The Sask Jazz Fest, running from June 22 to July 1, is easily one of Saskatoon’s premiere summer music events. And this year qualifies as one of their most memorable line-ups yet. In fact, both the mainstage acts and the smaller shows are packed with a huge variety of genres and quality.
Although the free stage, located at the bottom of the Broadway Bridge, is already in full swing, I opt to head over to the Bessborough, where the mainstage is located.
Even though they are hardly the sort of music that I would ever put on at any given time, openers Wil Campa immediately win over the crowd with matching outfits, Caribbean-flavoured world beat music, tandem booty shakes and a massive in-crowd conga line.
The Jazz Fest brings out a a mixture of hipsters, older folk who sit in lawn chairs and people wearing sunglasses even though it isn’t sunny out
Lots of women, who looked like they could be work friends with my mom, line the front area of the stage in flail of dancing limbs. I am far too sober and reserved to venture too close, and instead linger near the side where escape is in sight.
I’ve always appreciated how the Jazz Fest brings out a great variety of people to their shows. The audience is a mixture of hipsters, older folk who opt to sit in lawn chairs, plenty of girls in make up and, for some reason, a lot of people wearing sunglasses even though it isn’t sunny out anymore. Everyone, however, seems equally stoked as headliner Michael Franti hits the stage.
Franti is an ace performer. He has wild man energy that is oddly family friendly. And he immediately gets everyone psyched about life, dancing and clapping along to the ubiquitous beat that pours into and mixes with the river air. Unfortunately, everything about his show is so pro that I can’t help but be critical.
Franti’s guitar player continually rocks guitar solos – would have been nice to hear them, even though I am continually distracted by the whiteness of his teeth. And the music itself is so processed to the point where I am craving a hotdog topped with a Kraft single slice of cheese. Or not.
Instead of canned beats and feelgood vibes I decide to ride my bike to the free stage, where I am amused to see openers Wil Campa rocking out. Not something I need to see again, I head to Amigos to catch locals We Were Lovers. The band easily put on one of their best live performances I have ever seen. Crafting sweat-inducing dance rock, the group is actually more memorable when they slow things down, as evidenced on their new single “Islands”.
Young Empires are similarly good but don’t really prove to be much beyond a soundtrack to grinding up on a dancefloor neighbour, which isn’t a pretty sight.
Timber Timbre play in front of several thousand people who are content to natter over their haunting anti-soul ballads
Openers Timber Timbre from Toronto have put out some of my favourite records and have toured the world several times over. Unfortunately, their spooky folk murder anthems are completely out of context in a family friendly, outdoor, sunlit atmosphere. I can remember one of their first shows in Saskatoon at Amigos, in which they packed the venue and played in front of several hundred people who talked through the entirety of their set.
This time around they play in front of several thousand people who are content to natter over their haunting anti-soul ballads.
Feist‘s presence, however, immediately pulls a sold-out crowd together. Situated at the front of the stage, I, along with everyone else, are completely mesmerized as the singer pulls off what will no doubt be one of the most-talked about shows of the entire Saskatchewan Jazz Festival.
Spitting, stomping and swaying through the majority of her set, Feist’s performance was nothing short of legendary. Almost stealing the show, however, was ex-Broken Social Scene-ster Charles Spearin playing duel violins, which were C-clamped down to what could have been a musician’s worktable.
With such a perfect end to the evening, and a Code-Vermillion hangover setting back in, I decide to opt out of the Amigos showcase, which featured Michael Rault and a Mayer Hawthorne DJ set.
I am told that I am an idiot for going to bed early.
Having already seen We Were Lovers two nights previous, I show up purposely late – I am still tingling from their show and figure why sully the memory. Instead I arrive on time for a DJ set from Keys ‘N’ Krates, who have apparently lost their equipment via a major airline company. A musician’s worst nightmare, no doubt.
At one point Roman Gianarthur sings “I 69 two at a time.”
Next up was Janelle Monae‘s backing band headed by Roman Gianarthur, who adds a strange spin on the Fest – as children play on the slopes of the Bess Gardens, Gianarthur warbles on with some hilariously provocative lyrics – I swear that at one point he sings “I 69 two at a time.” I ponder this for a while before concluding that this is impossible, and Gianarthur is likely full of shit.
Despite some severely encroaching weather, Monae, however, puts on a hell of a show complete with a costumed backing band and choreographed dance moves. Despite the limited set – the show is forced to a close after a scant 50 minutes or so – Monae gave the crowd exactly what they had come to see, which was a versatile singer give an arm hair-raising experience.
I attempt to go check out Timber Timbre once more. The lights in Amigos are dim this time, but the crowd is still far too chatty for me to enjoy their set.
It’s all the same – after watching hours of live music it is clearly time for a decent sleep in anticipation of the work week.