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