The final day of MEGAPHONO began with some interesting panel discussions and speed meetings, where many of us were surviving on coffee and water. Shortly after, the small afternoon concerts at Pressed and Raw Sugar Café provided us with a comfy and relaxing atmosphere to rest our nutritionally deprived and exhausted bodies.
I got to Raw Sugar as the first act, Kristine St-Pierre, was finishing off her set. The crowd listened intently as she played, and her voice went from delicate lows to powerful highs. St-Pierre was accompanied by Marion Arthur Kiss on cello (from the band Saturnfly) as well as Simon Poirier Lachance (from the band Mastik), which added more sonic depth to her compositions.
St-Pierre sang proficiently in both French and English, and it was really nice to see artists like her represent both languages at MEGAPHONO. Her songs were simple but loveable and easy to connect with. She ended with the songs “Lake Superior,” “La réfugié,” and “Break In The Sky,” and had made the whole venue a little warmer with smiles on that cold day. I should also mention that St-Pierre is expecting a new baby very soon – congrats to her!
There were artists playing simultaneously at Pressed, but I decided to stick around Raw Sugar to make sure I didn’t miss any more music. Next on the bill was Jill Zmud, a local singer-songwriter that recently released her album small matters of life and death in April of 2014. I wish we had heard of Zmud’s album when it came out because it has a very interesting story behind it, and it helps explain the album’s title. A while back Zmud found an old reel-to-reel tape in her parents’ basement, a recording that she had never heard before nor that she even knew existed. It turns out that the dusty old tape was a compilation of songs that her uncle Ed Clynton had written many years ago and gone unheard for 40 years, salvaged by the timelessness of analog technology.
Zmud never had the chance to meet her uncle Ed Clynton, but she instantly connected with him through his music. After some research, it turns out that her uncle was in a band called Witness, Inc. in the 1960s and 70s, that had had some radio success and were opening for Roy Orbison. After some time with the band, Zmud explained that he decided to leave the group and embark on a solo career in folk and country music. The demos that she found on those tapes were Ed Clynton originals, and a sample of which can be heard here.
Unfortunately, she never got the chance to meet Ed Clynton as he was killed in a car accident in Northern Ontario a few years before she was born. However, this incredible story illustrates the power of music to connect people, and that we all leave a legacy behind after we die in one way or another.
Zmud played various songs from her new album, and enchanted the crowd with her stories and experiences with the record. She had some backup singers and a guitarist to add even more layers to her music, and the songs translated incredibly well live. The harmonies were intricate and executed perfectly, adding some southern folk flare to the performance. Catriona Sturton also joined her for a song in the middle of the set, and their styles complimented each other really well. Sturton even broke out her main weapon of choice, the harmonica, and added some more texture to the song.
She played some covers of her uncle’s demos, reimagined in her own way. My favourite was “New Jersey Turnpike,” a beautiful song that Ed Clynton wrote circa 1973. She finished off her set with “Willow With Me?” which is a composition inspired by a dream she had about her father who passed away not long ago. She heard him speak to her, “Will you willow with me?” – admittedly a question that doesn’t make much sense. However, it was a very powerful dream, and she converted into a song with meaning once she was able to move past the grief of her loss.
Last up was the wonderful Catriona Sturton, who released her new album Bumble Bee in January. She is a multi-instrumentalist with a somewhat modest stage personality despite her music that resonates so powerfully. Sturton has a distinctly southern Mississippi influence in her music, and she seemed to come into her own and get more comfortable after a song or two. I loved her stage banter, as she had some quirky anecdotes and stories for us between songs. She talked about getting the best poutine ever from a place near Maitland and Carling (not exactly the most treasured neighbourhood in Ottawa), as well as the story behind her song “Wheel of Fortune” which clearly involved a love affair between Pat Sajack and Vanna White.
She also played a few of my favourites from Bumble Bee, including her rendition of “Black is the Colour” which diverts from the traditional americana folk song in both style and lyrics. My brother Nico and I played the original with our grandma on a recording some years back, and it’s a song that has a lot of meaning for me. Hearing Catriona make it her own blew me away, her haunting guitar and harmonica made it that much more intoxicating.
I had a hard time keeping my excitement in when Sturton played “Heavy Weather”, which for my money is one of the coolest songs to come out of Ottawa in a while. Actually, when she started playing this song, my brother Nico (who was visiting from London, ON, and unfamiliar with her music) was sitting in the corner and couldn’t quite see the stage. He asked, “Woah, how many people are on stage?” To his surprise, the answer was just one. Sturton did it all, creating a full and multi-layered sonic environment that is not easy to do as a solo act playing in a quiet space.
It was a delicate and piercing performance, and one that many of us in the crowd won’t soon forget.