Friday, 19 June 2015

Summer concert season

Ah June; the start of summer concert season. What makes a good summer concert? Is it the weather, the venue, the musicianship of the performer? Or is there something else?

Ottawa’s re-named  CityFolk festival (formerly Ottawa Folk Festival) recently announced their headliner – rock legend Van Morrison. Good for them but I won’t be there. I’ve already had the pleasure of his company at the 2007 version of Bluesfest. Sure, I enjoyed hearing Gloria and Brown Eyed Girl and many other hits. What bothered me was his attitude. Maybe it shouldn’t matter, but when I attend a concert, I appreciate some kind of performer/audience interaction. Mr. Morrison appeared on stage, sang his songs, introduced his band at the end of the show and left abruptly, with no encore. He made absolutely no attempt to connect with the thousands of people who paid a lot of money to see him.

Contrast him with Diana Krall. The Citizen’s review ( ) of  “Canada’s jazz queen’s” May 31st concert gave her top marks for musicality but what impressed me, as much as her musicianship, was her demonstration of humility and generosity. So many top stars introduce their band near the end of the show but not Ms. Krall. As soon as her opening number was done, she introduced the five members of her band. She was also accompanied by an orchestra and throughout the show she acknowledged them and praised their conductor. When introducing each song, she always mentioned the name of the composer and/or arranger. Krall, the big-name entertainer, often said she felt so lucky to be able to perform the piece or to play with such great instrumentalists. At the end she stood among her bandmates to take her bow. What a class act she is.

Another outstanding performer that I’ve had the pleasure to see both at outdoor festivals and onstage at the NAC is Natalie McMaster. Whether on her own or with members of her musical family, she provides wonderful musical entertainment and a real warmth.  At the end of her show you feel like you have met her, that you know and care about her.   

One of the most magical outdoor concerts I’ve been to was James Taylor at Bluesfest, in July of 2008.  Us old fogies were settled in our lawn chairs long before the concert began, enjoying a perfect summer night. With his friendly chatter, it felt like an evening with friends in a living room, as we all sang along to his sweet, gentle hits.

I didn’t know what to expect from Steve Martin and the Steep Canyon Rangers when they performed at Confederation Park a couple of years ago. Could he really play banjo as well as make us laugh? It turns out that the multi-talented Steve Martin is a real musician with the funniest banter of any concert.

I’d love to see Paul McCartney again. His performances are the opposite of Van Morrison’s. In a CBC radio interview in 2010, he said, "I go out there and try to give people the best night of their lives." He delivers. There really is nothing quite like belting out all those great tunes with McCartney as a very enthusiastic choir leader. As the cameras panned the crowd at his concert, I was struck by the sea of happy faces; all these strangers, of various ages and backgrounds, united in joyous singing. What a great gift, to be able to give joy to so many.

Concerts can be like that; magical escapes. Audience interaction, humour, warmth, along with great music make for unforgettable experiences. Here’s hoping that this summer’s Ottawa festivals provide us with plenty of magic.

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