Wolfe Island Music Festival's "Winter Ball" — a teaser show for their annual celebration near Kingston, ON — had the casual air of an all-star open stage.
Hosted and kicked off by Jason Collett (pictured above) — who joked that now he's a granddad (before 50) he's in need of reading glasses to decipher his artist bio notes — the fundraising concert at the Great Hall last night (February 26) had a similar format to Collett's popular annual Basement Revue at the Dakota Tavern, in that no one knew who the next secret special guests were going to be until Collett set up the next warm reveal. Given they were all "past and future" performers of Wolfe Island Music Festival (which had to cancel its 2016 edition due to financial trouble and a saturated festival market), the audience could safely wager some guesses.
Collett played just one song, the title track off his 2016 LP Song And Dance Man, the lyrics sounding more sombre on his own with an acoustic guitar — and apt, given they are about struggling to make ends meet as an artist. He was followed by the equally mellow Steve Lambke, the Constantine, who nearly whispers while he sings, but just when you thought that that might be the tone for the evening, the organizers threw at you PS I Love You's Paul Saulnier, a Kingstonian now living in Toronto, whose solos are like a punk guitar version of Final Fantasy.
In carrying on with eclecticism, Collett invited out emotive electronic singer Lou Canon, who had many pedals and knobs and synths and cords to deal with (the audience was patient and cool about it). But perhaps the biggest surprise of the evening — and one that had this reviewer smiling ear to ear — was two puppets from Feltworth (Chris Murphy and Jay Ferguson of Sloan) singing a song about being turned on from the balcony. That's it, I thought; Feltworth just stole the show.
But they didn't. Hannah Georgas followed up with a beautiful song with Sarah Harmer and Julie Fader on backup vocals, then Fader came back out with her band Etiquette and rocked out with Georgas returning the backup vocals favour (the band includes Fader's partner, Graham Walsh, of Holy Fuck). At the midway mark, the show was in full-on collaborative festival mode.
After the break we got Sarah Harmer, consummate queen of the Kingston music scene, followed by Tamara Lindeman (the Weather Station), whose lyrical acuity and tenderness tends to make most of the rest of a bill sound like the Ramones. She seemed to be wincing a bit at the sound of her guitar (frankly, it was surprising there weren't more sound issues on a night with so many artists) but I did not envy Sam Cash, appearing after her, wine-drunk and dressed like a young Collett. He just writes a strikingly different, more straightforward, kind of song. And it felt like an off night for Wolfe Island alum the Elwins, who were on next, and were presumably there to pick up the energy.
Shad, bless him, appearing as his alter-ego Your Boy Tony Braxton, was the only artist of the night to bother checking in with how the crowd was doing, and to try to elicit audience participation via clapping. Then TUNS, the trio of '90s power pop veterans, took hilariously long to set up, during which Chris Murphy made fun of the Elwins' Feurd Moore's moustache. Despite their lackadaisical approach to plugging their guitars in, their three songs ended the Winter Ball on a high note.
Honestly? It made me want to go check out Wolfe Island Music Festival, which is back on this summer, the weekend of August 11 and 12.