2023 Year-End Roundup: 10 Memorable Live Moments 

2023 Concert Moments

As we prepare to kiss goodbye to 2023, it’s time once again to look back at the GDW concert-going adventures over the last twelve months and face the daunting task of selecting the most memorable live music experiences. Moving out of the pandemic era, it was essential to re-establish this annual recap at the close of 2022, and with a healthy dose of concerts on our 2023 schedule, it has proven much more difficult this year to whittle down the required ten finalists. As in previous years, we are not ranking these as a ‘Top 10,’ but simply listing our choices in chronological order by date (and for the curious, 9 of these clips can all be found on our YouTube page).  

Taylor Ashton: “Dead To Me” (Frederick/January) 

We devote considerable time to our GDW year-end recaps each December, and after switching out the annual calendar, are often excited for the first concert of the new year. Back in January, we lucked out and discovered a Canadian artist performing just over the state line in MD, making this an easy choice. With his finale, Taylor announced that the song was written as a duet, and that his female vocal companion could not be here tonight – so he planned to handle both parts. Hilarity ensued as Taylor split verses between a smooth baritone and a convincing falsetto, closing with a rapid call-and-response moment between both characters. Great theatrics. 

Blue Rodeo: “Side Of The Road” (Toronto/February) 

Most folks would probably consider a road trip to Toronto in late February being somewhat of a crazy endeavor – especially just a few days after the Buffalo area saw enough snowfall to cover an average pro basketball player from head to toe. But when the holy grail is an evening with Blue Rodeo at the iconic Massey Hall – and not just a regular concert, but their “Songs Seldom Heard” event – we call this sound reasoning, right?  The entire show was a blast, but for me personally, finally witnessing Greg Keelor perform “Side Of The Road” from their “Nowhere To Here” album – well, wild horses could not have kept us away. 

Matt Andersen (ft. The Hello Darlins): “Still Waters” (London/March) 

NS-based blues artist Matt Andersen is always a joy to experience live. A perennial favorite, Matt is a lock for this kind of list – no two shows are identical, and he always, always leaves you shaking your head in disbelief. Touring his latest album with his band, The Big Bottle Of Joy, Matt sold out three shows over consecutive nights at London’s Aeolian Hall and gave us our first opportunity to encounter this larger production. Joined by AB roots-Americana band The Hello Darlins, we were ever hopeful for a live performance of “Still Waters,” the band’s debut single and collaboration with Matt. Yes, they delivered. Yes, it was outstanding. Yes, it more than earned its inclusion on this list. 

Reuben And The Dark: “Stay Wild” (Hamilton/March) 

Purchasing tickets to a show at Mills Hardware for Reuben and the Dark capped a solid three concerts in three nights for us (bang for the buck) and presented an opportunity to hear plenty of the artist’s new album material receiving heavy airplay at the time on SXM radio. “Traveler Of Swords” should have been a lock for our song of choice here, given how often we heard this track across the airwaves, but it would be a trip back to Reuben’s “Arms Of A Dream” album for a performance of “Stay Wild” that sealed the deal. We can proudly admit to being left speechless as this song progressed through its musical highs and lows, ending with such an emotive and powerful climax. Simply amazing! 

Daniel Bélanger: “Le triomphe d´une perruche” (Ottawa/April) 

Never in our wildest imaginations did we consider that the performance of an instrumental piece could be not only a significant showstopper, but one singled out as a memorable moment of the year. Taking advantage of a rare chance to catch Montréal folk-pop rocker Daniel Bélanger outside of his home province, so many factors contributed to this stunning version of “Le triomphe d´une perruche” from his 2020 “Travelling” album: the strength of his band, the backstage screens and animation, and a dazzling light show. Daniel’s eerie whistles and cries brought on an all-out assault of goose bumps, leaving a noticeable lump in the throat as his final whistle faded away. 

Daniel Bélanger: “Rêver mieux” (Ottawa/April) 

This is a first – the inclusion of two memorable moments from the same artist/same show. There’s nothing in the rule book that says we can’t – and after consideration, neither of these tunes from this Québécois icon deserved to be scratched. Performed as the finale, the sold-out Southam Hall crowd rose to their feet to accompany Daniel word for word – a choir of epic proportions – and when accounting for the lighting, effects, cell phone flashlights mimicking candles, this was major league lump-in-the-throat kind of stuff. Once the band ceased playing, leaving Daniel’s final refrain with acoustic accompaniment to fill the room – that’s what made this moment so incredibly special. 

Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit: “King Of Oklahoma’” (Harrisburg/July) 

Canadian folk-roots music remains our primary focus, but we enjoy music and bands from all over, and when Americana icon Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit returned here to the PA mid-state, this was a show not to be missed. Releasing “Weathervanes” (quite possibly his finest album to date) a little over a month before this concert, “King Of Oklahoma” quickly earned the distinction of being my go-to album track. Jason would perform this cut on the Harrisburg stage, before surprising all by turning the five-minute rocker into an epic eight-minute Neil Young style jam fest – dueling six string riffs with lead guitarist Sadler Vaden. This was an exhilarating moment that I’m so glad we captured on film.  

Emm Gryner: “Space Oddity” (Arden/September) 

Many factors here made this one a memorable moment:  that GDW pal Emm Gryner was performing an intimate gig just a short drive away in Delaware; that it was by invitation only, yet Emm kindly thought about her two pals in PA who jumped at the chance to attend; and that we witnessed Emm reuniting with her friend and former Bowie-bandmate Mark Plati. Every tune played on this night is a candidate, but when Emm invited her friend and Philadelphia-based radio personality Jim McGuinn to join them for closing the first set, as a Bowie fan himself, together they collaborated on the ultimate you-had-to-be-there performance of Bowie’s hit tune, “Space Oddity.” “Ground control to Major Tom….” 

Jeremie Albino: “Last Night” (Washington DC/October) 

Back in 2018, emerging Toronto roots-rocker Jeremie Albino was name-dropped to us as one to watch. We caught a show in his home city later that year, and while the talent level was unmistakable, we could see this was an artist still searching for his musical identity within a crowded genre. Watching Jeremie’s career blossom over the last five years, we took delight in catching his visit to The Kennedy Center, and the well-curated and energetic set he delivered. Opening the show with some simple laid-back guitar noodling, before transitioning immediately into the recognizable riffs of this recent single, Jeremie’s journey from rough diamond to a smooth and polished final cut has been a remarkable adventure. 

Le Roy, la Rose et le Lou[p]: “Les amants de Pompéi” (Joliette/November) 

There is so much that can be said about fate. Like how randomly opening an email about a recently formed Québécois trio sharing their debut single soon progressed to looking at their mini-tour schedule and the subsequent purchase of tickets to their tour finale in a small Québec town. This trio of Ariane Roy, Thierry Larose, and Lou-Adriane Cassidy had a whole show at their disposal – we’d heard just one 3-minute song – and had no clue what to expect as we arrived at the theatre. Two hours later we left the building with elevated heart rates and that exhilarating feeling of having witnessed something completely amazing and unexpected both. For me, this was THE concert of the year. 

Photo Credit (Collage): Martin Noakes (except Blue Rodeo – Credit: Brenda Epstein) 

The British guy that crossed the ocean and crash landed in central Pennsylvania (to quote Greg Keelor, “And I wonder what am I doing here?”). As the youngest of four siblings, exposure to music from a very early age nurtured my passion and appreciation for many musical genres. Continuing to discover some amazingly diverse and talented musicians based in Canada, I gravitate to live music experiences and remain devoted to spreading the word about such a vibrant music scene.

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