The Bluebird North Tour is the brainchild of the Association of Songwriters of Canada. Its goal is to give insight to music fans about the songwriting process and exposure to some of Canada’s most talented, yet largely unknown, songwriters. The tour crosses the entire breath of our huge country each year around this time to present 6 or 7 musicians in smaller venues.
In Montreal we were treated to a very talented and eclectic lineup of performers. The line up included Shari Ulrich, Andy Stochansky, Emm Gryner, Dave Gunning, Peter Elkas, Kardinal Offishall (who arrived late causing the group of young females who had attended especially to see him to sweat a bit), and Jonathan Cummings. The evening was hosted, as most stops on the tour were, by Juno Award winner Shari Ulrich. Ulrich, who was born in California, has played with bands such as Pied Pumkin and Valdy & The Hometown Band and now records on her own. A little bit…um, shall I say more ‘experienced’ than her fellow performers, Ulrich was the perfect host in that her passion for music was obvious (she tended to close her eyes and sway during the other performers numbers) and her light and breezy stage banter kept the night moving along at a nice pace. She was confident enough to let the other performers shine during their moments.
At precisely, 8:00 Ulrich asked the 6 other performers to join her on the stage and an evening of music appreciation began. Main Hall is a small intimate venue which really made the evening even that much better. By the beginning of the show a crowd of about 50 were seated and Ulrich thanked us for coming out stating that this might have been the largest crowd ever in Montreal. She said that Montreal tended to be a ‘tough’ city for the Bluebird North Tour in the past. Well, I think that last night’s show went a long way towards convincing the performers that Montrealers are interested in coming out for a ‘different’ type of show.
Seated in a semi-circle the 7 performers each sang 4 songs, explained their songs, talked (mostly tongue in cheek) about what it meant to be a Canadian musician, and joked with each other and the crowd. It was a unique opportunity for us to see the performers incredibly relaxed (except for Jonathan Cummings, who said he was quite nervous which did not really show) and on stage without any of the usual pretenses. This was an evening without pyrotechnics, choreography, wardrobes, or even set lists. The laid back spirit of the evening translated itself into the audience really enjoying themselves and getting a nice picture of each of the performers.
We discovered that Andy Stochansky and Jonathan Cummings (who is in a local punk band and writes for The Mirror, among others) were the comedians of the group, judging by the loud applause Emm Gryner has a significant fan base in Montreal, and Peter Elkas grew up on the West Island, but can sing in French. It was quite nice to see the performers join in on the songs of their fellow performers (and it was the first night this group had been together, so nothing was rehearsed) to create intimate jam sessions. Ulrich pitched in on mandolin or violin depending on the song, Peter Elkas (who was the only performer with an electric instrument) provided many bluesy guitar solos, and Emm Gryner showed off her backing vocal talents she learned while touring with the likes of David Bowie.
The thing that struck me about these performers was the quality of all their voices and how incredible it was that I had not heard of a few of them. How much talent is there in Canada that we have not yet discovered? What was most interesting and enjoyable about the evening were rapper Kardinal Offishall’s performances. He is one of the biggest rappers in Canada (not that we are especially known for our rap or hip hop music), but it was interesting to see how he fit in on this ‘acoustic’ evening. Much to his credit, this charismatic performer fit in quite nicely and even got the crowd singing and up from their seats for 2 songs.
After about 2 hours (there was a short intermission) of song, laughter and talk everyone, including the performers, seem to go home with a renewed faith in the music industry and particularly about the quality of talent we have here in Canada.
Shari Ulrich (with teenage daughter Julia on violin):
1) Life Goes On
2) I Will Be There
3) Why Can’t We Get Along
4) What She Left For Us To Find
2) House of Gold
3) 22 Steps
1) Party of One
2) Wall of Fire
3) Turn Out The Lights
4) Will Power
1) Black Wing Bird
3) Boy Races
4) Sweet Destroyer
1) Lord’s Burning Pain
2) Long Haired Redneck
3) Weed, Whites and Wine
4) That’s When I Need Your Love
2) Saltwater Hearts
3) Here She Comes A Running
4) The Prince of Pictou
1) The Last Standing Soldier
4) Everyday Rude Boy