“I’m just doing my rock n roll duty”
“Might as well go for a soda, nobody hurts and nobody cries”
Classic Kim Mitchell tunes rang out across King George Park in Canora on July 14, as the headline performer and his band thrilled a sellout crowd of close to 1,000 fans at the first annual Canora Music Festival.
The 90-minute concert featured familiar tunes from the Kim Mitchell library, including: Check, Lager and Ale, Easy to Tame, All We Are, Patio Lanterns, Wild Party, and many more, as well as some new music.
Mitchell quickly displayed his easy knack for relating to fans, and paid tribute to the scenic region in and around Canora and its people.
“We are completely jazzed. It’s so wonderful you invited us to such a nice spot,” he said. “We were driving here from Yorkton and saw the sun going down on the prairies. During my career of over 40 years I’ve been all over the world, but that was really beautiful.”
His quick wit and sense of humour came across when he was getting ready to do Wild Party and involved the crowd, instructing them on when to sing the familiar line, ”I am a wild party.”
“Think of this as a rehearsal, even though we don’t like to rehearse much,” said Mitchell. “We really need your help with this one, so no screwing around or we’ll just get in the car and go home.”
Of course, the song went off without a hitch, and Mitchell and his band went on to perform many other familiar tunes. During the concert, he told the crowd that he and band mate Peter Fredette had been performing together for over 35 years.
Seven Levels, a folk/rock group from Canora, played their set for an appreciative audience, including slower tempo ballads and upbeat rockers. Band members are: Kelly McTavish (lead vocal, lead guitar), Gillian Leson (backup vocals, keyboard, acoustic guitar), Parker Rice (drums) and Mike Kwas (bass). The majority of the set was original music, including a song called Canora Town, recently written by McTavish about his adopted home town after moving in about a decade ago.
“I’m an outlaw in a foreign town.
“Ten years have come and gone.
“All the folks on the street have been kind to me, here in Canora town.”
After the song, McTavish quipped, “There you go Canora, your very own song.”
The band has been together in various forms for over a decade, but the current lineup came together in 2012.
Even though Seven Levels focuses mainly on original music, the group’s closing song was a cover of Keep on Rockin’ in the Free World by Neil Young, which is, according to McTavish, “The best last song ever.”
The festival included a pair of well known Saskatchewan country artists.
Spiritwood native Brody Siebert played his distinctive brand of country music to open the festival. Siebert, the 2017 CMA male vocalist of the year, said, “This is my first time playing in Canora and I’m so happy to be part of this outstanding lineup.”
Siebert performed a variety of his original music, including a new single, Ring On It. He and his band members showed off their versatility with a rockin’ version of the Foo Fighters song Wheels.
Samara Yung, originally from Yorkton, followed Siebert with her own brand of country music. She had her fans up and dancing to her original music from four previous albums, as well as her latest release Steamroller.
Yung was very appreciative of the invitation to perform at the festival.
“I like to spend summers at Canora Beach, so this is practically my second home. You guys put on an amazing event, thank you for having me,” she said.
Yung said she grew up listening to Kim Mitchell, and played a number classic 80s rock tunes such as Hit Me With Your Best Shot, Jessie’s Girl and Don’t Stop Believin’.
League of Wolves, a Saskatoon-based ”powerhouse rock group” played a high energy set in Canora, taking a break from working on a new album.
The group was originally made up of four childhood friends, but recently added lead guitarist Leot Hanson, formerly with another well known Saskatoon band, the Sheepdogs.
Lead singer Dillon Currie said he and the other band members were grateful for the opportunity to perform in Canora.
“Thanks for having us, this is one of the most amazing venues we’ve every played,” he said. “And this is a lot more fun than the last time I was in Canora, when I was about 12 years old and you guys kicked our butts in hockey provincials.”
Men Without Shame was the final group to perform at the festival. Known as “The Prairies ultimate classic rock band,” the set included classics made famous by bands such as Trooper, April Wine, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Cheap Trick, Bay City Rollers, Motley Crue and others.
“We appreciate the effort that went into the Canora Music Festival,” said a representative of the group. “The organization, concert site, technical crews, staging, sound and lighting were impeccable, along with a super fun audience. It’s a beautiful venue and it was a memorable gig for sure. Well done Canora.”
Brooke Nickel, originally from Canora, joined Men Without Shame on stage for one song, a “powerful performance” of Barracuda, originally made famous by Heart.
At the end of the festival, a phrase heard often from fans was, “This was so much fun. We need to do it again next year.”
Overall, the first Canora Music Festival was a big success, said Aaron Herriges, director of leisure services and one of the festival organizers. He said it was the result of lots of hard organizing work by many volunteers and members of the leisure services board and the Canora music society.
“Even community members that weren’t involved with organizing helped with setup the night before,” said Herriges, “including the fencing, tables and chairs. Some brush and trees were removed from the park to create an amazing concert space.”
He said in addition to performing at the festival, the members of Seven Levels were also deeply involved in the production of the event.
Herriges said there were a few minor problems along the way, but overall everything went very well.
“There was a storm the night before the festival, but preparations made for weather by the organizing committee and public works allowed us to deal with the hail and rain on the morning of the festival,” he said. “We were able to direct water to areas where it could be managed.”
Support from sponsors played a key role in making the festival happen, but Herriges said the value of the volunteers was felt throughout the event.
“I guess for me the highlight was seeing a bunch volunteers working so well together for a common goal,” he said. “In the end it feels really good what we were able to accomplish. People like that are invaluable assets to the community. They really deserve a lot of praise for how hard they worked.”
Herriges said the success of the festival could have long term benefits in Canora’s future.
“It definitely lets the province know Canora is a player when it comes bringing in big time entertainment,” he said. “The project was an experiment that proved that great live music is important to people in the area. I believe genre doesn’t matter, I think people just like music in general and they are already talking about future concerts in whatever type of music that may be.”
He said discussions will soon be held on the possibility of holding another music festival during next year’s Canora in Bloom.
“I kind of like the idea of being unpredictable when it comes to the main weekend event, so we’ll see,” Herriges said.