When it comes to enticing a major headlining act to perform at a music event, Muskoka Music Festival curator Miranda Mulholland never fails to deliver on her personal quest to bring amazing entertainment to the small town of Gravenhurst, ON each August. Returning in 2022, after a forced two year ‘pandemic’ hiatus, popular folk-rock duo Whitehorse were announced as the Saturday night Opera House headliners for the event. But with just a little over a week before the music festival kicked off, Whitehorse sadly had to excuse themselves from the show due to an undisclosed family emergency.
At any other time, such a late cancellation would leave most artistic directors tearing their hair out, scrambling to find a suitable and equitable replacement – BUT when you have the always-cool Miranda Mulholland calling the shots, miracles can often be found in her bag of tricks. Calling upon her good friend Terra Lightfoot (and band) to fill that main stage slot, nobody would be left disappointed – ourselves included, because having seen Terra twice this year in supporting roles, we craved seeing this artist headlining venues with her name in illuminated bold letters on the marquee signs. Miranda can now add ‘mind-reader’ to her professional resume.
“I feel like I know a lot more about Gravenhurst than the last time I was here. I moved to Haliburton in the pandemic, so this is kind of like a local show for me,” stated Terra, after walking out alone onto the stage, as is customary when she has the support of her band. “I’m here in the boots of Whitehorse who couldn’t be here tonight, and I’m pleased to step in for them. I don’t know if you guys know this but when I was coming up in music, I was mainly a Hamilton girl, right, and one night … I was playing guitar for somebody and Luke Doucet came to the gig, but I didn’t know it was him. I was just like, ‘who’s that short guy, he looks pretty cool, he looks like he’s not from here.’ Anyway, he came up and played a Johnny Cash song … and we’ve been friends ever since. Same thing happened later with Melissa [McClelland] … and they were the first people to take me out on the road … in Canada.”
Terra, with her Gibson electric guitar in hand, plugged in and kicked off the show with a solo rendition of “All Alone,” joined by her two (currently regular) bandmates at the close of the song. “On the bass guitar, from Godfrey, Ontario, which is a place you’ve never heard of, and that’s okay, Mr. Eli Abrams,” she would announce later that evening – the audience offering their appreciation of Eli’s high energy level. For the geography nerds out there (and I confess I had to look this up), Godfrey is a small village just north of Kingston, ON, and yes, Eli is indeed the cousin* of John and James, who perform bluegrass music collectively as The Abrams (formerly The Abrams Brothers). Small world, right? And turning to the drum kit behind her, even though he needed no introduction, Terra made sure to provide one. “Now, the man behind me is pulling a real move. After this, we’re driving back to Toronto, so he can fly to Calgary to play with Blue Rodeo – TOMORROW – and he came here to be with you, to be with us. On the drums, from Toronto, Ontario, Mr. Glenn Milchem.”
Rocking the Opera House stage for close to 75 minutes, if you were seated in that room, you’ll understand when I state that the trio played both loose and tight all evening. Their natural musical instincts and energy levels never faltered, and their chemistry was ever-present. “Can I have a little more of my vocal in the monitor,” Terra asked the sound engineer earlier in the evening. “Can I have a little less of Terra’s vocal in my monitor,” joked Glenn, eliciting laughter. “I’m Team Glenn there as well,” stated Eli. “Too much awesome,” Glenn added, before the trio burst into a fabulous performance of “Stars Over Dakota.”
Taking the opportunity to perform a few select tracks from her most recent “Consider The Speed” album, Terra would address the room once more. “I went to Memphis to make my last record … and it was a very wonderful experience. This is the first track from that record, and it’s about calling out the incorrect name when you are sleeping beside somebody,” she offered, pausing for the chuckles throughout the room. “Don’t do that. Yes, it’s called ‘Called Out Your Name’.” The band went full throttle, with Glenn adding some fabulous call and response harmonies during the choruses. Terra decided to keep the narrative rolling into the next track, “It’s Over Now,” which was an on-the-fly addition to their set list. “In case you can’t tell, I’ve been scorned before, but the benefit of being a songwriter is that I get to write songs about these people,” Terra added prior to the performance.
Highlights from the evening included another solo performance from Terra, this time picking up her acoustic guitar and going fully unplugged at the front and center of the stage to share her recent single, “Sleepyhead.” With Eli and Glenn back on stage once more, Terra would share news of returning to the studio, and already having a handful of songs recorded – opting to perform one of these unreleased tracks, titled “The Only One Of Your Kind.” And for those of us who have followed the career of Terra across her back catalog, we were rewarded with fabulous versions of “Pinball King,” “No Hurry,” and the seven minute-plus epic live track, “Hold You” – where Terra and Eli duke it out front and center, face to face, and on their knees for a lengthy dual guitar-riff-fest.
Returning to the latest album one last time, the band wrapped up the evening with Terra’s Bruce Cockburn-inspired “Midnight Choir,” before taking their bows and bidding the audience goodnight. Naturally, the crowd were not ready to go home, applauding, hollering, and refusing to sit until the trio graced the stage once more for a final encore number. Having reviewed Terra’s “New Mistakes” album for GDW back in 2017, I was delighted that she chose “Two Hearts” as the final number – a song that I described as a flirtatious take on the sounds of yesteryear, and one that I still very much enjoy hearing today. And with the stunning harmonies from both Glenn and Eli too, everybody else in the Opera House clearly enjoyed this one too. An outstanding evening of entertainment from an artist that not only saved the day for the Muskoka Music Festival, but who proved more than worthy of the ‘headliner’ tag that we knew she had earned and truly deserved.
- All Alone (Terra solo)
- Stars Over Dakota
- Called Out Your Name
- It’s Over Now
- Sleepyhead (Terra unplugged solo)
- The Only One Of Your Kind (Unreleased)
- Pinball King
- No Hurry
- Hold You
- Midnight Choir
- Two Hearts
(*) GDW express thanks to good friend Sara Murphy for the inside scoop about Eli Abrams.
Photo Credit: Martin Noakes