Home Concert review Friday night showcases at the Folk Music Ontario conference: Heather Kitching’s take

Friday night showcases at the Folk Music Ontario conference: Heather Kitching’s take

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Luke Wallace. Photo by Heather Kitching.

7:15 – I’m pretty sure I met Luke Wallace around Gary Cristall’s kitchen table once, but if I’m wrong about that, I’m still certain that the early artistic director of the Vancouver Folk Music Festival, who’s cut from the same Communist cloth as Mitch Podoluk, would be proud to have Luke over for dinner. Luke is a modern-day protest singer with climate and the environment as his subjects. But this isn’t the kind of protest music where singers self-righteously decry some government action they only barely understand. It’s the kind of catchy folk music with simple lyrical hooks that become the anthems of rallies and movements. Luke doesn’t so much perform some of these songs as he does lead the entire audience like he’s leading a march.

8:31 – It’s been eight years since we last saw the Bombadils at FMO, and it’s like they’ve been practicing or something. What an absolutely divine set marked by beautiful harmonies and acoustic arrangements. Actually, Sarah tells me they did indeed hold off making the current record for several years because they wanted to get better. Well, it worked! And I should probably point out here that they were good BEFORE. They did also have a baby and move to Halifax all around six years ago so, you know, there’s also that. Speaking of babies, number two is on the way so you’d better book them now in case they disappear for another six years after that one’s born. I hear kids are a lot of work.

The Bombadils. Photo by Heather Kitching.

9:07 p.m. – Vinta’s showcase suite is packed to the gills. If that’s any indication of what they’ll do to your venue, better book ’em quick! Of course, it’s no surprise there’s so much interest. One time Oliver Schroer protege Emilyn Stam co-leads this ensemble that reproduces the sound of ancient European folk dances and is leading the Balfolk revival in Toronto. There really isn’t any room to dance in the showcase room. Next time maybe some of the evening showcases should ALSO be in the ballroom.

9:51 – Kunlé has just wrapped up his set of beautifully understated songs delivered with that tender voice of his. I had the pleasure of seeing Kunlé perform at MooseFest this summer so his lovely music and stage presence did not comes as a surprise. But it was nice to hear him perform with a full band this time.

10:15 – I’ve grabbed myself a seat in the front row for Kaia Kater’s set in room 200. She’s playing songs from her forthcoming new album, Strange Medicine, due out next spring. By the sounds of things, it continues in the vein of Grenades and “Parallels” with its incorporation of jazzy atmospheres – which I’m loving by the way – but Kaia’s songwriting chops are really on display on this song called “The Internet.” She introduces it with the kind of tragically funny story we can all relate to: she spills a glass of water on her laptop minutes before she’s supposed to perform a live streaming concert during the pandemic lockdowns (serious question: does that count as force majeure in the performance contract?) But the song she wrote after she was done crying ugly tears and pouring a glass of wine is a meditation on our reliance on technology to keep us connected and give us our identity. Wow.

Kaia Kater. Photo by Heather Kitching.

10:41 – I’ve installed myself in the Small World Music showcase, where I will stay until I pass out from exhaustion, which honestly won’t take long tonight. Natasha Roldan is on stage, and what a voice! This Columbian-Canadian singer-songwriter hasn’t even released her debut album yet, but she’s already been tapped for the RBC Launch Pad program and the Small World artist incubator. Not hard to see why. I suspect we’ll be seeing a lot of her in the coming years.

10:56 – The song Paula Sofia is singing right now is just divine. She’s on stage with just an acoustic guitar, a drummer and her georgeous voice. The Guatemalan-Canadian artist clearly has fans in the audience who are shouting out requests and clapping along on her penultimate number. She sets up the last song by explaining that she was selling Mexican food at a festival when she made a connection with a customer. Unable to follow him to explore it further, she writes a fun song in English imploring him to come back and buy a mango juice. At this point, some of her fans are dancing in front of the stage, and another one joins in on horn from the audience.

Paula Sofia. Photo by Heather Kitching.

Next up: an artist I have literally waited a year to see because I missed her at last year’s FMO on account of arriving late. Sophie Lukacs’ debut album is one of my favorite releases of the year, and now finally, I get to see her play some of it live. Three songs hardly seems enough to compensate for that wait but I’ll take it. Sophie plays “Falling” and “Before You” from the album before closing with a song that’s not on the album: “Tolon” on which she gets the audience singing along.

11:49 – The music at this conference has been so consistently strong that I’m running out of ways to say I like something. Pascale LeBlanc is on stage now, her deep, slightly mournful vocals backed by a band consisting of electric bass, guitar and drums and no less than the brilliant and delightful Daniel Bellegarde on percussion. This is the second time today that I’ve seen Pascale, who combines influences from her Haitian heritage with French, Quebecois and Caribbean styles. The large crowd of people dancing in front of the stage tells you everything you need to know about her appeal. Pascale has officially turned the Small World suite into a party.

And with that, I’m off to bed. I know. This is a bad time to leave. But I need to conserve energy for one more day of this tomorrow.

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