As I alluded to yesterday with our weekly Wednesday video share on our social media pages, one of my personal highly anticipated performances at this year’s festival was the opportunity to catch music from Peguis First Nation artist William Prince. Having caught a handful of songs from this Manitoban singer-songwriter in a workshop at the Philly Folk Festival back in 2018 (supporting his JUNO-Award winning debut “Earthly Days” album), Prince exploded onto the folk-roots-country scene shortly after with the additional releases of his two 2020 albums, “Reliever” and “Gospel First Nation.”
“Good evening, London, nice to see you again,” William stated as he stepped up to the microphone on the main Home County Stage to close out both the evening and the festival as the Sunday headlining artist. “It’s great to be back. What a beautiful festival this is. Give it up for all the performers this afternoon and evening. Thank you so much for having me.” And as the ensuing welcoming applause subsided, Prince’s initial acoustic guitar chords signaled the arrival of “Wasted,” taken from his sophomore album, and followed immediately (with no-to-little pause) by his popular hit “Breathless.”
Pausing between “Breathless” and “Old Timers,” William took the first of several opportunities to not only converse with his audience, but to do so as a proud representative of his Peguis First Nation heritage, and seek to open dialogue with themes of community, reconciliation, and just being a good person. “The old timers in my community, they have this really terrific saying that says, ‘you can sit in the garage all you want, and it’ll never turn you into a car.’ I have the same principle behind being a good person. You can say you are. You can wear the clothes of a good person, but it is with the use of our power to uplift those who are more vulnerable, and that is truly put to the test. The merit of carrying those who need our privilege and power,” he offered. “And one of the first laws of the universe is that energy is neither created nor destroyed, so all the things we exude in this time will delegate where our next cycle in this life goes; that’s where the energy is likely to be. This is a song called Old Souls because we are just that – old souls repeating the patterns of our ancestors, some of us more privileged than others – and I’m not here attacking anybody’s Canadian identity – I’m here in search of your empathy, to look out for the First Nations people of this country, and take care for one another.”
With an incredible rendition of the debut album’s slow and somber title track, “Earthly Days,” William paused once again to address the crowd – injecting a little of his seldom-seen humor in the process. “Alright, I’m gonna play a slow and emotional one now if you don’t mind? Just kidding, just kidding, hang in there. This is about as high octane and action-packed as this show gets, so everybody, buckle in,” he stated, soaking up the positive energy and response from those seated before him. “We’re gonna take care of each other this evening. How’re you feeling, London, are you okay? I’m in a very good place. Here’s a song about the late great Terry Fox, and Gord Downie.” And, once again, the initial ringing of his guitar strings gave away the identity of the track that would follow, as William transitioned into his 2021 single, “Run,” one inspired by the 40th anniversary of The Marathon Of Hope, and the first of two successive songs played that have not appeared on his albums to date.
Taking a brief moment to appreciate the wonderful reception given to his good friend Leela Gilday over the weekend (and who had performed on the same stage earlier that evening), William shared “7,” his other popular non-album track that was originally released back in 2016. “I wrote this song in dedication to the Peguis First Nation graduating class of 2016, and they asked me to write a song that encompassed the seven sacred grandfather teachings,” he offered mid-song. “The life for a lot of First Nations’ youth is one of challenge and struggle, and I’ve always said, ‘don’t’ overlook how far you’ve come.’ We’re all privileged to sit here today and enjoy music with safety, fed, clothed, and with community, belonging, and all those things. And like I said earlier, … for every one of me, there are thousands and thousands that struggle, so thank you, thank you for making space for me today, for making space for my friends, and for listening. Appreciate you all.”
With a strong finish, pulling popular single releases “Always Have What We Had” and “The Spark” from “Reliever,” for me, it was the inclusion of “Leave It By The Sea” that further connected my own presence in Victoria Park to that of the artist on stage before me. “Took the train down to Brighton / This room’s too hot to sleep / Hardwood hidden under carpet / Young love howlin’ in the street.” “I wrote this song while I was in the UK, exploring a lot of feelings through grief, and separation, and becoming a new dad,” he shared, before displaying those humorous traits once more. “I’d better wrap this show up soon. This is the longest I haven’t breathed in any smoke in quite a while, and the oxygen is starting to choke me up a little bit.” “And those rainy days in London / Felt like the rain inside of me / I’ve been carryin’ ‘round this baggage for too long / Think I’ll leave it by the sea.”
A solid 45-minute set performed in front of a packed, very appreciative crowd congregated around the main stage band shell – and for myself, an experience that scratched that musical itch, but one that once again left a strong yearning to hear so much more from this incredibly gifted Indigenous artist.
- Old Souls
- Earthly Days
- Always Have What We Had
- Leave It By The Sea
- The Spark
Photo Credit: Martin Noakes