1 p.m. – After starting my day by catching the last bit of the No Music on a Dead Planet workshop, I head to the queer folkies peer group – not something I’ve ever participated in before, if in fact it existed before. Honestly, at one point, I feel myself choking up with the sheer joy and relief of being in queer space again. I live in a small city these days, and I work in a profession (journalism) that severely curtails its participants ability to connect to the political heart of the marginalized communities they come from. I’ve been trying to figure out how to create queer space again, and now here I am in it. What did we talk about? I dunno. The desire for more of this, the desire to support fellow queer artists, the question of how out to be and how to balance the desire to be authentic with the desire to avoid being pigeonholed. Really, it doesn’t matter. We were together, and it was great.
1:30 p.m. – Rebecca Hawker tells the audience that she doesn’t want to put too much pressure on her next song but it always makes people cry. It’s about the sudden death of her mother, she explains. I doesn’t make me cry but it does leave me with a positive impression of Rebecca’s songwriting chops as she finishes her showcase and leaves the stage.
Senaya opens her set with a beautiful soulful folky number tinged with African guitar riffs and gradually builds the energy of her set until suddenly, dancing doesn’t seem like a crazy idea. I don’t. But I could. Her eclectic sound features electric bass and guitar, drums and muted trumpet (a lovely addition). It’s a bit if folk, a bit of gospel, some blues, jazz, Caribbean — honestly, she introduces it as music about love and healing, and that sounds good to me. Her set, is greeted with enthusiastic applause.
2:00 – It’s so good to see Beau Wheeler again after literally years. And damn are they sounding amazing. That massive massive voice of theirs is blowing the cobwebs out of my sleep-deprived body. At one point, Beau walks three feet from the microphone and carry on singing with no audible reduction in the volume of their voice. They even get the audience singing along – not bad for a lazy Friday afternoon crowd. After a session in which we queers all talked about the importance of bringing our full queer selves to spaces, Beau does just that, closing their explosive set with “Queen.”
2:48 – Just ran into Arthur MacGregor from the Upper Canada Folk Fest. He tells me he was also blown away by Beau Wheeler. Two points for Beau so far.
2:50 – I sit back down at the table as Shauit opens his set with some traditional singing and drumming. From there, he launches into a series of infectious upbeat contemporary folk numbers that bring to mind Kashtin, the pioneering Innu duo from the 80s and 90s, who remain wildly influential today. But where Shauit’s music departs from Kashtin is in the influence of traditional Quebecois sounds. The sweet sounds of fiddle ripple through some of the songs. Then there’s Shauit’s reggae influence. He played reggae before he played folk, he tells us, and he closes his set with one of his old reggae numbers. The whole set is filled with great energy and great hooks. No wonder he’s been twice nominated for the ADISQ/Felix for Indigenous artist of the year.
3:10 – OK, nobody fall off the stage now. KUNE World is now up, and the 11-piece multicultural orchestra is, well, big! The goal of this outfit is to musically recreat the cross-cultural vibe of Toronto. It’s got a similar feel to the fusions that were happening in Vancouver in the 90s that ultimately birthed the Vancouver World Music Collective. Trying to describe it is fruitless. The first number has a Middle Eastern vibe. The second sounds more Cuban until flautist and dizi player Dora Wang introduces a distinct Chinese riff. People are now up dancing in front of the stage, by the way. Ok, now things are sounding a little Klezmer, now Asian. You get the picture. It’s like a musical rendering of the food scene at Bloor and Spadina.
3:30 – Adrian Sutherland is opening his set with “Magic Hits,” the moreorless title track from his debut solo album. He’s performing solo right after a show-stopping world music super group – not an enviable position. But about halfway through the number, the crowd starts to settle down as Adrian’s beautiful voice soars above the fray. He sings “Notawe,” his latest single and talks about how uncomfortable it still is for him to sing in his language. As Adrian shares his vulnerability with the sizeable crowd, the noise from people conversing in the back of the room becomes particularly conspicuous. Folks, if you’re not in the room to listen, could you please step outside? Adrian plays his single “Politician Man,” about the lack of clean drinking water on reserve. He then closes his set with Midnight Shine’s bilingual rendition of Neil Young’s “Heart of Gold,” the song that first brought him to national and international attention.
3:45 – I’m really starving so I head toward the door to grab some food in my hotel room. But then My Son the Hurricane takes to the stage to finish the afternoon showcases. I’ve never really heard of them, and I’m prepared to go another day without knowing what they do, but suddenly, I’m confronted with a dramatic four-piece horn section, two members of which are dressed somewhat like cheer leaders, performing some kind of New Orleansy, funky instrumental with an electric rhythm section backing them up. The scene onstage is like choreographed chaos. I’m guessing the band-name is something one of the band members’ parents used to say about them as a kid. OK fine. OBVIOUSLY, they’re amazing. I’m still starving. I still only stick around for two songs. But you should book them. I mean, they’re clearly just so damn entertaining.