The CBC Music Festival, now in its fourth year, graced the shores of TD Echo Beach on May 28th, supplying attendees with a wallop of Canadian heart. As in past years, the tone was jovial but relaxed. Free entry to children under 12 resulted in a sizeable proportion of pint-sized music lovers rambling about the grounds, enjoying numerous activities designed for music-lovers big and small. Patrons could partake in silk-screening, peruse the goods at the Junction Flea pop-up, and even rent paddleboats. Sunshine and sweltering heat more suited to July than mid-Spring heightened the nostalgic tone of the day’s festivities.
Canadian indie stalwarts Tokyo Police Club, Whitehorse, The New Pornographers, and headliner Hey Rosetta!! confidently manned the main stage. Relatively fresh-faced Alvvays joined them with a notably energetic set. They took the stage just past six, and their east coast haze was the ideal compliment to a waning sun. Perhaps it is because they hail from the coast, or that the video for their hit single “Archie, Marry Me” takes place at sea, or perhaps it was front woman Molly Rankin’s request someone invite the band to party on a boat – whatever the reason, it is clear that Alvvay’s music is best enjoyed sur la plage.
The second stage was the place to be for those who sought smaller crowds (although the Main Stage crowd was endearingly polite), or the chance to see lesser-known acts. Those who arrived early in the afternoon were pleased to hear this year’s CBC Music Searchlight Winner Desiree Dawson open the festival. She was followed by promising performances by Terra Lightfoot, Zaki Ibrahim, The Franklin Electric and others.
As evening drew in, the day’s bucolic energy melted into something vivacious and euphoric – pleasantly aided by mild sun-stroke and a few cans of cold cider. The New Pornographer’s act; bracing, clear, and one of their best I have witnessed, shifted the festivities from picnic to party. As is tradition, Rich Terfry preceded the headliner with a short DJ set. Where last year he amped the crowd with clubby beats, this year kept with the underlying current of celebratory nostalgia, devoting most of the set to medleys of David Bowie and Prince’s greatest hits.
A mournful wistfulness is unavoidable in music circles these days given the slew of greats lost in the last year, but one recent headline weighs most heavily on Canadian music-loving hearts. Tragically Hip frontman Gord Downie announced he has terminal cancer, and amid the pleasant celebration of Canada’s musical best, there was an undeniable collective awareness of the fact. It was brought to the fore during Hey Rosetta!’s headline show, when Tim Baker announced “This one’s for Gord” before leading the band into a sumptuous, heart breaking cover of “Ahead by a Century”.
Like The New Pornographers before them, Hey Rosetta! was in exceptional form. Their performance at last year’s TURF was decent but understated. This year they drove the festival home with soulful might. The conflated assertion of Canada’s existing musical vigour with the revelation of a prosperous future proved CBC Music Festival is stronger than ever, utterly charming as always.