Home Concert review Saturday night at the Folk Music Ontario conference: Richard Barry’s take

Saturday night at the Folk Music Ontario conference: Richard Barry’s take

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Tara MacLean. Photo by Richard Barry.

The last round of showcases that began three days ago is upon us. There is so much music at the Folk Music Ontario conference, and the quality is uniformly amazing. Through the weekend, I kept thinking about the challenges for each performer to stand out, and how important it is that they do just that. Anyway, here’s what I heard Saturday evening and well into the night.

Claire Coupland is a singer-songwriter out of Victoria, BC. She’s a very thoughtful songwriter with a lovely voice, she handles her guitar well and she has a great personality on stage — very funny. She’s certainly among the top tier performing at the FMO.

Barbra Lica is a Juno-nominated singer-songwriter based in Toronto who has headlined stages around the world, and it’s no wonder that that is the case. She’s really good, and I have been a fan for at least the past few years. Her bio says that her 2018 album, You’re Fine, is a cross-genre project combining elements of jazz, folk, an indie pop, and that it has amassed 5.4 million streams to date on Spotify. She and her band put on a fabulous performance at FMO, and the audience clearly loved it.

Notas de 4 was a very pleasant surprise for me and a good example of why it is so important to check out music you might know nothing about. They are a Calgary-based Latin-jazz ensemble. They won the Best World Recording of the Year prize in 2020 presented by the YYC MUSIC Awards and were nominated twice by the WCMAs in the Global Artist of the Year category in 2021 and 2022. Their showcase included a wonderful display of what I took to be Flamenco dance. They provided a much-welcomed injection of world music into the conference, and I’m so glad I was able to see them.

Notas de 4. Photo by Richard Barry.

Mia Kelly is a bilingual, Gatineau-based singer-songwriter. Her voice is soulful and powerful, and the stories she tells through her music are heartfelt and raw with emotion. It is hard to imagine how someone so young can write with so much maturity. She has a current Ontario Folk Music Award nomination for Album of the Year for her Garden Though the War project. Good luck to her.

Canadian singer-songwriter Tara MacLean from Charlottetown has been an internationally renowned and award-winning recording and touring artist for over 25 years. She released her first album with the Nettwerk Music Group in 1996 and worked with Sony Music Publishing Canada. Since then, she has been signed to Capitol Records as a solo artist and to EMI Canada with her Juno nominated band Shaye. She has written and recorded six solo albums and two Shaye records. Her first book, Song of the Sparrow, was released on March 14 with Harper Collins Canada, followed by the soundtrack for the book on March 31. Tara is clearly a very talented and seasoned professional who knows how to hold an audience and engage them fully. Younger performers could take notes.

Though the music went on late into the night, the last group of performers I had the stamina to catch were four a cappella shanty singers called Pressgang Mutiny. They are a Toronto-based quartet of dynamic musicians and tall ship sailors dedicated to discovering shanties and work songs of the people who sing them. They have toured extensively across Canada, the US, the UK, and Europe, showcasing what they call the world’s first truly multi-cultural music. I haven’t much interest in debating what is or is not folk music, but I still love the stuff that delves into and helps us better understand our own history, whatever that might be. These guys were great fun.

So, that’s it for me. There was so much at the FMO that I didn’t see. Major kudos to the folks at FMO for putting it all together. I had a great time and got a pretty good sense of what’s going on in the folk music world here in Canada. I’d say it’s in great hands.

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