Home Feature Day 3 at the Springtide Music Festival in Uxbridge, ON

Day 3 at the Springtide Music Festival in Uxbridge, ON

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Adrian Sutherland. Photo by Howard Druckman.

For the third and final day of Springtide, I stayed at the Second Wedge Brewery’s outdoor stage – despite intermittent and at times quite heavy rain. For much of the late afternoon and evening, the crowd was a small sea of umbrellas, but spirits were buoyed by lots of little tykes running around, dancing, playing tag, making and eating bubbles, and otherwise enjoying themselves and ignoring the elements. They set a good example.

All-female quartet Miniscule (backed by a male drummer) was up first, and their glorious four-part harmonies were a perfect vehicle for lead singer and chief band songwriter Laurel Minnes’s feminist/humanist pop songs. Backed by various combinations of ukulele, guitar, keyboards, and electric bass, their voices built a cathedral of sound – which grew even more beautiful as they were joined by duo/life partners Moonfruits to create a six-person choir for an anti-war song about how love should always win, so let’s let it. “Embarrassment” was another highlight, an up-tempo tune about getting over that particular feeling, because “everybody else has.” “The Queen” offered a righteous reclamation of one’s own feminist power – “I am the Queen” is quite the anthemic chorus line, and the harmonies were especially rich and full. Laurel talked about the current recording for the band’s next album going in a new direction, more open to electronic instruments and beats; the group then played a song from it, “The Lesson,” which offered a scathing but accurate social critique about how “we fight for crumbs while the puppeteers laugh at us,” and how we need to stand in our collective power.

Miniscule. Photo by Howard Druckman.

Roots-rocker Adrian Sutherland has an interesting lineup: himself on acoustic guitar and lead vocals with an electric guitarist and a drummer (who both sing backup), but no bass. Born and raised in Canada’s far north, the roots-rocker from Attawapiskat First Nation sang “Notawe (Father)” – the first music he ever recorded in his mother tongue of Omushkegowuk Cree (though he has Ojibwe roots as well). He punctuated “I Am a Northern Man” with “heya-ho” wails and played his version of Neil Young’s “Heart of Gold” with alternate English and Cree lyrics. In addition to being a musician, Adrian is an advocate for his people, and his urgent reading of “Politician Man” saw right through the hypocrisies of most who ply that particular trade. “Rebel Spirit” benefitted from a Tom Petty-ish vibe, while “Diamonds” called on us all to see our unique value as distinctive beings, and our common humanity as well. I had heard Adrian’s recordings before, but his live act is even more impressive.

Sagen Pearse, a.k.a. Hollowsage, is a funeral director by day and a musician whenever he’s able to be. Inspired by Dan Mangan, he uses his life lessons, and stories from past lives and alternate dimensions, to create his songs – which are often about monsters, death, and darkness. Backed by his roots-rock band, the Three Mile Islanders, Hollowsage didn’t mince words, opening with a song where the chorus line quoted atom bomb creator Robert J. Oppenheimer (himself quoting Kirshna): “I am become death, the destroyer of worlds.” Later in the set, they played a song, “Super Nova Space-Time Continuum,” from the upcoming album, Aftermath – which (along with the Oppenheimer reference) led me to think that Hollowsage is something of a science boy, or at least a fairly cerebral fellow. As the rain poured down, he fittingly sang, “Nothing is as easy as getting caught in the rain.” The set closer, “Great Lake Love,” ended with a powerfully repeating line, “I’m living on the edge of Lake Ontario,” with crowd dancing and singing along.

Hollowsage. Photo by Howard Druckman.

I’ve never seen Julian Taylor, with or without his band, play a live performance that was anything less than great, and this one was no exception. With a stripped-down quartet version of the band, minus his usual second guitarist, Gareth Parry, Julian opened with “The Ridge,” and then played a lovely version of “Wide Awake,” my personal favourite song from Beyond The Reservoir. “Ballad of a Young Troubadour” had the crowd singing along to the mesmerizing “la-la-la” chorus, while he dismissed the band to play the solo acoustic “Weighing Down” – a song about self-forgiveness which has been on the CBC Top 20 Countdown for two weeks now. It was a quiet, contemplative moment that seemed perfectly fitting for the gray, rainy day. “Back Again” was as sweet and gentle as the band can be, and the slow, sexy, and soulful “Bobbi Champagne” had the crowd shouting her name to the skies. Julian enlightened the locals with the fact that he recorded the first album he made with his turn-of-the-millennium band Staggered Crossing right here in Uxbridge. He closed with the barn- burner “Zero to Eleven,” which tore the roof off the stage (as usual), and – when he held the final note (as he does) for what felt like three minutes – he drove the crowd completely crazy.

Julian Taylor. Photo by Howard Druckman.

Begonia (born Alexa Dirks) looked every inch the headliner that she was tonight, with flaming red hair, in a lime-green leather-ish jacket, cool print dress, and stunning, shiny-plastic, baby-pink, chunky, zipper-back boots. Along with Rory Taillon, Aphrose, Mimi O’Bonsawin, and Redfox, Begonia is one of the astonishingly great singers booked for this year’s edition of Springtide. Begonia has always been a phenomenal singer, but she told the audience that she quit smoking cigarettes a month ago and can hit even higher notes now. Which she did, showing a wide vocal range, using her sweet falsetto a lot, and pouring her honeyed voice all over the songs. With bassy, synth-heavy keyboards, drums, and electric bass, her band’s specialty is electro-pop funk grooves and soul ballads, often with thick and buzzy sounds that vibrated through my rib cage – the kind of sub-woofer noise you feel via bone conduction.

Begonia. Photo by Howard Druckman.

The autobiographical songs tend to ride tension in the verses, and then release in the choruses. “Butterfly” is about being angry and growing up suppressed in a religious family environment. “Pick Up Your Phone” was a real standout, and “Marigold” told her story of being a self-confessed “chubby little gay girl,” and of her awkwardness as a teen. Begonia is still awkward onstage – as she herself told the crowd in her speedy between-song banter. She seemed so nervous and anxious when she spoke, with her thoughts running so quickly into each other, that I wanted to give her a hug, gently ask her to please take a breath, and tell her that it’s all going to be alright. But then, she and her band played the final song of their set, the hyper-kinetic, unlikely-for-her, punk-rock song “Fear.” With its driving, energetic jungle rhythm and speed-clapping and Begonia growling and screeching like Tanya Tagaq, it blew away the contradictions between the tense talker and the free-spirit performer. The audience went apeshit, and if Begonia can transcend like this, she doesn’t need any help from me or anyone!

Kudos to Tania Joy for programming Springtide 2024. It’s really nice to see a festival executive director out at so many of the shows, usually dancing her butt off. She’s clearly a music fan, and that helps make Springtide a great experience for her fellow music fans, like me.

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