Thursday, January 29, 2015

So Much Music So Little Time - In The Dead of Winter Festival part 2

Toss It All Away - Tomato/Tomato

In the Dead of Winter Festival

Saturday afternoon Brunch at the Company House

Familiarity certainly had some bearing into what events we chose to buy tickets for during this festival as although priced very reasonably, the dollar has to stretch far in my world. With that in mind, there was at least one familiar band on the must see list that dictated our movements. Except for the brunch performance. But $10 for a live performance that included brunch - you can't go wrong.

In this case, you couldn't go more right! Tomato/Tomato was the best and most innovative new band that I experienced throughout the entire IDOW festival. Pronounced Tom-a-toe Tom-ah-toe, this is a married duo hailing from New Brunswick. He (John) just plays guitar - that's not to diminish his talent at all but she (Lisa) plays the washboard, cymbal, drum and tambourine simultaneously. Have you ever tried to tap your head and rub your stomach at the same time? Try it - and when you have that mastered keep a steady beat marching in place. Now make one foot go double time. That's the energy that Lisa plays with, plus she sings. I don't know about you but I am in awe!
Their on-stage presence was fun and energetic and even with barely a square foot for a dancing floor, people got up and moved. Toe-tapping music is an understatement. But don't get so wrapped up in the performance that you miss the lyrics because they as quirky and fun and John and Lisa. Do yourself a favour and catch this band live! Next time you are feeling blue, listen to their music and feel your heart rate soar and the your smile broaden with each note.  

Saturday Songwriters Circle x2 at AlterEgo's Cafe

The Death Song - Mike Bochoff
song starts at 1:20 in Jeff's Musical Car

I had never been to a Songwriters Circle before so had no idea what to expect. I thought perhaps artists discussing how they dealt with the songwriting process. It didn't really matter because the event offered me a chance to see Devin Cuddy one more time and experience a few new artists as well. It turns out that this circle had three artists each and they took turns playing songs without their bands and yes we got some back story as well. 

First up was Amelia Curran. Amelia is a Juno award winner and one of the founding musician of the IDOW festival. Amelia has a comfortable presence on stage and makes the audience feel equally at ease with her strong melodic performance. I was thinking that there is something about her voice but I couldn't quite put my finger on it and then while I was writing this it hit me. It's the "Newfoundland Depth". So many singers from the rock have a depth and power to their voices. Alan Doyle, Sean McCann, Kim Stockwood to name a few. I don't know where it comes from - the cold winters? the salt air? the Screech? A combination of all or none of the above - it doesn't matter because it works. Amelia is a singer/songwriter who has a vast repertoire to select from, she took suggestions from the audience to play San Andreas Fault. An awesome choice, great song. 

Willie Stratton is a local musician who I am familiar with by name only. I have seen venues advertising the appearance of Willie Stratton and the Boarding Party and pegged the music as a rock-country style. I was not at all prepared for the intensity and energy that Willie brought to his music. There is a heavy beat that is punctuated by his boot stomping on the stage - this young man need to resurrect Stompin' Tom O'Connors board. He pushes the limit of his vocal chords with such passion that he is able to cover a wide of emotions with each song. Clear the clutter from the top of the speakers because it is gonna vibrate off and come crashing down. Sitting in the front row with Willie beating the same floor I was sitting on was like sitting in a vibrating chair. And I liked it. And I really liked his song Dartmouth

Pat LePoidevin was the final member of this first circle and was able to comfortably jest about the stark contrast in musical styles between Willie Strattons' hard strumming guitar and his own squeaky 4 string Ukulele. But Pat can hold his own and got heart rates back to normal with his own compositions. Yes, even a sing along of Highway House.

Devin Cuddy and his trusty side-kick the No No piano started of the second Songwriters Circle. If you have seen Devin perform you will understand the No No piano. If not, it's really a Nord Piano with some modifications. Creative and distinctive. Kind of like the artist himself. Tonight this is one artist who had to dig deep to stay awake and find the passion to share his music. The performance was still flawless and I loved hearing the back story on some of the songs he penned like Home and Why Me - which hasn't been on a recording yet. release in the works perhaps? 

A little musical chairs and Alana Yorke took her spot at the No No. With a little tongue in cheek, she moved the bench back to accommodate her long legs. FYI, Devin is probably a good 6" taller than her - that's why it was funny. I am so glad that we were treated to a repeat performance of Anthem which I love. Check out Dream Magic, Alana's debut album which was released about a week ago. 

