Following our recent recap of the performance by Ron Hawkins at the Jackson-Triggs amphitheater, the focus here shifts to co-headliner, Matt Mays, who brought his semi-acoustic live show to the winery for the 500 or so fans in attendance. Noticing the full band set up on stage as we entered the venue, we also noted the close proximity of the instruments to each other, hinting that this would be either an acoustic or stripped down version of his typical big band sound. The latter would be applicable on this given night, as answered by Matt and his band when receiving a very welcoming reception from the audience upon being introduced to the stage.
Accompanying Matt would be his best friend and right-hand man, Adam Baldwin (keyboards/vocals), along with Newfoundland native Ryan Stanley (guitar/mandolin/lap steel/vocals) and Loel Campbell (percussion). The significant bonus for the crowd on this given night was the addition of Nova Scotian Anna Ludlow (violin/vocals), whose raw energy and exceptional fiddle skills gave Matt’s music an incredible extra dimension. Tracks such as “Take It On Faith” and “Tall Trees” sounded phenomenal with Anna’s input, as did the deliberately slower-paced versions of popular hits, “Cocaine Cowgirl,” and “Indio.” Performing non-stop for close to 100 minutes, the quintet shared 16 tracks that spanned Matt’s entire recording career.
Turning to both his acoustic guitar and harmonica to start, Matt commenced the show by revisiting his 2002 self-titled album, sharing a wonderful rendition of “Downtown.” Following immediately with “Indio,” Mays encountered no difficulties in inviting the audience to participate with this popular song. Leading with chants of “Run, Run, Run,” Mays was visibly in awe of the “You Are Free Now” retort from the 500 people in front of him. “Nice, louder, come on,” he encouraged to keep the momentum going, before pausing to thank the crowd; and with shouts of “1, 2, 3, 4” from one of his band-mates, all five musicians added an extended instrumental solo to close out the song. “That was some pretty good singing guys,” Matt stated as the applause died down. “That was great!”
Prior to a performance of “Spoonful Of Sugar,” another older hit found on his 2006 “When The Angels Make Contact” album, Matt took time to converse about the crazy weather that hit Southern Ontario earlier in the day. “That rain. Hail. Tornado Warning. So we had this hail today the size of … Mentos,” he joked. “We were driving down the highway at 1:30 and hit a patch of Mentos.” With the band raring to curb his humor and start the tune, Mays would pause once more as the arrival of an insect startled him. “Oh a cockroach,” he laughed. “No, it’s a beetle, it’s just a beetle. Oh, that’s Ringo I think?” Cue some laughter, cue some groans, and cue the prompt attention of the band who quickly got the music going to prevent any more of Matt’s humor (not that they had much success – those in attendance were subject to a “Cape Breton joke about Hackey Sacks”).
Continuing to promote his most recent “Once Upon a Hell of a Time” album (and acoustic follow-up, “Twice…”), several of the new tracks would receive this semi-acoustic treatment. Sharing both “Ola Volo” (complete with ukulele from Mays) and “Drive On,” it would be the performance of “Station Out Of Range” that provided one of the sweetest moments of the night. Encouraging the crowd to participate once more, the collective sounds of “We Are” from the audience down the stretch was bettered only by Matt’s sudden request to have the audience stop, hollering, “Just the crickets. Shush, shush.” And with the silence, the beautiful summer evening sound of nothing but crickets was all that could be heard in the vineyards. Simply outstanding, and deservedly applauded by the crowd.
“So my family is slowly moving to Niagara-on-the-Lake, and I can’t imagine a better place to relocate,” Matt shared later that evening. “Seriously, I’ve spent a lot of time here. My sister lives just across the way, and it’s nice to hear all of the shows here from her place. And its pretty cool, they just get loaded on wine all of the time.” Knocking out another highlight reel moment, the band went on to deliver “Take It On Faith,” complete with energetic violin solo from Anna that had everybody cheering appreciatively. And with Matt giving his acoustic guitar a serious workout towards the close of “Terminal Romance,” he would be startled for the second time this evening when a guitar string seemingly exploded as he was playing. “That was exciting,” he stated, as he had to unstrap the guitar and adjust his set list on the fly.
Hearing him whisper “Boat” to his colleagues, he turned back to his microphone to address the audience. “I think I can do one without a guitar, do you think I can do it?” he asked. “I think I can do it. I just turned 40 a week ago, so let’s see how bad this could go.” Picking up some maracas, he would joke once more, stating, “And if it does not work out, you’ll all get your money.” “Ooh, no,” responded a smiling Adam Baldwin, as the sound technician took Matt’s guitar away for repair. Naturally the band performed an amazing version of “Building A Boat,” which saw Mays shaking up to four maracas in lieu of his six string. “That was okay, eh? Not too bad?” he asked at the close of the song. “Sam Roberts taught me some of the moves. He’s the king. Except that I weight about 85 more pounds than him.”
Adding the aforementioned moving version of “Cocaine Cowgirl” (with Anna’s fiddle actively replacing the guitar solo), the band would go full throttle, opting to close the show with “Tall Trees” from Matt’s 2008 “Terminal Romance” release. Filling the amphitheater with plenty of raw and passionate energy, the band took their bows and exited the stage. Naturally, the applause and cheers would call for their return, yet just Matt and Anna would initially grace the stage once more. And following a brief explanation of how he and Anna had originally first met, and played this particular track together, the duo would divert from the set list to deliver “Chase The Light,” which stands out as one of the most amazing and un-scripted duets I’ve ever witnessed on the Jackson-Triggs stage. Calling out for the three guys waiting in the wings, the band would crank out both “Queen of Portland Street” and “On The Hood” to send the audience home. A phenomenal show from an amazing group of musicians, and another outstanding experience at this winery once more. We are very much looking forward to see what the 2020 Jackson-Triggs summer concert series shall tempt us with for next year.
- Spoonful of Sugar
- Drive On
- City of Lakes
- Station Out Of Range
- Ola Volo
- Take It On Faith
- Terminal Romance
- Building A Boat
- Cocaine Cowgirl
- Tall Trees
- Chase The Light (duet with Anna Ludlow)
- Queen of Portland Street
- On The Hood