There was too much musical and emotional content on display
at Beverly Kreller’s first-ever not-for-profit Speak Music Be Kind Festival last month to adequately describe the magnitude of the vibe. How did Toronto’s
first music festival of 2020 combine the perfect storm ingredients of a sizable
audience, a comfortable and accessible venue, the Tranzac, and a captivating flow
of lustrous musical talent to manifest a concept - kindness – so intrinsically
simple that it has failed to be made obvious until now?
As a gender-balanced event, there was a lake effect of
feminine calm that was palpable from every angle, and, with a major snow
occurrence squatting down on the entire region overnight, there was that
particularly Canadian camaraderie that only mutual sufferers of the overchill can
share. It seemed that the deluge, fortunately, had little appreciable effect on
attendance, or on the safe and timely transit of performers and volunteers to
the venue. Highlights of two nights spent kindling kindness follow:
Above: Gregarious blues monger Sammy Duke absorbs the high
attitudes with prime kindness motivator Beverly Kreller and Roots Music Canada’s
retired Chairman of the Moose, David Newland.
Fiercely empathetic duet Piper & Carson inducted the
audience in the Southern Cross Room into the wolf clan with a howling chorus, setting
a primeval tone for Friday night’s opening set.
Shi Wisdom, the songstress with the longest of tresses, blessed
and unstressed the Main Hall with a stick of incense and some trance-y beats
Best of buds, Chloe Watkinson and Mip, contributed bundles
of warmth and fun to the bonfire of kinship that empowered the evening’s
ascending flight path. Chloe crushed it yet again with her superb power ballad
In their florally resplendent fabrics, Blisk brought Balkan
balladry, stomping revelry and some elegant harmony to a boil with their
accordion-fuelled distillation of far-flung cultures and wildly celebratory
Mike Field’s capricious pop compositions gave his star-studded
band a chance to enhance the dance quotient, and an opportunity for saxman Paul
Metcalfe to blow away the chill.
Vivienne Wilder was a total weapon against gravity with her
uplifting songcraft, badass lyricism and the musical support of her two expert
flotation devices, Neil Whitford on guitar and Andrew Roorda on bass.
Jazzomometers were overloaded during late sets by cobalt-jacketed
scat champ Ori Dagan sparring with his miracle bass player Jordan O’Connor
(above), the Simone Morris Trio (right), keeping the audience hanging off every note
and word of her insinuating originals in a snowflake
chic ensemble, and by midnight, dreamy retro queen Tia Brazda (below)
galore to convey her positive perspectives on the changing stages of affection
James Bailey, Lydia Persaud and Kyla Charter
After a steady Saturday of shovelling out, the second night was back in
action, with an all-day jam bubbling along, a bellowing accordion workshop and
one for fiddle inside the Tranzac’s cozy, parlour-style Tiki Room which
featured a hoedown showdown between Anne Lederman’s intricate string embroideries
and Dr. Draw’s electro/techno techniques . There were
also a dozen afternoon concerts by such folk faves as Annie Sumi and David
Newland, amongst others. Courtesy volunteers and sandwich trays helped to
develop a comfortable, indoor “snowday” atmosphere. By sunset, with the welcome
news that the roads were clear and the wind-chill was minimal, a fresh buffet
of sounds had been set out for us.
At 6:00, Abigail Lapell (above) started charming the Main
Hall, linking her songs of deep melody and lyricism with her gregarious
personality and stream-of-consciousness musings, while Sammy Duke was busy roaring
out the blues to the nearby Tiki Room denizens.
The six members of Darbazi (the Georgian language’s
equivalent of “kitchen party”) decided to set up on the floor in front of the
stage in order to more directly present their harmonious edifice of
full-throated a capella chanting, murmuring and yodelling to the receptive crowd.
Meanwhile the multi-national fusion music of Al Qahwa was
timbrelling up a complex brew of rhythm and ouds in the Southern Cross room
with shadings of social conscience, cinematic visualizations and a bit of belly
dancing from den mother Maryem Hassan Tollar.
Lydia Persaud opened hearts, minds and ears by reducing the
songs from 2019`s Let Me Show You album
to a vocal trio format, with James Bailey's and Kyla Charter's contributing
cascades of vibrant and velvet ornamentation.
Notching up the energy, the magnetic Ginger St. James had braved
the highways to deliver a tight band and a loose sense of propriety, just in
time to kick the Saturday-Night factor into high gear. She`ll soon be on her
way with guitar man Slim to decimate audiences at the Blues Challenge in
Johnson Crook turned the dance floor into a carnival as
their urban country air breathed the sparks of Saturday night into a raging
Then all that remained was for fiddling dervish Dr. Draw to explode
his shamanic forces onto the approaching midnight, urging his band into
hyperdrive while shredding his bow - along with our minds - and filling the
dance floor all by himself.
When ECHLO came onstage we were eased into the smoothness of
her beautiful songs by a heavenly voice and lustrous gestures conjuring a state
of grateful fullness and kind repose. If music was food we would all have
gained a lot of weight by then.
In retrospect, there was a great level of love being shown
for this series from the community: non-performing artists such as Tannis
Slimmon, Shawna Caspi and Jill Harris were just there to support and absorb the
atmosphere. Because of the gender equity, we heard songs about topics such as
assault, girl crushes and sperm donors that might not see such a large audience
As far as the cultivation of kindness goes, uber-host Bev Kreller (left, with Tannis Slimmon) has some warm recollections: “A few of the performers offered to waive their
fee and donate it to the Unison Benevolent Fund. Artists offered to go and
fetch hot beverages for the volunteers (because it was REALLY COLD at the front
door reception). And folks were creating and catching the kindness vibe
throughout, with smiles and excitement for the festival event. Plenty of hugs
and warmth going around. There was enormous support for the idea of kindness.
Virtually every artist kindly highlighted the festival’s intention, in comments
during their sets. It wasn’t corny or saccharin, it was genuine and
heartfelt…some folks even shed tears.”
In terms of success, she adds, “We had a terrific turnout in spite of
the cold weather conditions and massive snow storm on Saturday. Ticket sales
online were brisk and we had a large number of walk-ups for single day and
3-day passes. And as well, folks who had bought a single day pass, often came
back to the box office to request a full weekend pass, because they were so
thrilled by the performances and the eclectic lineup. Due to word of mouth,
walk up increased significantly day by day as the festival went on.”
She also remarks, “OMG there were SOOOO many moments! The
choir led by Laurel Minnes, called Minuscule, blew the roof off a packed main
hall, earning a standing ovation. So Long Seven piqued everyone’s interest and
captivated with their unique combination of banjo and tabla. Tour mates Tragedy
Ann (right) and Moonfruits packed the Tiki Room like a tin of sardines, and you could
hear a pin drop. Gary Kreller doing old-school rap with accordion. The Pure Pop
workshop with Blair Packham, Arlene Bishop and Rob Szabo was glorious and
engaging, while the blues-rockin’ roots workshop with Julian Taylor, Kim
Doolittle and Ken Yoshioka offered a terrific blend of varying blues styles.
Dave McEathron made me cry and yet I felt elated at the same time! Johnson
Crook were hugely impressive – such great country songs and vibrant harmonies.
The Barrel Boys were tight and brilliant as usual. Ginger St. James and Dr.
Draw both tore it up in the main hall while Ben Heffernan quietly impressed in
the Tiki Room.”
And her wish list for next time? “A little more sound proofing between the
rooms, though it was pretty good through most of the fest, a few more
volunteers to share the load, and a portable heater for the front door area!
Originally published at Roots Music Canada
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