After wrapping up our long ‘festival’ weekend in Muskoka last month, we had no immediate plans to return to ON again so soon – but never say never, right? A social media post from Dartmouth, NS singer-songwriter Matt Mays placed our senses on high alert when discovering that he would be performing at the Ancaster Fair on a Saturday night. Those senses were further heightened when learning that he planned to bring the full band along too. Shortly after, our good pal Terra Lightfoot disclosed that she would be opening the show. Terra and Matt on the same bill, on an early-autumn Saturday evening in Southern Ontario, meant only one thing – time to pull out the credit card and grab a couple of advance tickets for one final outdoors gig this season.
Ask me to name five artists or bands that I consider essential for experiencing live, and Matt Mays is pretty much a lock on that list. We first caught Matt in concert back in late 2017 as an opening act – one given much more than the conventional 35-minute slot – and then four years ago, caught him and his full band in VA to enjoy the final night of their 2018 US tour. Fast forward to summer 2019 and we would enjoy Matt’s semi-acoustic variety of live music at a popular Niagara-on-the-Lake winery, and once again left craving much, much more from this talented group of musicians. Then along came a global pandemic to put the kybosh on live concerts for a while, yet Matt surprised all by streaming a virtual performance of his “From Burnside with Love” semi-unplugged concert in early 2021 – filling a void for his legion of fans, many who were still very much isolated from the world around them.
Following an extraordinary 60-minute opening set from Terra Lightfoot (recap to follow soon), Matt (vocals/guitars) and his band were given a heartfelt welcome from the growing crowd around the main-stage area on a seasonably cool (perfect) evening. Joined as always by his long-time recording and touring companions, Matt was flanked by Ryan Stanley (lead guitar/vocals) and Adam Baldwin (guitar/vocals) up front, and supported by the always-amazing Leith Fleming-Smith (keyboards/keytar/vocals), Serge Samson (bass), and drummer Damien Moynihan (announced as Stevie Moynihan) – the level of talent on stage was simply off the charts.
Greeting the audience with, “Hey guys, this is a party, alright,” Matt wasted no time satisfying the cravings of the music-starved crowd in front of him, opening with the popular hit “Tall Trees,” the first of three tracks from his 2008 “Terminal Romance” album, which also provided “Building A Boat” (complete with a lengthy guitar solo from Ryan and extra keyboard duties from Leith) and the sought after title track, which saw Matt temporarily ditch his instrument and go solo with the microphone (a moment he would repeat during the first of two encore tracks later that night – a first for us seeing him sans the guitar or alternative percussion item). And during this period of time without either his Gibson SG or Gretsch Falcon strapped on, those paying careful attention to his antics witnessed Matt even displaying some robot dance moves.
Digging deeper into his back catalog, the band performed a flawless version of “City Of Lakes,” which prompted Matt to share a tale about his roots. “So, I’m from Nova Scotia, but I’m also from Hamilton, and I spend a lot of summers here. My family is from here, and I just recently moved back. I have a place that is four minutes that way,” he shared, pointing beyond the beer tent, and soaking up the cheers from the crowd. “All the smells remind me of my childhood memories of Hamilton when I visited my grandparents, and when I lived here until I was six years old. I am Nova Scotian, but I have a really strong connection here, so thanks for having me back, and I’m really excited to make more smell memories here, I guess.”
With a brief foray into his 2006 “When The Angels Make Contact” album, Matt would precede the one cut from this release by addressing the crowd. “I wrote this song when a big hurricane hit my home town in Nova Scotia, Halifax,” he offered, before responding directly to a youngster who informed him that they had family in the province and could not reach them as Hurricane Fiona battered the coastal Maritimes. “I’m sure they’ll be okay, they just got cut off for a while,” Matt reassured his young fan, before launching into “Spoonful Of Sugar.”
Long-time fans of Matt’s earlier days would continue to be amply rewarded, with several cuts from his 2005 “El Torpedo” release performed, including “Cocaine Cowgirl,” the rousing and amped-up final encore number that saw the band leave nothing on the table before they bid their audience a good night. It would be approximately mid-set, however, when cries of “Travellin’” were called out from the crowd, and ever the jester, Matt was willing to toy with the audience for a while. “Did you say ‘Travellin’,” he asked, prompting an immediate response comprised of whoops, hollers, and cheers. “I don’t know if the guys know it though. Guys, do you remember it? It’s off the second record.” Another pause to soak up the response, his bandmates playing along, with the shaking of heads and confused stares directed back at him. “I know it’s a curveball, Adam, but I know you guys know how to play it,” Matt added, looking across to his left to gauge the reaction from his best friend – Adam still non-committal. “Serge, you know it?” Matt asked, turning to his bass player, who offered a ‘maybe’ hand gesture in response.
“I think we can figure it out. Leith, do you want to take a solo in it, maybe?” Matt added, pausing only to see how the crowd response intensified as Fleming-Smith stepped out from behind his keyboards, strapping on a keytar and joining the three guitarists at center stage. “Ok, here we go, you asked for it,” Matt cried out, the band breaking out with perfect timing to kick-start this fan favorite. And the pranks continued as the ‘condensed’ version of the song wound down – Matt quickly stating, “Well, we got through it ok, I suppose, eh? Thank you very much, thank you…” – only to be interrupted as Leith burst into life with the keytar (synth-guitar) for an unbelievable solo, jamming with Mays at center stage in a fabulous extended moment of ‘musical theater.’ Not to be outdone, the tandem of guitarists lined up behind Leith, and sported some nifty synchronized ‘guitar moves,’ earning the whole band a thunderous ovation as the song drew to its close.
The official set times of events on the Ancaster Fair schedule listed Matt Mays as performing between 8:30pm until 10:00pm, but while the band kicked off their headlining gig closer to 8:45pm, there was no way that they could squeeze all 13 tunes into a 90-minutes-or-less slot. Bidding the audience good night right at 10:00pm, following their always epic 9-minute performance of “Terminal Romance,” this band may have exited the stage, but were clearly not done yet. Cries for an encore lured the six musicians back out, and pushed the official 10pm finish out closer to 10:20pm with a stunning back-to-back onslaught of super-hits “On The Hood” and “Cocaine Cowgirl” – before congregating center-stage for their final bows following this unbelievable finale.
What a show!!! If I had to use postal mail as an adjective or metaphor to describe Matt Mays, he’s always considered “First Class” – but on this given night (and having played just a few gigs with the band this summer – they clearly had a ton of post-pandemic energy to burn), Matt’s performance was upgraded to “Priority Mail” with a “Special Delivery Guarantee” all the way. We may still face some uncertainties as we gradually come out of the dark days of the pandemic, but one thing for sure is that when it comes to performing live, Matt and his bandmates are just too talented and too passionate to ever consider taking an easy route and simply mail it in.
- Tall Trees
- Ain’t So Heavy
- What Are We Gonna Do Come The Month Of September?
- Building A Boat
- Spoonful Of Sugar
- Station Out Of Range
- City Of Lakes
- Take It On Faith
- Terminal Romance
- On The Hood
- Cocaine Cowgirl