Mike Bochoff was a new (to me) artist in this song circle. Without a guitar in hand this fellow could have been a comedian - at least if his lyrical compositions (and song choices) are any indication of a sense of humour. I like the folk and quirky feel of The Death Song which is NOT a cover of the Marilyn Manson song that shares the title. Mike reminds me of my friend Todd. Looks so serious but has a wicked sense of humour waiting to emerge. 

As a side note, only Rachel Ries and Mike Bochoff have any chance of vying for the title of Most Diverse Merch at this festival. Rachel had homemade jams and hand-stitched notebooks. Mike had coasters, growlers (big coasters), buttons, stickers etc etc. Of course all the artists had CD's, EP's, LP's for sale. I'm proud to say that my CD collection is growing. As Rube and Rake put EP is a beer to us! CHEERS!  

Please don't steal my pictures or my words. Thank you.

Alana Yorke and Ian Bent


Greg MacPherson

Andy Maize of the Skydiggers and me

Josh Finlayson of The Skydiggers and me

Pat LePoidevin

Andrew of  Rube and Rake

Josh of Rube and Rake
aka Alan Alda or Jake Gyllanhaal :)

Rachel Ries

Devin Cuddy of The Devin Cuddy Band

Zach Sutton of The Devin Cuddy Band

Devon Richardson and Nichol Robertson of The Devin Cuddy Band

Zach Sutton of The Devin Cuddy Band

Nichol Robertson of The Devin Cuddy Band

Devon Richardson of The Devin Cuddy Band

Devin Cuddy

The Devin Cuddy Band and me!

Lisa and John of Tomato/Tomato

1st Song Writers Circle
l-r: Pat LePoidevin, Willie Stratton, Amelia Curran

2nd Song Writers Circle
l-r: Devin Cuddy, Alana Yorke, Mike Bochoff

The poster I had signed by every artist I saw! 

In The Dead of Winter Festival
The Company House
AlterEgo's Cafe - facebook page
Amelia Curran
Willie Stratton and the Boarding Party
Pat LePoidevin
The Devin Cuddy Band
Alana Yorke
Mike Bochoff Band

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

So Much Music So Little Time - In The Dead of Winter Festival part 1

Hello Beautiful Life - The Skydiggers

In the Dead of Winter. 

It is my humble opinion that most people don't like winter because all they do is stand around and shiver. Maybe it was growing up in the nearly perma-frost city of Thunder Bay that did it, I don't know. But I can say that there are aspects of winter that I like. Snowball fights and lack of summer creepy crawlies being 2 of those things. 

Now there is a third thing I like about winter. That is the In The Dead Of Winter Festival (IDOW). Not only was this my first experience with this festival it was my first experience with any music festival. Yeah, I'm old...but better late than never, amiright? This particular festival celebrated it's 10th anniversary this year and boy was I glad I decided to be a part of it. 

This festival takes place in Halifax on the last weekend in January (the first weekend in February in Wakefield Quebec). It's not a big festival in that most of the venues are smaller in size but that is right up my alley. I go to concert not for the music but for the experience and the interaction of the musician with the audience. I like to be able to be close enough to see the fingers fly across the keyboard or make the tiny chord changes on the neck of a guitar. It's up close and personal and yes if at all possible I will be front and centre. Feel free to wear earplugs if you attend with me. If you want studio quality sound, stay home and buy Bose speakers. lol! 

I bought tickets for 4 events on the schedule. Some choices were based on band preferences but not all. If you bought tickets for one band you got 3 other bonus bands. Each act had about a 50 minute set, with the last headlining act taking a little more. Despite not knowing many of the bands previously, I chose not to YouTube the band before hand to get a feel for their style. I prefer to be surprised - and 99.9% of the time I am blown away. To be fair, some online videos are not of the greatest quality. 

My reviews are never based on the audience reaction, likes or dislikes of the band performance. I'm front and centre, it's rare that I look back to see if there is anyone behind me. Nor do I care. When the music starts, it's just me and the musicians - I'm entranced, nay hypnotized. All I can promise you is that if you like the style of music I write about you will probably like the artist. 

Thursday Night at the Bus Stop Theatre

This is a new venue for me, being on a well travelled commercial street, I didn't expect it to be a big place. I wasn't disappointed. We got there before the doors opened and tucked ourselves at a corner table where we could oversee the preparations but stay out of the way. The bartender washed the glasses to place near the water jug and sliced her lemons and limes before perching herself on the counter relaxing before the crowds arrived. Behind closed doors we could hear the tail end of the sound checks. 

