By Andrew Horan
Photos by Daniela Tantalo

The organizers of CBC Music Festival couldn’t have asked for a better day.

The event served as the official kick-off to music fest season in Toronto. It was a perfect, albeit hot, early summer day.

The day started off with a set by Canadian hip-hop legend Maestro who wrapped up his set with his two breakthrough hits ‘Let Your Backbone Slide’ and ‘Conductin’ Thangs’.

Unfortunately, due to running into a delay on transit, I only caught the tail end of Maestro’s set and missed Desiree Dawson on the second stage.  Terra Lightfoot brought a bluesy feel to the song as she performed songs from her album Every Time My Mind Runs Wild.

Nunavut’s Tanya Tagaq brought a different feel to the day. The Inuit throat singer showed an incredible vocal range, it’s little wonder she won the Polaris Prize in 2015. Her set seemed to consist of one long song but that served the music well.

Mississauga rapper Jon River showed a self-deprecating sense of humor, encouraging the audience to come forward since he was short and performed positive songs such as ‘Back-up Plan’, about the time he told his parents he was dropping out of high school to pursue a career in music. The set culminated with a powerful spoken word piece about the plight that young Black men face in today’s society.

Whitehorse kicked off their main stage  set with a stripped down and retooled version ‘Devil’s Got a Gun’ and Luke Doucet showed his phenomenal fretwork throughout. He and bandmate/wife Melissa McClelland showcased songs from their two albums as well as an EP of their take on blues standards.

The sparse crowd at the second stage for Ria Mae‘s set grew quickly. The Halifax singer/songwriter has a great stage presence and her radio-friendly indie pop/folk songs showed why she’s shared the stage with a number of big name acts such as Elle King.

Tokyo Police Club was introduced by Murdoch Mysteries star Yannick Bisson who joked that the audience’s mothers probably who knew who he was. It seemed hard to believe that the Newmarket band has been around for 10 years but they played all the hits including ‘Favourite Colour’, ‘Tessellate’ and more. They capped off their set by leading the crowd in a sing-along of ‘English is Good’.

Zaki Ibrahim used her set to showcase music from her forthcoming second album. The new music has a definite 80’s-style funk and R n’ B feel to it that is heavily influenced by Prince.

Even Toronto’s Finest checked out Alvvays main stage set. The band, originally from the East Coast, played jangly dream pop that’s heavily influenced by British groups like Lush. They took the opportunity to test out new songs and play tunes from their self-titled debut, wrapping things up their hit, ‘Archie, Marry Me’.

It was little wonder why Mumford and Sons have taken a shine to The Franklin Electric. The Montreal-based band’s  earnest and anthemic songs are a perfect match. They capped off the day on the second stage and showed a good energy level, performing a cover of Gordon Lightfoot’s ‘If You Could Read My Mind’.

The New Pornographers varied between all the hits and playing album tracks as well.  The band’s breakthrough hit ‘Mass Romantic’ was a particular highlight. Admittedly, ‘The Laws Have Changed’ and ‘Testament to Youth in Verse’ did lose some of their magic without Neko Case and Dan Bejar’s distinctive voices. Though Kathryn Calder’s voice is a ringer for Case’s.

Frontman/mastermind AC Newman expressed fascination at the planes coming in for a landing at Toronto Island Airport and vowed if Donald Trump wins the upcoming US presidential election, Toronto was on the shortlist of Canadian cities he would relocate to.

Hey Rosetta!‘s anthemic indie pop provided the perfect end to the day. The band led the audience in frequent clap-alongs. ‘Red Heart’ received one of the biggest reactions and frontman Tim Baker had an engaging stage presence. They paid tribute to Tragically Hip frontman Gord Downie with a stirring cover of the Hip’s ‘Ahead by a Century’ and wrapped up the perfect day with their hit single ‘Welcome’.

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