Sawdust City Music Festival 2019: Bill & Joel Plaskett (With Harrow Fair) Live at the Opera House

Joel and Bill Plaskett

Team GDW returned to Gravenhurst, ON, for the third annual Sawdust City Music Festival, held over the recent Civic Day Holiday weekend.  After two incredibly successful years for this ‘festival newbie,’ artistic director Miranda Mulholland was once again faced with the tough task of finding a top-tier headlining act for the Saturday night Opera House show.  With the Jim Cuddy Family Band setting the standard in 2017, and Rose Cousins and company raising that bar the last time around, expectations were sky high.  Not one to back down to a challenge, Mulholland dug deep into her Rolodex and once again brought a stellar cast of musical talent to the Muskoka region.  And gracing the stage this year for the Saturday night main event would be none other than the father/son team of Bill and Joel Plaskett.

Bringing this festival to life once more meant a lot of hard work, effort, and dedication from Miranda and her team, yet they pulled it off, and gave festival-goers a great holiday weekend to remember.  We are all familiar with the negative overtones of ‘all work and no play,’ making it extra sweet seeing our favorite hostess and curator being joined on stage by Andrew Penner, her Harrow Fair bandmate, to perform the opening duties on this particular night.  “We are so honored to be opening for Bill and Joel Plaskett tonight,” Miranda announced. “For those of you who may be wondering, although I do know the artistic director intimately, there is a board who make these decisions, and we’re really happy to be here.”

Having the opportunity to ask Andrew if Harrow Fair were likely to share some upcoming new material on this night, he candidly responded that they planned to go with familiar tunes, given how busy Miranda continued to be with the running of her festival.  He was absolutely correct too.  Miranda was spotted everywhere throughout the weekend, rarely taking time to relax, and clearly fighting hard to keep exhaustion at bay.  Yes, Miranda fully deserved her moment under the spotlight on the stage, doing what she loves to do the most; performing Harrow Fair’s music.  And with several tracks from the debut “Call To Arms” album, along with a selection of popular covers, sticking to their tried-and-tested formula was indeed the best way to go.

Taking the stage as “Harrow Fair Pig Auction” played through the PA system, the duo opened with their always delightful combination of “Told A Lie To My Heart” and “I Will Be Your Man.”  Highly energetic tracks such as “Hangnail” and “Bite The Way” were counter-balanced by “Held Tight” and their amazing cover of Chris Isaak’s “Wicked Game.”  “I grew up coming to this opera house, and seeing musicals and shows, and it’s always such an honor to be on this stage,” Miranda would share.  “I was trying to keep my artistic director hat and performing hat on separate heads, but my great-great-grandfather had this place built, and it means so much for me to play here.”  The inclusion of the Muddy Waters (and Led Zeppelin) classic “When The Levee Breaks” truly allowed both artists to shine vocally and instrumentally, reaching an epic level of intensity. And with their intimate knowledge of the outstanding acoustics offered by this room, both Mulholland and Penner would unplug their instruments for the finale; opting to close with the Rankin Family’s “Fare Thee Well Love” whilst perched on the very front edge of the stage.

Harrow Fair Set List:

  1. Told A Lie To My Heart
  2. I Will Be Your Man
  3. Call To Arms
  4. Held Tight
  5. The Hunt/Long Hot Summer Day
  6. Hangnail
  7. Wicked Game (Chris Isaak cover)
  8. When The Levee Breaks (Muddy Waters cover)
  9. Bite The Way
  10. Fare Thee Well Love (Rankin Family cover)


Following a brief intermission, Miranda Mulholland would return to the stage as master of ceremonies, thanking the audience, the sponsors, the volunteers, and to proudly acknowledge the importance of the First Nations communities that also share and call this land home.  Welcoming Bill and Joel Plaskett to the stage, the main event was ready to commence.  We last had the pleasure of seeing this father and son duo back in April 2017, which had some priceless moments between them when Joel was attempting to instruct Bill to select the correct pedals. “Turn your tuner off, check your tuner,” Joel advised Bill from the offset here in Gravenhurst, prompting fond memories of that previous encounter.  “And so it begins,” joked Joel, as the duo prepared to open the show with “Absentminded Melody.”

