by Deron Johnston
Another Kemptville Live Music Festival has come and gone. For this writer, this one was the most memorable. This year’s festival was a wonderful mix of new and emerging talent and a generous helping of Canadian music icons. Blues, folk, country and rock were all well represented with a sprinkling of other styles including classical guitar courtesy of the legendary Liona Boyd.
On Sunday afternoon, the final day of the festival, Gordon Lightfoot took to the stage as the headliner and closing act. Not long after walking out, Lightfoot looked out at the crowd of two thousand or so and uttered the words “As you can see, the rumours of my death have been greatly exaggerated”. His statement received a very enthusiastic roar from the crowd of Lightfoot-ers. While it was obvious that Lightfoot’s voice has diminished, it was also obvious that no one cared. People cheered loudly when they heard the opening chords of “Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald”, and many of his other timeless classics. It was as if you were listening to the Great Canadian Songbook itself, in human form. His music endures like no other, and is a part of the fabric of Canadian culture. How appropriate that he was playing the festival during Canada’s sesquicentennial. So many voices could be heard leaving the festival saying: “I’m so glad that I got to see and hear him”, with several references being made to people’s musical bucket lists.
Saturday night’s headliner was the incomparable Burton Cummings. Though not quite the same age as Lightfoot (nine years younger), Cummings put on an incredible show. Though almost seventy, Cummings still had the voice and showmanship to leave the rather large crowd of people in awe. He sat centre stage, singing and hammering away at his keyboard, drawing energy from the “Saturday night rock and roll crowd” that cheered and drank in every note. Between songs, he mentioned Gordon Lightfoot several times, including how he and other Canadian artists were indebted to Lightfoot for paving the way for them years before. Another artist who would have many entries in the Great Canadian Songbook himself, Cummings didn’t hold anything back and played a wide variety of his solo hits, Guess Who hits, and even an un-scripted classic rock song that he learned before joining the Guess Who. For this writer, this was the most enjoyable performance of the festival.
Without a doubt, the biggest name draw for country music fans (and possibly the biggest draw for the whole festival) had to be country music star, Dwight Yoakam, who was Friday night’s headliner. Playing some of his most famous tunes like “Guitars, Cadillacs” and his remake of the Elvis song “Little Sister” brought everyone to their feet. He even paid homage to one of his greatest influences, Merle Haggard, by playing one of that legend’s songs. Yoakam was all business and kept everyone’s toe tapping throughout the entire set. Both Crystal Shawanda and local music product Brea Lawrenson added their own considerable talents to the evening, as Friday night was a very strong night from top to bottom of the musical lineup.
Not to be outdone, Thursday night was another stacked evening, especially for blues music lovers. Angel Forrest gave a powerful performance, and Juno Award winners, Monkey Junk, followed that up with an onslaught of remarkable blues guitar, care of band member and blues legend Tony D. These top quality acts set the table perfectly for another Canadian icon, David Wilcox. The ‘Bearcat’ himself didn’t seem to stop long enough to take a breath, as he dished out song after song, including “Hypnotizin’ Boogie”, that had people dancing everywhere on the grassy field. Wilcox seemed to get stronger as the show went on, and virtually only stopped to mop his brow with a towel.
There’s simply not enough space to mention all of the great artists that performed in the festival and give them their due. Rest assured, that every one of them were professional and deserved every second of support that they received from an entire weekend of appreciative music lovers. Now, sadly, we must forge ahead and wait another 361 days until the next festival gets here. In the meantime, I’m going to go over to my MP3 player right now and load up “Canadian Railroad Trilogy” and reflect on how grateful I am to have been able to experience what I did this past weekend.