Being second through the doors when they open give you a lot of options on seating choice. 7 giant "Mother May I" steps and we were at the front of the stage and there was our table. We sat across for each other and very quickly a single attendee (Darla) asked to join our table. The more the merrier, although it's unlikely that anyone would want to sit in the chair facing away from the stage. The object of Darla's musical passion was someone I was not familiar with but listening to her excitement for the performance and her willingness to attend alone spoke volumes to me. I once missed out on an awesome Meet and Greet opportunity because I was afraid to go alone. That'll never happen again!

First to take the stage was Alana Yorke. Alana is a singer-songwriter and musician that hails from Halifax. She has a clear voice that she uses to pull you into her stage-world. I thoroughly enjoyed the entire performance which was reminiscent of a 60's folk sound - but maybe the long locks flowing across the face as she played the keyboard that made me think of that...with a little Sarah McLachlan thrown in. In fact she treated us to a version of Sarah's Into The Fire that was as good as the original in a different way - more depth and body in the vocals. Like Red Red Wine, UB40 did it different than Neil Diamond and both were good despite their vast differences musically. Anthem can be found on Alana's debut release and is one of my favourite songs that she played. And for the record (if it matters to you) George Stromboulopoulos agrees as he premiered the song #1 on his Magnificent 7 list in November of 2014.

Well, if you thought you were gonna spend the rest of the night mellowing out with your glass of wine, forget it. Presenting Brinleigh! Gone was the electric guitar and in came a synthesizer. And if you were watching closely you may have noticed that the drummer from the previous act stepped up to take control of that synth - Sean MacGillivray wearing several hats. With the first notes my initial thought was a cross between Phoebe and Ross (from the Friends TV show). They had my attention! It was musically haunting and a little dark, but absolutely adorable when between songs Brinleigh paused to apologize to her mom in the audience for using an expletive in the previous song. I was really taken by the banter between songs which was almost apologetic. "Haunt Me is about missing a ghost, which is really weird." Perhaps the concept is but the song was great! 

Greg MacPherson is the artist our table-mate had come to see specifically, he was born in Sydney NS but makes his home in Winnipeg. Greg started his set by commending MacLeans magazine for an article that was published highlighting the maltreatment of Native Americans in the Winnipeg community, particularly the case of missing and murdered aboriginal women like Tina Fontaine. Greg had passion and gave us a good helping of it with his animated on-stage presence. The energy was infectious. I just couldn't get the phrase "like Neil Young on steroids" out of my head. Until that is, Greg sang "Some of us ain't got nobody and some of us don't see how much we have". Powerful!

I love the Skydiggers, one of the most under-rated bands in Canada. For that reason alone they are in good company for sure. I am continually blown away by the people I come across who don't know the Skydiggers. This band has been on the Canadian music scene for more than 20 years and almost everyone knows their song "I Will Give You Everything" when they hear it but don't make the artist connection. So I have been doing my part to educate the masses. I am thrilled when I can add another fan to the Skydigger family. Yeah Debra! 
For this performance, there was only Andy Maize and Josh Finlayson on stage - a more unplugged-type performance. And never were truer words spoken when after the first verse of Hello Beautiful Life Joshs' guitar went silent. The sound tech tried to fix the problem from the control board and when that didn't work, headed to the stage to fiddle with the wires. But by then, the duo had begun a true acoustic song. The interruption didn't even phase them, that song over they picked up on the previous song in second verse. Professional and seasoned performers!
There are a lot of musicians who can be quite animated on stage but I don't think that there is anyone quite like Andy Maize. He ripped a page out of the Chubby Checker performance book and turned it up a notch. With no guitar to hide behind or wires holding him still, that man does a twist that has his whole body in motion. He looks like he is enjoying can you not enjoy it too? 

Friday Night at the Company House

Home - The Devin Cuddy Band

The Company House is right across the street from the Bus Stop Theatre and although the bar is bigger the seating area is not. I love this place for its intimacy and friendly bar staff. The story behind the naming of the CoHo is as interesting as the venue itself.

