The beauty of St. Andrews is unmeasurable, Water Street is the type of area you’d only see on a postcard. And this is the backdrop for Paddlefest, a combination of music and outdoor recreation. Known as “the festival that opens the season” and sometimes referred to as the musicians festival, once I saw the line up organizer Luke MacDonald had assembled this year I knew had to go down and check it out for myself.
My first stop was Friday afternoon at The Red Herring Pub. Let me start off by saying the atmosphere there was amazing. It felt like everyone knew everyone and that the stranger sitting beside me has been my friend for years. That’s the charm of St. Andrews. As I enjoyed some pub food and a couple wobbly pops Randy Lavigne began to perform. Armed with only a guitar, harmonica, and good ol’ foot stompin’ he immediately grabbed my attention. Looking as if he stole his wardrobe right off John Denver he played his heart out (including doing some great Black Keys covers) in the crowded pub. As a special treat Kendra Gale joined Randy Lavigne on his last song right before her set was to begin. This being my first time at The Red Herring I now completely understand why so many great band pass through here. The Kendra Gale Band, which is actually just Kendra Gale on guitar and a drummer, took the stage after Randy and played some tunes. Clearly, she has a great fan base in her hometown.
Next up I was going to head over to Sunbury Shores to catch Zac Crouse and Morgan MacDonald. On the way over I popped into the Main Stage tent and snuck in on Thom Swift’s soundcheck. That was one show I was really looking forward to later in the evening.
Morgan MacDonald opened for Zac Crouse after a nice introduction from Jamie Steel. Morgan is originally from Chester Bay, Nova Scotia and delivered great stories before each of his songs. He already has an EP out called “Back To The Wilderness”, which is also a song he had written about his Grandmother’s death, and musically he could be compared to an early John Mayer. He’s off to record another album in Toronto the following weekend that will be produced by a member or Rheostatics so listen for that on CHSR in the future.
Zac Crouse was joined by Acres and Acres members Kris Pope and Ian Bent. Together the trio played songs while also showing clips from Crouse’s documentary that goes along with his new album “Paddle To The Ocean”. This album was written when Crouse, an avid kayaker, paddled from Ottawa all the way to Halifax, towing his kayak with his bike where the rivers ended. Zac Crouse has a great sense of humour and kept the crowd entertained with stories and song explanations. Having listened to his album a few times before I have a whole new appreciation for it now that I know exactly where the songs came from and the deeper meanings behind them. The album is about grief, loss, and healing. It takes a true artist to take something as tragic as the sudden loss of your best friend and turn it onto something beautiful like this album. And thanks to Zac for taking the time to chat with me for a little while after the show.
After Zac Crouse’s set I went over to the Main Stage to catch what I dubbed the “Pre-Harvest” show. Tonight Gordie Tentrees, Thom Swift and the El Caminos, Ross Neilsen, and the incredible duo of Keith Hallett and Garrett Mason were all taking the stage. Unfortunately I didn’t make it in time to see Tentrees but I arrived just in time to catch Swift in action. And the only way he can be described is as “a boss”.
He absolutely commands the stage and it was neat to watch a bit of the set with Ross Neilsen who himself is an absolute master at his craft. The entire crowd was dancing while Neilsen was on stage. Although his new album “Resurrection” currently is in regular rotation at CHSR 97.9FM he’d like to see it on ALL the local stations and encourages everyone to call their local DJ’s and request the album’s first single “Need You More”. And frankly, the album deserves it, it’s incredible. Finally, Keith Hallett and Garrett Mason took stage and ended the night in a true blues fashion.
Even though I have seen them play a dozen times before they still make you stand there in awe when they perform. Because they have played together so much the chemistry between them is like nothing else. By the end of Friday night Paddlefest had already exceeded my expectations.
The next afternoon I went to see Forward Music Group’s Gianna Lauren at the Honeybee Cafe. The perfect word for her is charming. It was just her and her guitar and she kept the audience engaged every second with her witty banter.
After Gianna I headed back to The Red Herring Pub to see Ross Neilsen do a solo performance. On the walk over I was given another reminder of how beautiful St. Andrews really is, the sun half shining and the salt water smells wafting into the air. Once again in good company at the pub, (and I have to mention that their server Matt was absolutely extraordinary), Ross played a free show for the pub patrons much different from the night before.
Montreal’s Folly and the Hunter played Saturday evening at Sunbury Shores and I have to say that an art gallery is the perfect place for them because they are nothing but pure art. Multi instrumental art. I have listened to their album a few times before but what I didn’t realize was that they all switched instruments depending on the song! And it’s absolutely frustrating to see that kind of talent not getting the mainstream attention that they deserve. But it was great to see how packed this venue was.
Fredericton’s own The Olympic Symphonium played after Folly and the Hunter, and the harmonies! Again here is an example of amazing musicianship when all bands switched instruments with varying songs and even all members took turns singing lead. The Olympic Symphonium really is Fredericton talent at its finest. They performed one of those sets that you wished would just go on and on. I’m really looking forward to their new album out this fall.
Saturday night at the Main Stage Aidan Knight and The Belle Comedians played their sets before I got there, but I did catch Paper Lions and Grand Theft Bus. Paper Lions had the entire crowd jumping and singing along. Their singer even went into the audience on their last song and performed with the crowd. And there was quite the crowd, the tent was packed! It seemed that all the other artists who had performed that week were at the show too. Paper Lions have a new album coming out this summer and treated us to a few new tracks!
Last but not least was Grand Theft Bus, a perfect way to end the night. They’re a festival favourite wherever they go.
Paddlefest really is the music festival for musicians. It was such a great weekend full of music and I was a little sad when it was all over. But, it gives me something to look forward to next spring! See you all at Paddlefest 2014!