Who: Alan Doyle, Lindi Ortega, Steven Page
When: Saturday, 29 March 2014
Where: Elgin and Winter Garden Theatre Centre, Toronto
In One Word: Nostalgic
Recreated from the intimate setting usually found at the Jackson-Triggs Niagara Estate Amphitheatre, the wine conglomerate hosted ROOTSTOCK, a songwriter’s circle featuring prominent Canadian artists such as Great Big Sea’s Alan Doyle, The Barenaked Ladies’ Steven Page, and former Torontonian, Lindi Ortega for this year’s Earth Day.
Doyle and Page dominated the pre-show banter, throwing out jokes and witticisms (Page even making a crack about running for Mayor of Toronto, a race that is now a literal circus).
Aside from the jests, each artist showcased new music and discussed other projects in the works in the coming days, briefly explaining their songs or telling a story to go with it.
Ortega’s performances were a clear indicator as to how she was on the bill between two esteemed Canadian artists. Ortega has a wildly beautiful, haunting voice with a graceful and natural vibrato dressed up with a subtle rasp to it. Attributing Johnny Cash as an inspiration to her country music, songs like “Tin Star” have a melancholic vibe to it. While the mastered version is lovely, it was her live performance of “Tin Star” that had the audience sold.
Page, after joking that after Doyle sang a new song he would have to as well, showcased a brand-new (and potentially unfinished) song. Providing the audience with warning beforehand, Page admittedly forgot some of the lyrics halfway through the song and instead used it as an opportunity to joke around and improvise.
One of Doyle’s new songs was a heartwrenching take on the 1917 sealing accident near Fogo Island, Newfoundland, in which a number of men found themselves trapped amongst the ice without escape. One etched the phrase, “April 11, lying down to die” on a piece of wood and sent it adrift as to give their families some form of closure. Doyle retold this story, providing background to the new song he wrote commemorating the event.
One of the major highlights of the evening was the Earth Hour aspect of the performance. Most of the lights were shut off, relying on as much of the candlelight as possible. Doyle, Page and Ortega unplugged their guitars and sang without the microphones, bringing the audience to near silence as the performance continued. Not to be outdone, Doyle put the guitar down and performed entirely a cappella.
The second half of the evening was a sort of “fan service”, as Doyle and Page busted out some of the old favourites. The first song back on, Page and Doyle performed The Barenaked Ladies’ tune, “Jane” together.
For me, personally, this was when it got a bit surreal. Page busted out another new song, and halfway through included an interlude about how he always wanted to write something that was “the soundtrack to someone’s first year in university”, or “the one song your grandma knows”. It hit me that for everyone that surrounded me, that’s exactly what he did.
Doyle singing Great Big Sea’s “Consequence Free”, or the two of them playing “Jane” was more than a special moment for everyone else there, they have very real memories they can attribute to when those songs came out. For most of the audience, those songs were the soundtrack to their first year in university.
Particularly when Page finished up his own set with “Brian Wilson”, I realized that I am the age that my mother was when that song was big. For many of the audience members, the evening was more than just a nice night of musical entertainment and wine tasting; it was a recreation of some old memories and pasts.
And in my own humble opinion, I think that’s what made the night a success.
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