There is something about a beautiful woman and a banjo that warms the soul. Kaia Kater was one of my favorite discoveries of Hillside 2017. Drawing heavily from roots, folk and Appalachian style music, her compositions are the stuff of the solemn southern United States, although she herself is Canadian. Unfortunately I missed her main set on a larger Hillside stage, but I did manage to catch her playing a few songs at a Hillside workshop. This is actually one of the more amazing aspects of Hillside, the festival asks performers from throughout the weekend to do smaller shows on the side stages. Often the artists will collaborate on each other’s tunes, resulting in the occasional powerhouse partnership.
One of the more down to earth performers I have met, I approached Kaia before her set at said Hillside workshop. I asked her to take a few portrait shots and she agreed before even knowing my name or if I worked for anyone. When it is a random ask many people will take the time to do this only when they know they will be featured in a big newspaper. The second she started playing I knew I was a fan. Kaia was very upbeat to talk to, but her music has a melancholy emotional flair to it, she seemed drenched in stoic confidence. Kaia’s style is spellbinding yet minimalistic. She is a true up and coming gem in the roots scene. Kaia Kater is your girl if you need some more passionate folk driven banjo playing in your life.
The Blurry Pickers had already started their set and in keeping with Hillside tradition as I approached the stage I noticed there were toddlers dancing naked, and a giant bearded man with a single dreadlock grooving to the music. The Blurry Pickers requires a slight history lesson for the sake of musical context. Not everyone is necessarily aware, but Jerry Garcia had a bluegrass band with David Grisman called Old and In The Way. Not only that, but both Jerry and David were students of the great Bill Monroe, the progenitor of the bluegrass genre.
It seems that the Blurry Pickers are a living tribute to that era of Jerry’s life. They are by no means straight up bluegrass, but more a representation of The Grateful Dead and Jerry’s bluegrass days rolled into one experience. Amidst groovy originals, the crowd really got down when they covered Grateful Dead songs in bluegrass style and Old and In The Way Songs in a Dead style. Perhaps they are of the Dead Grass style invented by Vassar Clements in tribute to Jerry. Regardless The Blurry Pickers are an amazing live experience. They all seem to take turns singing and I could not help but smile for the entire time they were playing. Although everyone around me dancing like goofballs definitely lent a helping hand to my lack of inhibitions. So please do go see the Blurry pickers if you think that psychedelic bluegrass is worth your while.
Some might think that Fred Penner would not be relevant any more. That he would have retired and be living on a lake somewhere with a banjo. He is, however, more relevant than ever. This show was the release party for his latest album ‘Hear the Music,’ on which he has some of Toronto’s biggest local talents. He is clearly bent on expanding to reach beyond his core audience who have stuck with him, Fred heads, as they’re called, to make sure that the young children of 2017 get to grow up with him at the helm of their musical lives; and let me tell you, this is a wonderful thing for a child.
Out of all the artists from my childhood, Fred Penner stands out like a juggler at a fun birthday party. For those who are unaware of his massive influence, Fred Penner is possibly this country’s largest contributor to the children’s music scene. His music and more importantly his career have truly withstood the test of time. The man is a modern day Canadian folk hero. Thousands of Canadians grew up idolizing him and his folky music,myself included, so seeing him live for the first time was an overwhelming experience. First off, the way Mr. Penner interacts with his audience is breathtaking. He is like a smiling monk on stage. His gently commanding presence was palpable, even after he started his first song without his guitar plugged in.
The Lula Lounge was packed for Fred’s album release party. This is the first album Fred has come out with in many years. The audience was not only comprised of children. In fact the audience ran the largest gamut I have ever seen. From old men drinking cocktails to little babies dancing in their mother’s arms. In fact, the best part of the show was Fred’s fan section at the front. There were always at least three or four toddlers rocking out to his dulcet tunes. Fred’s set started out with his new album, it was the much anticipated album release party, but he did of course indulge us with some old favorites that I will not list as it would take me too long. So if you thought Fred Penner was no longer relevant, put on your black socks and check out his fantastic new album ‘Hear the Music.’
Photographs by: Gideon Greenbaum-Shinder
Written by: Gideon Greenbaum-Shinder
Edited by: Jesse Kline
Sometimes you need music to curl up and cry to. Sometimes you need music for the bathtub. Sometimes you need a theme song for your somber walk in the woods. These are just a few of the images I happened to have thrust into my brain during Andrew Combs’ intensely beautiful set of passionate country folk music. Hailing from Dallas, Texas, Combs came up for Canadian Music Week and he put on quite a show. The Dakota Tavern is consistently my most dependable local source for live music. I have still yet to see a categorically poor act there.
Even though the place was at capacity there was no background noise, you could have heard a pin drop.The entire crowd was hanging on every word from this skinny southern singer songwriter. This texan keeps it real. During his set Combs also had a couple of people up on stage to sing harmonies with him on a few select numbers. These pairings really helped to highlight Combs’ vocal and compositional prowess. He often plays with a full band but for simplicity he tours as a one-man act. In fact an audience member requested a certain song, but he had to apologize saying, “It wouldn’t sound any good without a full band.” More to the point though, the simplicity of his performance served to underscore the quality of his songs and vocal performance. Needless to say I was summarily impressed with Combs’ soulful country serenading style. You can find out more about Andrew Combs right here: www.andrewcombsmusic.com
Article and Pictures by: Gideon Greenbaum-Shinder
Edited by: Jesse Kline
According to Steve’s latest album he is a folk singer, “fa sho”. I really do not know how to describe Steve Poltz as a person so I will start by describing his music. He plays soulful, seemingly simple, silly folky roots music. However, in a live setting, Steve's music takes a backseat to his completely wack-a-doo stage persona. He also performs what are basically fully improvised songs, adding in things he sees in the crowd and anything about Toronto he could think of.
Steve Poltz told the craziest story I have ever heard in a live music setting. Apparently in 1995, he made a lot of money by writing a good song, had a great time caught in a drug bust in Mexico, achieved inner peace by chanting, made fine stained glass art in bed... and apparently he met homeless Mit Romney on a beach. Steve is also a huge baseball fan and actually plugged in his phone so that he could play the audio from the Blue Jays winning the World Series in 1993, the crowd actually went nuts, “Go Jays!”
Throughout his set Poltz flirted with the crowd, shouting out things like, "hey white dress I like your smile" or, "look at this guy, I love this guy already!" He seemed to want to jump into the audience, balancing on the edge of the stage for a portion of the show. At one point he actually looked down at me and thanked me for taking such nice pictures (which he obviously had not seen yet) and then proceeded to lift up his pant leg so that I could see his floral patterned socks that he clearly thought would make a fantastic visual stimulant. What I am trying to say is that Steve has a very unique and awkward energy but somehow he channels it into a cartoonish and hilarious stage presence. My favorite moment, which fans of TV show Arrested Development will appreciate, was at one point in the set Steve actually raised his fists in the air and shouted "Steve Holtz"! It was kind of amazing. I think you will know if you like him quite instantly. Check out Steve Poltz here:
Review and pictures by: Gideon Greenbaum-Shinder
Edited by: Jesse Kline
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