Home Feature Day 2 at the Spring Tide Music Festival in Uxbridge, ON

Day 2 at the Spring Tide Music Festival in Uxbridge, ON

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Aphrose. Photo by Howard Druckman.

It was my first time at the Second Wedge brewery in Uxbridge, and the smallish, two-level space – with a large patio and windows open to the outside – was buzzing with activity. The shows here today were supposed to be outdoors, but the on-and-off rainfall moved them inside, where artists played in front of the huge beer-brewing vats. Rory Taillon was holding forth there, using his solo acoustic guitar, his suitcase for a kick-drum, his expert looping skills, and his soaring powerhouse of a voice to impress a packed house. Rory has one of those voices that can send shivers down your spine, like Jeff Buckley, but with less falsetto, and he often takes his songs from a whisper to a scream and back again. His final song, “Welcome,” was especially great, prompting the audience to call insistently for an encore – sadly impossible, because of festival scheduling.

Rory Taillon. Photo by Howard Druckman.

Next up, I went to the small pub, Colonel McGrady’s, to catch Sarah Beatty’s set. With just a solo voice and acoustic guitar, she managed to inspire a talkative Friday-evening crowd to sing along to her sweet, smart songs. “Holy Smokes” was especially fun, with clever wordplay in the chorus, about trying to live a decent life while being indebted to the bank, your parents, and the government. “Bandit Queen” was excellent — a portrait of actual bandit queen Belle Starr, a female bank robber and horse thief, who spent some of her time riding with the notorious Jesse James gang.

The first act at the Uxbridge Music Hall tonight was Aphrose, whose captivating neo-soul material had festival director Tanya Joy – and many in the audience – dancing up a storm. Backed by an excellent band of four music professionals, including reliably great keyboardist Joel Visentin, Aphrose is another performer with a stunning voice that can drop you in your tracks; it’s a gorgeous vehicle for expression, with great power and vast range. Girl has a set of pipes used to masterful effect on her single “If We Ever Want to Change,” which featured a synthesizer solo straight out of 1976 AM radio; “Roses,” a song for her late Grandmother, Rose; and “YaYa,” a disco banger that brought me back to my own dancing days. She closed with “Fire,” a slow ballad where her singing just blew the roof off the place. If she’d ever been a contestant on Canadian Idol or The Voice, this song would have won it all for her.

Aphrose. Photo by Howard Druckman.

I stayed at the Music Hall for singer-songwriter and ace guitarist Tom Hanley and his four-member backing band. Tom and the group excited the crowd with poppy, ‘80s-style songs (at times recalling Hall & Oates), blazing lead guitar riffs, and compelling three-part harmonies. The hard-rocking “Overnight,” written just after the COVID-19 pandemic struck, featured the impactful chorus line, “Anything can change overnight.” “Steely Dan Cover Band” was more playful, about Tom meeting his girlfriend and current bandmate (acoustic guitarist/vocalist/keyboardist) Chynna Lewis. Featuring the catchy chorus, “I met her in a Steely Dan cover band / Now she’s my lady / And I’m her man.” It was only the second time they ever played it live, and ironically, nothing in the song sounds even remotely like Steely Dan.

Tom then played a suite of more serious protest songs, looking at different issues: “War was won,” singing against the use of violence to settle disagreements; “Standing on Different Sides,” about the recent development of an extreme sense of division between fellow citizens; and “Take It Away,” about how increasingly unaffordable life has become these days. Born and raised in Uxbridge and returning home for the first time in five years, Tom closed with a well-chosen cover of Thin Lizzy’s “The Boys are Back in Town,” which the crowd just loved – especially the locals.

Tom Hanley. Photo by Howard Druckman.

Still at the Music Hall, the last set I caught was from Montreal-based quintet Redfox, who play a unique, mesmerizing blend of bluegrass and electronic/house music. It’s entrancing, with repeated banjo licks serving the same purpose that a sequencer would in electronic dance music (EDM), and the electric violin used for colour and texture. The band members playing acoustic guitar, electric bass, and banjo/keyboards all look like bluegrass players – trucker caps, John Deere T-shirts, jeans – but lead singer/violinist/electric guitarist Daphnée Vandal was attired in thick-soled black goth boots, transparent black stockings, and a sparkling, glittery black jacket. Playing songs from their brand-new album, Letters in Violet – like the excellent “Old Fashioned” and “Beautiful” – the band provided a showcase for Daphnée’s very strong, captivating voice.

It’s like fest organizer Tanya Joy got in my head when she chose the talent for this festival — lots of really outstanding vocalists, which I love.

RedFox. Photo by Howard Druckman.

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