Home Concert review The Acoustic Harvest 25th anniversary show – June 3 at St. Paul’s...

The Acoustic Harvest 25th anniversary show – June 3 at St. Paul’s United Church, Toronto

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Sultans of String. Photo by Heather Kitching.

This first weekend of June was a weekend of roots music anniversary festivities in Toronto.

On June 4, we celebrated five years of Roots Music Canada at the Tranzac with MooseFest.

But the day before that, we marked the 25th anniversary of the Acoustic Harvest folk club with a concert at the club’s home venue of St. Paul’s United Church in Scarborough.

If MooseFest was mostly a showcase.of exciting emerging talent – with some old friends like Tannis Slimmon, Noah Zacharin and Ravi Naimpally’s So Long Seven joining us for the occasion, the Acoustic Harvest event was dominated by industry veterans, playing workshop-style with three or four artists in the round for each of three sets.

Set one featured Taivi, Sultans of String , Anne Walker and Alex Sinclair, who told everyone that folk singing is about giving people what they want, and he’d figured out that what we want is songs about heroes. With that, he broke into a number about William Hamilton Merrit, the guy who built the Welland Canal.

Ken Whiteley. Photo by Heather Kitching.

It’s debatable whether or not songs about heroes are really what we’re looking for, and certainly whether or not we care to celebrate “heroic business people” like Merrit. But I think one thing we all agreed on was that Alex’s second song was a stand-out – beautiful and stirring.

It was a brand new number, so I can’t tell you what it’s called. I can tell you that Alex told us he had traded it for a drawing, and that prompted Chris McKhool of Sultans of String to ask if he could draw Alex a picture in exchange for a song too.

Sultans, who have, in recent years, been promoting the heck out of their collaborations with Indigenous artists and musicians who are recent immigrants to the country, appeared in their humble trio formation for the show (Chris, Drew Birston and Kevin Laliberté) and proceeded to play the title track from their debut album, Luna, because it was also a song they played at their first ever Acoustic Harvest show.

At one point, Anne Walker joked about Sultans’ technical set-up noting that their pedal array looked “like the cockpit of a jet.”

I’d never heard Anne sing before, but goddam, what a voice she has. Much about her deep, resonant vocals and intimate, melancholy songs reminded me of Laura Smith.

Anne Walker. Photo by Heather Kitching.

And then there was Taivi, who knocked us all out with a new song drawing on her Ukrainian heritage, which she dedicated to “every piece of Ukranian DNA out there.”

Officially, she, Sultans, Anne and Alex were the only acts in the round that set, but it should be noted that James Gordon, Ken Whitley and David Woodhead were also onstage accompanying the others.

John Sheard, meanwhile, sat at the piano the entire evening accompanying all of his fellow musicians.

John got his official moment in the spotlight as part of the second round, which also featured James Gordon, Garnet Rogers and John Prince.

The music in this set was amazing, as you might imagine, but honestly, the talking might even have been better, as it gave us a chance to remember two giants of Canadian culture.

John Sheard. Photo by Heather Kitching.

The show took place just one day after the 40th anniversary of Stan Rogers’ passing, and Garnet was generous in sharing his reflections and remembrances of his brother.

He talked about the constant fights the two brothers engaged in, how Stan would fire him twice a week and Garnet would quit three times, how Stan was at once a boorish man, who once set fire to a car because it was double parked, and a sensitive soul who could capture the human heart like nobody else.

With that, Garnet sang a cover of “Turnaround,” noting that Stan had written it when he was just 18.

When it was John Sheard’s turn to play a number, he chose, as his first piece, a medly of Hollywood theme songs he had put together for a Stuart MacLean show, a show he was part of for around 20 years.
While telling the story of how the piece came about, he broke into Stuart’s voice, an impression so spot on that it felt as though he was merely chaneling Stuart through his body. After the show, I asked if I could pay him to read Stuart’s stories in that voice. It was trully uncanny.
Garnet Rogers. Photo by Heather Kitching.
Set three brought Ken Whitely and David Woodhead into the spotlight and also featured Mary Kelly and Russell deCarle.
Mary, who I had never before seen or heard of, was a revelation, a singer with an enormous voice and stage presence – perhaps accounting for her very successful acting career. I hadn’t heard of her because I don’t watch TV, but if I did, I doubtless would know her from her role on Schitt’s Creek.
David and Nancy Solway performed “Ghost Towns,” co-written with David’s Perth County Conspiracy bandmate Terry Jones, and the 1920s singalong “Who Broke The Lock on the Hen House Door.”
Ken got the audience singing along on “It’s Golden,” one of his signature closers, and before long, it was time for a real finalé, during which nearly all of the artists assembled got up on stage to sing.
It was a tremendous night of music, which also featured a pair of delicious anniversary cakes and a variety of other refreshments.
Happy Anniversary, Acoustic Harvest! And many more.
Correction: a previous version of this review left out David Woodhead’s contributions to the third set because Heather’s note-taking trailed off over the course of the evening, and she didn’t write the review until two weeks after the fact. She is still getting used to the effects of age on her memory. Our sincerest apologies to David.

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