With a selection of tracks from their “Solidarity” album, both father and son displayed their natural chemistry all evening, splitting vocal duties when required.  Joel took the lead on “Blank Cheque,” while Bill followed suit with “On Down The River.”  Joel would also dig into his vast catalog of music, and satisfy many fans in the Opera House with select choices from “Ashtray Rock” (“Nothing More To Say”), and “Scrappy Happiness” (“I’m Yours”).  And with a reminder from Joel that Bill had originally contributed extensively to his “Three” album, several tracks from this release would be shared, notably “Every Time You Leave,” “One Look,” and “Wishful Thinking.”

Following “Every Time You Leave,” Bill would take time to share a tale with the audience.  “I keep going back to that rhyme about Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee, and it’s tempting just to talk about him (Joel) when he was a kid,” he shared, complete with a grin on his face.  “He went to daycare in Lunenburg, NS, and he used to make up rhymes on the way in the car.  And the one that I remember was windshield wiper, windshield wiper, what did we do today? Remember that one?”  Eliciting chuckles from the room, all eyes were on Joel awaiting his response; one that he was unable to make before Bill shared the answer.  “We flip, flap, flip, flap, we wash the rain away.”  Breaking out a huge smile as the memories returned, Joel let the laughter subside before responding.  “That was hip! That was the verse I cut out of Fashionable People,” he joked.  “I remember that day care.  I hate stewed tomatoes, and they tried to feed me hot dogs and stewed tomatoes there.”  Moving on to their next track, “One Look,” Joel would prompt laughter once more, reciting, “Windshield wiper, windshield wiper, here’s a love song.”

While Bill took a brief hiatus from the stage, Joel introduced the audience to an electric guitar that he had purchased in town just that very evening from Curries Music, stating that he should at least try it out tonight.  “It was a super impulsive decision,” he shared. “I hope it works. They are not open on Sunday, so I can’t take it back.”  Rocking the room with a fully electrified rendition of “Through & Through & Through,” the guitar offered plenty of beautiful noise, prompting Joel to keep it strapped over his shoulder for another solo number.  “With my new guitar, it only seems fitting that I should try something new on it,” he stated, receiving appreciative applause in return.  “I’ve never sung this song before, and I actually just wrote it the other day,” he explained.  “My cats are twins, and they’re beautiful grey boys … and I took a picture of them, and I wrote, Memphis Cheeks and Mr. Chips melt the universe with brotherly love.”  More feedback from the room prompted Joel to pause for effect, before continuing.  “So I wrote a song called Melt the Universe with Brotherly Love.  I don’t know what key it’s going to be in yet, so I’m just going to pick one that seems reasonable.”

Switching back to his acoustic guitar following the new tune, Joel would offer up a wonderful medley featuring “Love This Town” (complete with additional verses) and the crowd favorite, “Nowhere With You,” before inviting Bill back to the stage.  Knocking out a pair of numbers, Joel would pause to thank Miranda Mulholland for inviting him and Bill to be a part of the Sawdust City Music Festival, and would insist that she join them on stage with her fiddle for the last two songs.  Miranda naturally accepted the offer, and the trio would go on to perform incredibly rousing renditions of both “Deny, Deny, Deny” and “Rollin’, Rollin’, Rollin’,” from “Three.”  Cue the well earned applause.  Cue the standing ovation. Cue the artists exit from the stage.

Both father and son would return for two encore numbers, the first a stunning version of “Solidarity,” and the finale, a return to the “Three” album for “Wishful Thinking.”  And upon figuring out this song as it was being performed, it occurred to me that the significance of this choice was not lost upon long-time fans of Joel Plaskett.  “Guitar’s singing a song for free / Why’s everybody always picking on me? / Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee.”  While I am uncertain if they got to perform those particular lines, the duo had clearly gone full circle back to Bill’s reference earlier in the show.  Well played, Bill and Joel, very well played.  The packed out Opera House were treated to something very special on this particular Saturday night.

Set List:

  1. Absentminded Melody
  2. Hard Times
  3. Blank Cheque
  4. Every Time You Leave
  5. One Look
  6. On Down The River
  7. Nothing More To Say
  8. Help Me Somebody Depression Blues
  9. Through & Through & Through
  10. Melt The Universe With Brotherly Love (New)
  11. Love This Town/Nowhere With You Medley
  12. Fogarty’s Cave (Stan Rogers cover)
  13. I’m Yours
  14. Deny, Deny, Deny
  15. Rollin’, Rollin’, Rollin’


  1. Solidarity
  2. Wishful Thinking


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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