CBCMusic.ca Festival Echo Beach, Toronto ON, May 25

CBCMusic.ca Festival Echo Beach, Toronto ON, May 25
Photo: Matt Bobkin
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With the success of CBC Radio 3 as an outlet for promoting independent Canadian music, and the expansion to CBC Music to include all genres of Canadian music, the CBCMusic.ca Festival seemed like a logical extension of the campaign. Indeed, throughout the daylong festival at Echo Beach, there were numerous mentions to the importance of a distinctly Canadian musical identity by the CBC hosts and the acts themselves, nearly all of whom called Canada home. While the weather got unbearably cold during the final few acts, the festival warmed the hearts of many with a celebration of Canadian music.

Twelve musical acts performed throughout the day on two stages, each with their own distinct style. Folksy contest winners Sherman Downey and the Ambiguous Case kicked off the festival, followed by the soulful Shakura S'Aida. Ghanaian-Canadian Kae Sun celebrated both sides of his roots, concluding his set with a song in Pidgin English. The well-dressed Jarvis Church and his nine-piece backing band, The Soul Station, played a set comprised mostly of Sam Cooke covers, and the full band, complete with three backup singers who entertained the audience with their synchronized choreography, successfully emulated Cooke's R&B vibes.

After a short interlude by the CBC Radio comedy show, The Debaters, the music returned with Corb Lund and the Hurtin' Albertans. Lund, wearing a cowboy hat and aviator sunglasses, certainly looked the part of a Canadian cowboy, and his backup band, featuring upright bass and lap steel guitar, delivered a set of pure country. Lund completely embodied the Canadian patriotism that the festival was designed to promote, especially with his set highlight, "This Is My Prairie," a ballad about oil drilling in Western Canada. He closed a medley of a traditional drinking song and a drinking song of Lund's own.

Young upstart Aidan Knight delivered an excellent performance. With his four-piece backing band, whose members often swapped instruments during songs, Knight played a set of sparsely textured slow burners, accentuating the songs with his husky tenor voice. Contrasting with the young talent came Sloan, Canadian rock mainstays who celebrated their 20th anniversary in 2011. The four Haligonians powered through songs from their career, from 2009's "Take It Upon Yourself" to set closer, 1996's "The Good In Everyone." The crowd was roaring and singing along, and the band cemented their role as pillars of the Canadian rock scene.

Elisapie Isaac, of northern Quebec, made frequent mention of her Inuk heritage and spirituality, thanking the sun and the moon. Her music was light and airy, and this vibe was at its peak with crowd favourite "Life Is What You Make It," a fun, catchy pop tune. Kathleen Edwards followed with another side of Canadian patriotism, telling the audience an anecdote about her near-move to the U.S., the inspiration for her song "Moving to America," and how she is confident that Canada will be her home for the rest of her life. She juxtaposed her strong rock tunes with raunchy humour, including many jokes about Toronto mayor Rob Ford to the audience's delight. She even pulled out a violin for "Calling It Quits," adding a folksy flair to complement the rock of her backing band.

Montreal-based Half Moon Run drew in a large crowd, performing a set of percussion-heavy rock. This was best represented in "Call Me In the Afternoon," featuring three of the four band members passionately pounding on drums. That and their other single, "Full Circle," elicited many cheers from the audience. They also played a new song featuring harmonica and acoustic guitar, exciting the audience at the prospect of a new album. The band also mentioned their love of CBC and Canadian music, with one member claiming that the best part of touring is returning to Canada.

Despite all the focus on the importance of Canadian identity through music, the band with the largest hype was Of Monsters and Men. The Icelandic folk rock outfit was the only non-Canadian act in the festival and, as the audience made clear multiple times throughout the day, was the biggest draw. The seven-piece exuberantly played many hits from their hit debut album, My Head Is an Animal, as the packed crowd sang along to nearly every word. They powered through songs including slow-burner "Love Love Love," and megahit "Little Talks." The catchy tunes were textured with accordion and horns. The band's 45-minute set concluded with "Yellow Light," which ended with tons of white confetti pouring from the stage. The inclusion of Of Monsters and Men as a headliner for a festival promoting Canadian music was perplexing and, while the band performed incredibly well, did nothing but dilute the festival's purpose. A solid portion of the concertgoers left at that point despite the festivities being far from over.

After a short DJ set from CBC Radio host Rich "Buck 65" Terfry, Studio Q host Jian Ghomeshi came out to introduce the final band. Ghomeshi pleaded with the crowd to support Canadian artists in an age where American media dominates the market, but considering everyone remaining was there to see the quintessential Canadian rocker Sam Roberts, Ghomeshi was all but preaching to the choir. Roberts and his five supporting musicians stormed the stage with their classic brand of rock. The band played hits from all four of his albums, plus a song from their recently recorded fifth full-length. The band was incredibly tight, and their synergy was apparent from the crowd. A notable star, other than the ever-strong Roberts, was saxophonist Chet Doxas, whose solos were excellent and definitely added a jazzy touch. Roberts' hour-long set was an excellent finale to a decent festival, and reasserted the patriotic direction that may have been lost with Of Monsters and Men's inclusion.

For more photos from this festival, flip through our Facebook gallery here.