere and temperatures reached T-shirt weather - a genuinely summery moment.
Elisapie - a Juno-award winning pop singer from Salluit (way northern Quebec) - impressed with her clear voice, relaxed stage presence and throat singing. Meanwhile, Kathleen Edwards got spunky and personal - at least in her between song banter - as she explained how her song Empty Threat was about following her vagina (she used various words for it) to America, where her then-boyfriend Justin Vernon lived.
Iceland's Of Monsters And Men have a huge Canadian following, judging by the gaping hole fans left in their wake after the band got off the stage. Yet despite their nationality, it sounded like formulaic, recognizable mainstream indie to me - nice boy-girl harmonies, less memorable melodies and a big, anthemic sound. That said, even I was moved at the end by the optics of snow flying everywhere and the band's dramatic finish; they took a photo of the crowd before the end.
After a tweener DJ set by Rich Terfry and a short speech by Jian Ghomeshi thanking the crowd for supporting independent and Canadian music and the CBC, Montreal's Sam Roberts Band came up to close out. The bearded rockers pulled off a series of songs about love and sex and dancing with swagger and flair (and some really great sax solos), Roberts delivering the most Canadian lyrics of the night by singing, "her soft brown hair is as long as the Canadian highway." Unfortunately, when he tried to go into the crowd, he could only go so far, as there was a fence about a meter away from the stage. The band encored with Don't Walk Away Eileen; a perfect end to the night.
With gourmet food trucks, a digital photo booth, and great sightlines of Toronto, the afternoon and evening felt festive though a little cool temperature-wise. If it hadn't been so self-consciously online, everyone could have let their hair down a little more.