Canadian Music Week Recap – Day 1: Free Times Cafe

Christine OwmanSo, Day 1. I’d built myself a pretty hefty coming in to CMW, intending to bounce from one venue to another to catch all the most exciting acts (in my opinion anyway) appearing at the festival—a schedule, somewhat surprisingly, heavy on electronic and synth-based acts. Though, when I made that schedule, I had no idea that, in Canada “everything is far from everything”. But after dragging my suitcase over a mile through the snow and rain, I was in no mood to carry on in the same fashion late into the night. In the end, though I was approved to cover nine venues Wednesday evening, I pulled up a seat at the Free Times Cafe from which my body and I, destroyed after traveling all day on a full 20 minutes of sleep and one cup of coffee, refused to move. What I was left with was an evening of singer-songwriters and absolutely no regrets.

The first of them, Christine Owman [SoundCloud], was the one I’d come to see. Intrigued by the videos I’d seen combining electronics and theatrics with decades old film footage, there was no way I was going to miss the live spectacle. Nor was there any way that Ms. Owman, loop station and musical saw in tow, was going to disappoint, filling her set with all the dramatics of an ugly breakup coupled with the sweetness of the reconciliation.

Once I’d made the executive decision to never move again, all that was left for me to do was to sit back and listen to JP Hoe, whoever he was. Who he is, kids, is a singer-songwriter from (I think) Manitoba with beautiful voice and crystal clear tone. But it was on a handful of numbers, accompanied by a couple of friends, where the music shone—gorgeous ringing vocal harmonies sinking into every forgotten corner of the room. One particular highlight for me was the first of these, a song from a holiday EP—something about singing ‘O Holy Night’—was absolutely striking’, with a handful of surprise chord changes thrown in for good measure.

Following JP Hoe, Louise Burns and her band, apparently surprised by the smallness of the stage, mounted an emergency stripped down acoustic set, while I, along with Australia’s Eli Wolfe (not performing that night, but he’ll be wandering the US and Canada this summer) watched from the wings. And though, based on my pre-CMW artist notes, I was suitably enthusiastic about LB’s full band set up, something about the minimalist approach they took at Free Times Cafe Wednesday night highlighted entirely new aspects of the music. Even down to the extra reverb in the mix—excessive reverb, almost, for such a tiny room—gave the music a serendipitous Phil Spector vibe.

In the end, I desperately needed those few hours. To dry off, yes. To warm up, definitely. But most important was the reassurance that my plans could be changed for whatever reason—expediency, practicality, or just plain laziness—and I could still experience memorable and often beautiful performances by bands I hadn’t had time to preview in the preceding weeks. Little did I know that this would become a running theme throughout the festival.

[More photos from Day 1 on Facebook.]