It was difficult to imagine how the Kemptville Live Music Festival could be improved on after its inaugural appearance last year; but, my goodness, Bob Besharah and Karen Bedard have led their amazing team to new success. I have no intention of boosting the Festival beyond what it deserves, but this was an incredibly impressive, professional (in the best sense) and just plain fun time I imagine North Grenville has ever produced.
One aspect that was repeated from last year was the excellent line-up of musicians on both the main stage, sponsored by Chez 106, and the Bounder Stage, provided by Bounder Magazine. Eighteen acts in all, over the three days, with something for everyone along the way. To make it even better, this was an all-Canadian line-up, with some local musicians given some time on the two stages to please the home-town crowd. The talent on show was something special, and the energy that passed between the stages and the audience was high voltage at times. Certainly, by the end of the day, people went home happy, and probably exhausted too! A sign of a great gig.
It is always difficult to pick out performances at a Festival like this, but the headliners on all three days lived up to their billing. Blue Rodeo made the people glad they’d outlasted the storm, and it was great to have such a band play here in the neighbourhood. Saturday was the high octane part of the program, and, at the end of the night, people were talking about singing “Signs” with the Five Man Electrical Band, as well as the energy and fun of Tom Lavin and the Powder Blues Band, still laying one down after so many years. Colin James and his band then gave everyone a lesson in pure musicianship: a tight and talented bunch of players who knew exactly what they were doing.
Sunday was laid-back and acoustically inclined. It was a showcase of the solo artist and the possibilities in folk-based music. Twin Voices (Laura Beach) has a haunting voice and a way with multi-layered sound that creates a wonderful atmosphere. Fred Eaglesmith is a song-writing phenomenon and it was a real pleasure to see him perform. The man’s energy is astonishing, as is his wit, his barbs and his political rants, all of which went down well with the audience. This was despite the fact that the audience were also the target for some of those rants! Maybe it’s my age, but I loved his comments about music pre- and post-1973, and his analysis of the Eagles and Tony Orlando were priceless. It says something that he and Valdy, from last year, were the sharpest commentators on life, love and politics of all the musicians playing both years.
Sean McCann’s message is “Help Your Self”, and sings of hope and endurance. He had a hard time having to follow Fred Eaglesmith, but he carried it well. Folk music has always been about the deep things, the personal things, and this line-up stayed true to that. Bruce Cockburn personifies it. His music is about the spiritual and the political, the musicianship is superb, and the integrity only enhances the power of the performance.
Looking around the Festival grounds, there was a sense of pride and surprise mixed together: that this kind of event could happen here, in our own backyard. Bob Besharah always believed it could, and the way in which he and Karen Bedard have pulled it all together justified his belief. The army of volunteers, the huge cast of sponsors, beginning with The Finishing Touch Construction (who put their faith in this project from before the beginning), shows how committed the community is to making this a major event on the Festival circuit in future. Everyone who was there this year will talk about it, bring more friends along next year, and wait eagerly to see who’s coming to play for them in 2017. It will be another great party!