Pat LePoidevin is one of the most unique performers I have ever encountered. Right from the moment he stepped on stage and took off his shoes, you knew it was going to be something different. Pat is a Canadian soul who can call all corners of the country his home, born in BC but having lived on both coasts and the far north of Yukon among other locales. His lyrics have that down home feel that celebrate this great country and his voice is strong and powerful enough to be heard coast to coast. With his clever use of the loop pedal, you quickly get the feel that there is more than just one man on stage giving his calves a work out as he reaches just a little higher by getting on his tippie-toes. Up and down wonder he takes his shoes off...he puts whole body into his music. I was actually watching his gymnastics on stage when I noticed he almost lassoed his beer - I was poised to jump up and save it, lol. No beer was spilled in course of this musical set. Pat used some serious creativity when he turned the ukulele strings toward his mouth and sing into it and recorded it using the loop pedal to accompany himself during his song You Know Your War. What a unique sound and technique to match the powerful lyrics of this song!  

Rube and Rake. With a name like that you know it's gonna be different. I don't know which one is Rube and which one is Rake, but I do know that Andrew played the acoustic guitar and a young Alan Alda (Josh) played the banjo. Guess I dated myself a bit when I told him that right down to the headgear he reminded me of Alda as a young surgeon in the M*A*S*H* tv show. He had to Google who it was. Damn I'm old, lol! He related a little more when the younger audience members brought up the Jake Gyllenhaal resemblance. 
This duo that call St. John's Newfoundland their home play a mellow, down home music that has the feel of traditional folk. Despite different instruments their sound is like one. Despite different people, their voice is like one. A Simon and Garfunkel only more pure. The sum of both parts equals magic. 

I am haunted by the music of Rachel Ries - in a good way. Rachel has a strong, clear voice that invites you into her world. Hailing from a Mennonite community, she joked that not only her dress but her stockings were not appreciated when she visited her family. She may have left the lifestyle but the lifestyle didn't leave her. Many of her songs have a depth that can come from the simple farming and religious creed. Her stage presence and comedic flair really make the show an enjoyable venture. Alternating between the keyboard and guitar she filled the venue with clear and poignant vocals and strong musical accompaniment. I can't even imagine the depth with her whole band behind her. In her words "Am I lost if it's where I choose to be?"

The main event tonight is a band I do my best to promote. I have been following them since their first full length release. I have written about them before and it's always a glowing review. They are The Devin Cuddy Band. They are amazing. You mention the band and the first thing that is asked is about the connection with Jim Cuddy of Blue Rodeo fame. Yes father and son, but the music is his own. As much as Devin looks much like Jim when he was a young man, the musical diversity is comparable. Don't go expecting to hear the Blue Rodeo sound or Blue Rodeo covers. The talent seeping out of the fingers of these 4 young men is mind-blowing and they aren't all related to famous musicians. They do it their way and it's a good thing. 
The most common response I hear from people that I have introduced to this band is surprise that they aren't more well known. The best I can suggest is that this band is not a Top 40/follow the trends kind of band. Radio play can do a lot for a musical career. Lord knows I have tried to get the local station CKUL 96.5 to add the Devin Cuddy Band to their rotation. With a tag line of singers and their songwriters it seems like a logical fit to me. Meanwhile one friend at a time is better than nothing. So share with someone you love and tell me I'm wrong. 
A review by Exclaim suggested that the band started off slow and weak with a tired performance. Having seen Devin on his home turf, I can sure see the fatigue in his eyes but when he sweeps his hair back at the end of the song and thanks the audience his eyes light up as bright as his smile. I sense the energy in that and feel the passion. And its not just Devin, it the whole band. With no set list to follow, the song choice is decided on the fly and every song is flawless. No one that I have ever seen on stage rivals the expressiveness of Zach Sutton on drums. What a treat to watch! One of my favourite songs is Dancin' which was not played this night but I find that it is an excellent showcase of the talents of the musicians collectively and individually. From Devin Richardsons' calm demeanour as he puts the Midas touch on the bass strings and adds depth to the vocals, to the magic that Nichol Robertson effortlessly coaxes from the electric guitar. 
There is a difference between playing an instrument and bringing an instrument to life. To play like that's all you were ever meant to do. When you play to the audience that has just been listening to an evening of calming folk-ish style music, you don't come in stomping and banging ease into it and showcase your broad spectrum of musical styles. At least that's my opinion. 

Part 2 includes more reviews and lots of pictures. 

In The Dead of Winter Festival
The Bus Stop Theatre
Alana Yorke
Greg MacPherson
Macleans Magazine - Tina Fontaine
The Skydiggers
The Company House
Pat LePoidevin
Rube and Rake
Rachel Ries
The Devin Cuddy Band
Blue Rodeo Music