Rewind to August 2017, and the first Sawdust City Music Festival, where event founder and curator Miranda Mulholland pulled out all the stops to bring a fantastic Saturday night show to the town of Gravenhurst, ON. Boasting a line up that included Bet Smith & The Currie Brothers, Harrow Fair, and The Jim Cuddy Family Band, just how could Miranda repeat bringing so much artistic talent together for a night of music?
Fast forward back to earlier this year, and as the list of names scheduled to perform this time around kept being announced, we knew that something very special was going to take place once again on that Opera House stage. And just how about that list of names? Rose Cousins, The Good Lovelies, Damhnait Doyle, and Amanda Rheaume would combine to make this the ultimate girls night out in Gravenhurst. Factor in the backing duo of Bret Higgins on bass and Joshua Van Tassel on drums, what more did anybody need to convince them that they simply could not afford to miss this one?
After a pre-show reception, and some fine acoustic music courtesy of Lydia Persaud, the doors were opened to the Opera House and a packed room of people quickly took to their seats. Following a brief greeting from Miranda Mulholland, Amanda Rheaume would be introduced to the stage to start the show. Accompanied by her friend Nikki Dagostino (accordion/piano), Amanda’s infectious personality and up-tempo brand of country-folk rock proved the perfect recipe for starting this party. Opening with “Strongest Heart” from her 2013 “Keep A Fire” album, Amanda would perform two other popular tracks from her back catalog; “Dead Horse (Your Song)” from “Holding Patterns” (2016), and “Better Days Ahead” from “Light Of Another Day” (2012). In response to the active audience participation during her set, Amanda quickly bestowed the title of “Gravenhurst Area Choir” to those in the room.
Following Amanda, Newfoundland artist Damhnait Doyle would make her Sawdust City Music Festival debut on the Opera House stage. Best known as both a solo artist and as a member of the Atlantic Canadian band Shaye (with Kim Stockwood and Tara MacLean), Doyle has been out of the musical spotlight for some time, with no solo recordings since her 2008 “Lights Down Low” album. Receiving a lively welcome from the audience, Damhhait shared tales of being excited to be here in the Muskoka region, relaxing with her family at their cottage. And just like Amanda, Damhnait also performed three tracks: “I Won’t Shoot To Miss,” the all-new and unreleased track “Better Love,” and “That’s What You Get.” With hints of a new album on the way, hopefully we get another opportunity to hear more from Doyle again soon.
Co-headliners The Good Lovelies would follow, sharing five tracks to close out the first half of the night. This talented trio of Caroline Brooks, Susan Passmore and Kerri Ough were naturally keen to share material from their most recent “Shapeshifters” album, allowing those in the room an opportunity to experience their shift in musical direction that was prompted by this new release. With some great versions of both “Daylight” and “Take Me, Take Me,” the trio would draw the first set to a close with their hit single “I See Gold.” Or, as Caroline would attest, “Icy Cold,” the often misplaced interpretation which they would be happy to share with a beer company for a nominal fee. Eliciting chuckles from the audience, Caroline would add that, “All joking aside, this song continues our bands mantra, and that is ‘you don’t get more than you can take,’ and it’s kept us going for a long time.” The Good Lovelies received a well-deserved ovation, and hinted that there was so much more to come after the brief intermission should we choose to “stick around.”
As the joint headlining artist, Rose Cousins would take to the stage to commence the second half with a few compositions from her 2017 “Natural Conclusion” album. Opening with “Freedom,” Rose would temporarily relocate to the grand piano to perform her jazz inspired number, “Lock And Key,” and follow with her vocal-driven popular track, “Chains.” Having warmed up the crowd with both her amazing music and her endearing stage personality (a natural comedian), Rose decided that the time had come to create something extra special on this given night. Inviting each and every artist backstage to return, Rose welcomed Amanda Rheaume, Nikki Dagostino, Damhnait Doyle, and The Good Lovelies back to the stage. Not quite done, Rose insisted that Miranda Mulholland, Lydia Persaud and Grady Kelneck be present too. And in turning to the audience, Rose would call out, “Is Royal [Wood] still here. Royal, come and join us if you are back there.” With encouragement from the crowd, Royal excused himself from his seat adjacent to wife Alison, climbing onto the stage and raring to take part in this collaboration.
Rose Cousins would return to the piano one more time, performing “Grace” with harmonies from this super-ensemble of Canadian talent. Inviting Royal to take over the piano duties for her next track, Rose switched places, picked up her guitar and announced that the next track would be “Chosen.” “This [song] is about the difference between how we present ourselves in the world, and how we feel about ourselves,” she explained, “And the hope that one day those two things are one in thought.” Believing his contribution was over at the close of this song, Royal started to inconspicuously head to the wings, until he heard Rose Cousins strum a popular opening riff, and again, the lure of that grand piano beckoned once more. How could anybody not want to participate in this track, an amazing and well delivered cover version of The Tragically Hip penned “Ahead By A Century.” Handing the lead vocal duties to Kerri Ough for the finale, the audience would be treated to an outstanding cover of The Stampeders classic 1971 hit, “Sweet City Woman.” Both Nikki Dagostino (accordion) and Miranda Mulholland (fiddle) were encouraged to add their talents during an instrumental segment, and with the lively cheers given to Miranda, how could you not have a lump in your throat or hold back a tear of joy as everybody’s favorite host and curator worked her magic on the fiddle.
With her Saturday night concert an overwhelming success, and her vision for this festival fulfilled once again, Miranda Mulholland earned and deserved every second of the applause and gratitude bestowed upon her. Everybody appreciates her hard work, dedication, and commitment to making the Sawdust City Music Festival a success, and with this sophomore event, both Miranda and her team knocked this one out of the ballpark. Team GDW are already excited about the prospect of a third annual Sawdust City Music Festival, and strongly urge you to consider this an essential weekend destination next summer too.