Brampton, ON-born, and now Toronto-based singer-songwriter and 2-time JUNO nominee AHI recently co-headlined the Saturday night main stage event at the historic Opera House as part of the 2022 Muskoka Music Festival. We first encountered this amazing folk-soul troubadour back in the summer of 2017, in London, ON, and knew this this was the first of many repeated performances we hoped to witness.
We paid attention to his incredibly strong work-ethic, and took delight in seeing his North American following grow, thanks in part to touring in support of artists such as Patty Griffin, Lauren Daigle, and most recently, Mandy Moore – yet, our plans to re-connect with AHI never seemed to work out. Tickets purchased to shows were promptly postponed and/or cancelled, disrupted by the global pandemic, so once we saw AHI’s name on the bill for this summer festival, we kept our fingers crossed that lightning would not strike once more.
As AHI stepped out onto the Opera House stage, I’ll happily admit that a huge smile broke out on my face. That realization where although five years had quickly passed since that first encounter, given how this artist has grown as a songwriter and performer in that time frame, this was a moment that would prove totally worth the wait. “It’s been a crazy past couple of years, right,” AHI stated, midway through the performance of “Prospect.” “So, my job tonight is very simple. I just want to go inside your heart if you’ll allow me to, and find all the broken bits, all the cobwebs, all the dark spaces, and shine some light on that a little bit. Will you allow me to do that tonight? Your job tonight is very simple. It’s to get out of your skin, and get into the music, alright?”
With the release of his latest (and stunning) album, “Prospect,” late last year, AHI (accompanied by guitarist Nick Tateishi) would naturally draw heavily from this career-defining material. From the deeply-moving “Full Circle,” to his powerful homage to victims of gun violence (and SXM radio hit) that is “Danger,” AHI demonstrated a very polished, yet very personal performance from the time spent honing his craft on the road. “I just want to say, this is not a political song,” he stated, following “Danger.” “I don’t care what side of the fence you fall on politically. It’s about life. It’s about the value of life. We all value our lives, right? We all want to see ourselves live our lives to the fullest, right? And that’s what it’s about. Just ending senseless violence, all violence to be honest with you.” He would also use “Closer (From A Distance)” to share a tale about good and bad relationships, and performed his 2017 hit (and possibly most popular tune, based on the 20 million plus Spotify streams alone), “Ol’ Sweet Day.”
Donning the equestrian hat ever-present as part of his on-stage persona, AHI offered a wonderful tale about the origins of this particular prop. “Prior to the pandemic, when I recorded my first two records, I drove from Toronto all the way to Nashville to record these records, with my wife and three children at the time, all under the age of seven. Except my wife, my wife was very much older than seven,” he commenced, pausing as the audience chuckled at his faux pas. “And going to Nashville, I really wanted to get into the country-esque, the cowboy-esque, the ‘y’all come back now’ spirit of the south, right? So, I found this website … and it had everything, the cowboy hats, the rhinestone jackets, the tight pants, the cowboy boots … and there was this one hat on it, called the black rodeo cowboy hat, and I thought this is perfect. All of my guitars are all black, all the time! I wear all black, all the time! I am all black, all the time!”
The crowd erupted with laughter, as AHI paused for effect. “A black rodeo cowboy hat, and it was the cheapest hat on the website. So, I clicked that button, and UPS came with a big box, and we made it a family affair, everybody’s gathered around the box. So, I slid open the box, flip open the flaps, popcorn flying everywhere, pulp fiction coming out of the box, a choir of angels had started singing, I kid you not.” Another pause as the audience encouraged him to continue with this rapid-fire tale. “And, I look into the box, and I put on my new black rodeo cowboy hat … and this is what was sent instead.” Another perfectly timed pause for laughter. “That’s my story, and I’m sticking with it. And it doesn’t matter if it’s a true story, it’s a good story.”
- Breakin’ Ground
- Coldest Fire
- Closer (From A Distance)
- Lift Me Again
- Ol’ Sweet Day
- Full Circle
- Until You
Photo Credit: Martin Noakes