Wrapping up my visit to the SPEAK Music festival this week has given me time to really reflect on the inaugural event held from 17-19 January at the Tranzac Club in Toronto, and I am still buzzing from the number of artists I got to see perform for the first time live.
I had wanted to see The Barrel Boys live for quite some time, the band consists of Ben Wright, Tim O’Reilly, Rob McLaren, Kyle Kirkpatrick and Nathan Smith, all extremely accomplished musicians, songwriters and as I found out exceptional live performers. They play a mix of bluegrass, country and old-time music, with fantastic harmonies and original material penned by each of the five band members. It was quite an outstanding performance. I recommend checking their residence at ‘The Hold In The Wall’ on Dundas Street West in Toronto, held once a month. They really are well worth seeing.
Joining The Barrell Boys were another band, The Broom Straws; a four piece band, but on this occasion, were performing as a duo. Multi-instrumentalist Ira Quinsey performed with Nancy Dutra, a songwriter I have been a long time fan of, and who took some time away from her music career to raise her family. Nancy and Ira met through their love of country music, which they blend with bluegrass standards and also some of Nancy’s original material. Such a great combination, and a band that I look forward to seeing again.
The afternoon was off to a great start, and was about to get even better. I have played the music of Kim Doolittle on my radio show several times, and her current “Into The Blue” release (produced by Ken Whiteley) is outstanding. Naturally I was highly anticipating this live performance, and Kim did not disappoint. Taking the state in the main hall armed with just an acoustic guitar, she slayed the room with songs that had powerful meaning and delivery. With a commanding and soulful voice, and some outstanding guitar work too, I was mesmerized by her performance, and thrilled even more when she joined our table afterwards to have a chat. A native of Nova Scotia, she calls Ontario home for now, but admits that the pull of the east coast is always there, luring her back to tour regularly in and around her home province.
There were two duos that I wanted to see during the afternoon, and I was delighted that they were billed to share a performance together. Tragedy Ann (Braden Phelan and Liv Cazzola) and Moonfruits (Alex Millaire and Kaitlyn Milroy) I had seen share a stage a few years ago, and was interested to see how both had evolved since that previous encounter. Tragedy Ann recently released “Matches,” garnering two ‘Songs from the Heart’ songwriting awards from Folk Music Ontario. Moonfruits combined beautiful harmonies and musicianship with their original material, both in English and French. I found them spellbinding! They have an aura about them, their performance being both tender and powerful at the same time. They are currently working on a new recording, which I think will be pretty special based on this performance.
There were so many other great artists to fill the whole afternoon, with amazing performances from Blair Packham, Arlene Bishop, Julian Taylor, and Al Parrish (Tanglefoot, RPR). I could not take in every performance, but that in essence was the reason it worked so beautifully. No matter which way you turned, which stages you visited, you found great music to enjoy. Thank you to Beverly Kreller and her team of volunteers for an amazing weekend. With so much love and kindness on display, the event was expertly curated, and has everything needed to be an integral part of the Toronto live music scene for years to come. I have already marked these dates on my calendar for 2021, and hope to see many people there.