Team GDW spent a memorable weekend in the Muskokas for the third annual Sawdust City Music Festival. Having attended all three of these events, held over the Civic Day holiday weekend in Gravenhurst, ON, the combination of small town charm, stunning scenery, and great music has quickly become one of our favorite excursions. Boasting some amazing ticketed events at the 350 seat capacity Opera House, we enjoyed music from both Noah Reid (Schitt’s Creek) and Maria Doyle Kennedy (Downton Abbey, Orphan Black) on the Friday night, and both Harrow Fair and Bill & Joel Plaskett just 24 hours later. But one of the biggest draws for this particular festival is the attention given to free music events over the weekend, offering the casual visitor and music fan alike the opportunity to see some of Canada’s finest musicians at various locations throughout the small town.
We would learn during the later stages of the weekend that this would be the final hurrah for the Sawdust Music City Festival. But don’t reach for the tissues just yet! All is not lost, as was explained to those in attendance at Gull Wing Rotary Park on the Sunday afternoon by Miranda Mulholland, the hostess and artistic director. “We really want to celebrate the fact that Gravenhurst is the Gateway to Muskoka. This is one of the most vibrant towns going, and with the 25-40 year olds that are moving here, we have an incredible population of people who actually care about their community, and care about each other,” she explained. “And with this idea of growing this vision, we are taking on a new name. Sawdust City Music Festival is going to become Muskoka Music Festival. We are the Gateway to Muskoka! We’re on the map! Gravenhurst is amazing!”
No matter which name was on the banner proudly displayed around this town over the weekend, we marveled once more at the incredible pool of artists that Miranda and her hard-working team had invited for this year’s event. From folk to country, from rock and roll to soul, there were too many artists to feature here, hence a focus on four of our favorites that we did not want to miss during our stay.
Emm Gryner – Saturday
For the second consecutive year, the festival featured a wonderful singer-songwriter circle held at the Trinity United Church. And with prominent recording artist Emm Gryner being part of this event, we knew this was something that we could not afford to miss. Opting to go with the keyboard as her instrument of choice, Emm would deliver three original compositions, including both “Imagination” from her 2018 “Only of Earth: Days of Games” album, and “Christopher,” from her 2002 “Asianblue” album. Sharing a tale about writing this track in honor of Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield, Emm confessed that she would later learn that his name was not Christopher, but simply, Chris. Encouraged by her peers to maybe sing “Chris” for this occasion, Emm managed to tweak the line once, but stuck with the tried and tested formula the rest of the way. For VIPs and Weekend Pass holders, Emm would perform during a pre-show reception that following evening, sharing “The Mission,” with some beautiful violin accompaniment courtesy of Lara St. John (check our FB page for footage).
Jay Gilday – Saturday
Sitting adjacent to Emm Gryner at the Trinity United Church, Edmonton based singer-songwriter Jay Gilday was another artist that we had circled as a ‘must-see’ for this weekend. Having discovered his amazing music during an event in Philadelphia last summer, we immediately craved the opportunity to catch up with him again. With his acoustic guitar strapped across his shoulder, Jay too would share three original compositions, at least two of which were brand new tracks that shall appear on his upcoming “The Choice and the Chase” album. Encountering once more his gravelly, emotionally charged voice, he demonstrated his passionate folk persona when delivering both “On Into The Wind” and “Running Wild;” both of which shall appear on the new release. And luckily for us, Jay brought a few advance copies of the album to sell at the merchandise table, making it an easy decision to pick one up and listen to back here in PA. Being released in Canada on September 1st, “The Choice and the Chase” follows seamlessly from Gilday’s highly acclaimed “Faster Than Light” album, and I highly recommend both to anyone who truly appreciates raw and brutally honest music from a very gifted singer-songwriter.
The Sadies – Sunday
On an absolutely gorgeous Sunday evening at the Rotary Park on Gull Lake, Toronto four-piece band, The Sadies, brought their unique and progressive brand of neo-rockabilly surf rock to The Barge. Regular readers of GDW will already know that we’ve had the pleasure of experiencing this band live on many occasions, yet with the distance afforded between the audience on dry land and the band out on the lake, the sound came with incredible clarity through the speaker system. And even as headliners on this stage, The Sadies only had about 45 minutes to work with, cranking out many of their popular hits and even playing at a slightly quicker tempo than normal (and let’s be honest, these guys play fast and tight to begin with). Brothers Dallas and Travis Good would naturally split vocal duties throughout the show, with favorite instrumentals such as “Cheat” and “Ridge Runner Reel” included too. Dallas took the lead on both “The First Five Minutes” and “The Good Ones,” with Travis stepping up to the microphone for “Leave Me Alone,” and to team up with his brother during “God Bless The Infidels.” Displaying their relentless energy as always, the band closed with the popular hit, “Tiger, Tiger.” How can you beat a free show featuring The Sadies as the sun goes down over the lake? That’s right, you can’t!
The Stephen Stanley Band – Sunday
Bidding farewell to friends, both new and old, at Gull Lake, we made a final stop at The Sawdust City Brewing Co. to catch some tunes from another Torontonian, Stephen Stanley and his band. Joined by friends Chris Bennett (guitars), Kevin Lacroix (bass) and Cam Pyziak (percussion), Stephen would also invite violinist Lara St. John to accompany them for a few tunes, treating everybody to some wonderfully unique versions of “California” and the always popular “Hey Darlene.” Both Stephen and the audience clearly loved the added dimension to the sound offered by Lara, who was asked to remain on stage down the stretch, adding her fiddling prowess once again to “The Same Old Joint.” This combination of the intimate brewery stage, a great sound system, and a band as lively as Stephen Stanley and co, made for a rousing finale to the Sawdust City Music Festival, with “Jimmy and the Moon” being the last song played to formally bring the weekend to an end. It was a pleasure to catch up with Stephen and Chris once more, and we are grateful to Kevin for the chat in between sets. Rest assured that just as we intend to return to the Muskokas again next year, we also hope to cross musical paths with The Stephen Stanley Band again, and take enjoyment from their incredibly rousing live performances.