By John Swartz
The 5th annual Roots North Music Festival opened Friday night at St. Paul’s Centre. The main stage show featured Ariana Gillis, Rose Cousins and Ron Sexsmith.
Playing to a half full house, Gillis showed a different style of songwriting and performance than the last time she played in Orillia at the Mariposa Folk Festival in 2010. There is no doubt she has a great voice, and in contrast to those who followed to the stage her guitar work was more intricate.
If one wants to get an audience on side right away, at least in this town, perform a Gordon Lightfoot tune – and do it credibly. Cousins didn’t waste a lot of time receiving opening applause, bee lined right to the piano and sang If You could Read My Mind. It was a different take, but she did it well.
One thing became apparent by the close of Cousin’s set, the sound was close to perfect. Mark Webster could have focused the sound closer to center stage, but instead managed to make it seem like the sound was coming from the entire front of the room and the separation of voices from guitars and pianos was crisp and clear.
This continued with Sexsmith’s set. Latecomers arrived in force and the house was full. The thing about the line up is there was essentially three of the same thing, singers with acoustic guitars, sometimes piano. That’s not a lot of variety, but no one could say they were all the same. Certainly Sexsmith writes lyrics with more precise words to convey the image of the scene or emotion he’s singing about, he’s a painter of words, but in contrast to the others, it’s a matter of degree and subject matter.
After the main stage show finished, Skye Wallace was on at the Brownstone. This was the first time of many she’s played in Orillia without a backup band. The most obvious thing I noticed without all the other instrumental voices present is she’s an extremely good guitar player. As opposed to what happened at St. Paul’s Wallace’s playing had more picking notes for melodies and filling in with runs and arpeggios than just basic chord support and rhythm strumming. She’s also a much more animated performer, and puts more emotional colouring into delivering lyrics.
Saturday features Steve and Marnie Van Kessel, as VK, opening for Alysha Brilla, and the Weather Station. Since festival passes are sold out, and there was no room last night, if you haven’t got a ticket don’t bother. But, there are other venues. Zachary Lucky will be at Brewery Bay starting at 10 p.m. and Lost Cousins are at the Brownstone at 10 as well. If you like country, see Zachary. This is going to be a hard choice if you just like good music and don’t care about genre.
It’s not too late to see Saturday afternoon’s performances. Michael Martyn is playing at Alleycats Music at 1:30 p.m.; Sam and the Man are at Apple Annie’s at 2 p.m.; The Jennie Davis Trio is at Harold and Ferne The Local Goods Store at 2:20 p.m.; and Geoff Booth hosts a jam at the Hog “n Penny at 3 p.m.
(Photos by Swartz – SUNonline/Orillia) Ron Sexsmith headlined Friday night’s main stage Roots North program.