Having outlined our appreciation of the public events at the inaugural Sawdust City Music Festival in Gravenhurst, ON, our attention is now focused on the Saturday evening entertainment held in the historic Opera House. The Jim Cuddy Family Band would headline the event, with both Harrow Fair (Miranda Mulholland and Andrew Penner) and Bet Smith & The Currie Brothers fulfilling the opening duties. The event also included a pre-show reception with Justin Rutledge, who performed two unplugged tracks (including “Kapuskasing Coffee” – always a delight to hear) to an intimate audience.
Gravenhurst locals Bet Smith & The Currie Brothers commenced the evening festivities with a five track set list that mixed both alternate-folk and country sounds. The four-piece ensemble warmed up with a sampling of their somber material, performing “You Walked Right Into This,” “Signs of Hostility,” and “What Matters Most.” While I personally liked this style of dark indie-folk music, the crowd around us seemed much more willing to embrace the change up to a lighter, country sound. The catchy “Bake Sale Angel, BBQ Queen” in particular easily earned the full attention of the sold-out Opera House crowd, as did the number that followed. This may have been a short opening set, but Bet Smith and The Currie Brothers completely captivated the audience and left the stage to a well-deserved ovation.
After a brief intermission, Harrow Fair were ready to play. Having seen them during their impromptu stopover in VA recently, we knew that this would be an amazing set of music. Leading off with “Told A Lie To My Heart,” the duo would perform seven tracks in total, including their recently released cover version of Chris Isaac’s “Wicked Game” and the title track from their “Call To Arms” album. The combination of Miranda’s perfect vocal pitch and flawless skills on the violin, plus Andrew’s raw, growl-like delivery and multi-instrumental ability is an absolute delight to hear and witness live. After closing with “Bite The Way”, Miranda and Andrew would ditch the microphones for their final piece, standing at the very edge of the stage to deliver a rousing version of the Rankin Family classic “Fare Thee Well Love.” There are probably only a handful of female vocalists that can match the emotional vocal range of any female Rankin (especially Cookie), but Miranda proved beyond all doubt that she is one of them by knocking this one out of the park (or theatre). Another set closed, and another standing ovation. Mission accomplished, Harrow Fair, as this crowd was now primed ready for the main event.
Harrow Fair Set List:
- Told A Lie To My Heart
- I Will Be Your Man
- Call To Arms
- Held Tight
- Wicked Game (Chris Isaac Cover)
- Bite The Way
- Fare Thee Well Love (Rankin Family Cover).
As the biggest draw for this event, Jim Cuddy is going to pack a house, no matter whether solo, with his band or with Blue Rodeo. And for us, this was to be our first experience of The Jim Cuddy Family Band; we’d never had an opportunity to hear Sam Polley perform, so our anticipation level was high for this final act. The set opened with the trio of Jim Cuddy, Colin Cripps and Anne Lindsay, who came out firing with Cuddy’s solo hits “All I Need,” “I Could Never Be That Man,” and “Regular Days.” Interestingly, Colin would remain completely acoustic for this set, allowing him to demonstrate just how masterful he is of those riffs on tracks such as “Five Days In May” and “Married Again.”
Both Sam Polley and Devin Cuddy would be introduced after the third track, and were given plenty of opportunities to perform their own material with everybody else in support. I really want to emphasize here our appreciation for how Jim Cuddy is so happy to let others have their moments in the spotlight, and fall into backing duties with genuine enthusiasm and gusto. Devin would shine with his bluesy, rag-time inspired sounds, and delighted all with “Radio.” “Maggie’s Hardware Store.” and the popular “Afghanistan” too. Similarly, Sam used his moments to show his appreciation for the ‘outlaw-country’ movement, covering both Tennessee Ernie Ford’s “Sixteen Tons” and the Hank Williams III hit “Crazed Country Rebel.”
On a personable level, Jim Cuddy was on top form during this show. He took time to engage in frequent father/son banter with his kids, took time to chastise Anne for her siding with Sam during “that lyric in his song.” and once again mocked himself for somehow forgetting the lines during one of his own tracks. Sam would work the crowd too, announcing that he wanted to cover a song written by a true father figure – somebody who inspired him at such a young age – Barney Bentall. Whether Jim’s facial expressions in response were premeditated or not, the punchline certainly received the desired crowd response. Both Sam and Devin would then share lead vocals during their cover of the Bentall hit “Come Back To Me.”
Jim and Anne would perform together during the piano-based “Pull Me Through” (Anne’s punishment for siding with Sam), before all five artists would reunite for a cover of the recent Blue Rodeo track “I Can’t Hide This Anymore.” Prior to closing the set, the band invited Miranda Mulholland onto the stage to perform a final number with them. Sam would politely ask the crowd to stand up for this song, with little effect as most remained seated. Taking his cue, Jim stepped forward to inform both Sam and the crowd that “You have to work it just like [Alan] Doyle” – and promptly hollered “Come on, get up, get on yer feet, get on yer feet,” mimicking the voice and body language of Doyle to perfection. Needless to say, the audience responded, and clapped, stomped and danced heartily for Sam’s cover version of the popular Great Big Sea hit “The Night That Pat Murphy Died.”
The stage soon emptied, but having been encouraged to stand and make some noise, the packed house were not ready to leave. Stomping, cheering, clapping – Jim Cuddy returned to the stage, sat at the piano and launched into “Try.” Stating that Colin had to get out of here to play another gig (Colin performed at the Sawdust City Brewing Company with C&C Surf Factory shortly afterwards), Jim played the first two lines of the song at twice the speed, before laughing at himself and once again saying that he had to rush for Colin. Restarting, and cranking out this hit tune, the Jim Cuddy Family Band and Miranda Mulholland would return for one final encore, and opted for a fully unplugged version of “Wash Me Down.”
Jim Cuddy Family Band Set List:
- All I Need
- I Could Never Be That Man
- Regular Days
- Sixteen Tons (Sam)
- *Unknown Title* (Devin)
- Married Again
- Too Many Hands
- *Unknown Title* (Sam)
- Radio (Devin)
- Still Want You
- Crazed Country Rebel (Sam)
- Maggie’s Hardware Store (Devin)
- Ready To Fall
- *Unknown Title* (Sam)
- Afghanistan (Devin)
- Five Days In May
- Come Back To Me (Sam & Devin)
- Pull Me Through
- I Can’t Hide This Anymore
- The Night That Pat Murphy Died (Sam)
- Wash Me Down
Cue the farewell statements, cue the well-deserved applause, and for several of those in attendance, cue the hustle out of the building and walk a few blocks to the brewery to catch C&C Surf Factory. We had a blast with this event in the Opera House, and we indeed went on to enjoy Colin’s other band later that night (as did Devin, Sam, Miranda, Melanie Brulée, Andrew Penner, and many other artists that were having a great time in Sawdust City).
As creator and curator, Miranda Mulholland witnessed her ideas and dreams come alive over this weekend, and her hard work was rewarded by both the musicians and the music fans alike. Team GDW had an amazing experience, and are ready to help rock the hashtag #SawdustCityMusicFestival2018 – and strongly recommend that you do the same. Let’s make this an annual event so that we can all enjoy both the amazing live music and wonderful hospitality from the town of Gravenhurst again next year.