7:15 p.m. – I’ve been racking my brain today trying to figure out where I know the name Kaeley Jade from. Then she introduces her last song in her showcase by saying how happy she is that it made it to #1 on the Indigenous Music Countdown. That’s it! “Painless!” A great little pop-folk song. Kaeley is definitely on the pop side of folk pop, but there’s nothing wrong with that. She’s got a terrific voice and lots of charm on stage.
7:47 p.m. – Temagami roots and bluesman David LaRonde is singing a haunting song called “Can’t Take You With Me,” and I’m entranced by it. When he’s done singing it, he explains that it’s what he calls an “ancestral beat” song, it feels to him like it rose out of the land. Honestly, that seems completely believable, even to this not-terribly-spiritual person.
8:05 p.m. – Early in the life of Roots Music Canada, the moose received an album in his virtual mailbox from a Quebec band called Jabbour, a fascinating collaboration between Quebecois chansonnier Guillaume Jabbour, Durham County Poets bassist Carl Rufh, east coast collaborator Bill Collier and Bill Gossage (brother of the highly esteemed Celtic and jazz musician Dave Gossage). They allegedly bonded over Cajun music, and at the time, that was a thread that ran through the eclectic mix of tunes they performed. Four years and two albums later, I’m seeing this band play live for the first time in suite 300 here at FMO. That mish-mash of Cajun, Quebecois, Celtic and jazz has now distilled itself into a sound all its own that draws from all of the above, but no longer feels like a fusion. It’s a pleasing and sophisticated blend of fiddle, bass, drums, ukulele, guitar and vocals that moves at a jaunty pace and features some lovely high-energy fiddle work and beautiful harmonies.
8:50 p.m. – I’m sitting in suite 200 finishing off my afternoon reviews on my laptop as Moskitto Bar takes to the stage. I try to be that unmovable critic while new fans in the packed house start dancing all around me. Ok who am I kidding? This is the best thing I’ve seen all conference so far. I throw down the laptop and join them on my feet. The members of this band come from all over the world – France, Iran and Greece, to name a few places – but they have a cohesive sound that is rooted in Middle Eastern and Mediterranean influences but, you know, with an accordion and Cuban percussion for good measure. The energy level is through the roof. The audience is clapping along. The set is pure unadulterated fun from beginning to end.
I stay in the suite for the next act, Les Royal Pickles. Why? Because they’re called Les Royal Pickles. Don’t let anyone tell you a good band name would help you get attention. The pickles, it turns out, play music rooted in New Orleans-style hot jazz so I’m glad I was lured by their pickley band name to stick around.
9:50 – T. Buckley is in the Windsor Suite gathered around a single mic with his bandmates on Dobro, banjo, mandolin and harmony vocals. There are a lot of singer-songwriters at a conference like this. A lot. There are fewer who can actually transport you out of the conference in your mind. T. does that with songs that evoke both geographic landscapes and emotional ones. The three part harmonies on his closing number are georgeous and are met with loud cheers from the audience.
I make my way back to suite 300 in time to see Twin Flames introduce their stirring song “Giants” about mental health among Indigenous youth. They follow it up with Chelsea June’s song “Native by Nature,” inspired by her journey as a person who has both Indigenous and settler ancestry, then close with their triumphant song “Human,” written for the UNESCO Year of Indigenous Languages.
10:37 – I saw Janice.Jo Lee at last year’s FMO, but I’ve decided to see her again. Partly because I liked what I saw last time. Partly because Janice gets extra points over other artists I also liked last year for being one of the few people at this conference regularly wearing a mask to protect herself and her fellow artists from COVID. She gets even more points for demonstrating how to make it part of your look by sporting KN95s in fashion colours to match her outfits. Anyway, I’m glad I’m here because this set is totally different from Janice’s 2022 set. It’s essentially solo but for one song performed with her mentees from the developing artist program, so the focus is really on her songwriting, her own minimalist use of guitar, percussion and electronic atmospheres for accompaniment, and, of course, her somewhat theatrical performance style and delightful sense of humour. Honestly, I’m so glad I came because I feel like I really see the depth of Janice’s talent here in a way that was harder to sense when she was sharing the spotlight with a full band. She’s got a lovely, expressive singing voice that was on full display on a song she wrote about her grandmother and dedicated, she said, to the people who take care of us. Her humour came through on “Same Angel,” which is about obsessing over a crush that shows no interest in you. Janice doesn’t just sing the hilarious lyrics. She performs them. Now she’s closing the set with “Swim Forever,” a song about climate change set to an electronic bed. I love everything about this woman.
11:15 p.m. – my showcase watching plans have been derailed by a dying phone, so I’m back in my room charging it for the final stretch. This will take me to the end of my personal showcase schedule. It’s a free for all now.
11:35 p.m. – I decide to go see King Cardiac because I missed them at last year’s FMO but heard they were good and like what I’ve heard on record. But I’m early, so I pop into the Windsor Room to catch a song by Amanda Penner. This is her first FMO and darned near her first gig ever. Could’ve fooled me. Lovely voice, authentic and funny on stage, solid song. If this is her green, I can’t wait to see her in a few years.
11:45 – The Small World Music showcase suite is running late so Kaia Kater is just starting her set when I arrive. Lucky me! This time she opens with the title track from her breakthrough album, Nine Pin, follows up with “Meridian Ground” from Grenades and closes with “In Montreal” from the forthcoming new album.
12:28 – Yep. King Cardiac rocks. Crowd’s up dancing in the front row. Ok, now I’m dancing too. A friend once asked me how I’d describe this band, and I was like, “Uhhhh, eclectic global roots?” I can’t think of anything better right now, so I’m going to stick with that. The line-up is acoustic guitar, electric bass, keys, drums and trombone, and you can hear influences from soul, reggae, and I’m not even sure what else. It’s high energy, upbeat goodness fronted by a charismatic guy named Gabriel DeSantis, who I’m guessing is no relation to Ron.
12:47 – Not even sure what I’m watching now. It’s that time of night. It’s an upbeat roots pop band with a female lead, an acoustic upright bass player and Adam Iredale Gray on fiddle. Oh! It’s Sarah Jane Scouten. Cool! She sounds great!
12:54 – I’ve stopped noticing how tired I am. This is completely irresponsible of me but what the heck? Let’s close this place down. Tim from the Barrel Boys is staying on the same floor of the hotel as me. Seems like as good a reason as any to go watch them close down suite 100. At least for a few minutes.
1:13 – I’m here. See. Photographic evidence that I’m in the Barrel Boys’ showcase.
And you know what? It was so worth it. Not only because the playing is first rate and the harmonies are gorgeous but because I just learned that their song “Mainline to the Heat” is about Geraldton, which in my neck of the woods in northwestern Ontario. We don’t get many songs written about us. Also, the crowd is now singing along and shrieking to “Over There.” Lotsa energy in this room but mine is a flagging so I’m off to bed, friends. What a great conference it’s been.