January 14, 2016
By Chloe Sjuberg
Seventeen bands, four David Bowie tributes, $200,000 raised… I couldn’t be happier to be out supporting the mandate of the #SingItFwd charity concert. In its fifth and final year, the concert series brings mouthwatering lineups of BC and Canadian talent to raise funds for the Saint James Music Academy (SJMA), which provides after-school care and music education for youth in Vancouver’s Downtown East Side. Check out our interview with #SingItFwd co-founder David Vertesi for more inspiring details about the school and the concerts.
The students of the Saint James Music Academy were highlighted right from the start. A lovely string section – violins, cellos and stand-up bass – accompanied charming local folk/roots duo Twin Bandit (Hannah Walker and Jamie Elliott), who brought us bittersweet harmonies and a timeless, soulful sound on songs like the lap-steel-soaked The Waltz.
Vancouver indie stars The Zolas played a high-energy set, underpinned by Tom Dobrzanski’s sweet keys and Zachary Gray’s throaty vocals. We were treated to the breezyYou’re Too Cool, the moodier Invisible, and recent single Fell in Love with New York, which had everyone clapping along.
I have to hand it to #SingItFwd for keeping it fairly organized during turnaround time between the numerous sets, particularly on the second night. Interludes included hilarious banter from our hosts, Cory Ashworth and (the queen) Tamara Stanners (former and current Peak radio legends, respectively) – spanning subjects from dating apps to Tamara’s snoring habit – and video clips of the SJMA kids. I’ve got to say, I’m pretty freaking jealous of these kids getting to hang out with Canadian music royalty from Hey Rosetta! to Hey Ocean!. From the clips, which spanned the project’s five-year history, we could see the students growing up, sometimes from tiny little things to the young adults we now recognized on stage. It was pretty stunning.
The Gay Nineties definitely set a one-of-a-kind mood on stage. Frontman Parker Bossley was in full glam rock mode, from his dramatic moves to his all-white, shamelessly ‘70s attire. The Gay Nineties have a modern sound that simultaneously nods to many rock and new wave influences, from the Talking Heads to the moody, reggae-esque chords of The Police – and of course, the late legendary David Bowie. The band finished their set with a powerful tribute – The Man Who Sold the World.
Tamara and Cory introduced Michael Bernard Fitzgerald as “the first man in Canada to have a man bun – and to cut off his man bun.” MBF brought fun, feel-good folk/soul vibes that had everyone moving, with his twangy voice and his band’s awesome group sound. They played the upbeat I Wanna Make It With You and the slow, sweet love song Josie, and enlisted the SJMA kids for singing and dancing help on One Love. Following MBF, a small bluegrass group of SJMA students played a gorgeous cover of Hero by Family of the Year.
Five Alarm Funk immediately had everyone stomping and clapping along with their nine-piece ensemble of groovy drums and horn section, growling lyrics like “DANCE DANCE PARTY PARTY” and engaging the audience in a call-and-answer of “May the funk be with you – and also with you!” The SJMA kids also got back up on stage to show off their killer dance moves. Here’s what struck me most about the kids getting the chance to sing and play on stage and with all these artists: it’s so awesome that they get to see that musicians aren’t celebrities who are separate and above us all, that musicianship is attainable and that the music community here is an inspiring, friendly and supportive one.
Toronto hip-hopper k-os, a veteran supporter of #SingItFwd, performed the uplifting anthem Another Shot with the support of the SJMA choir. The song included another Bowie tribute as k-os broke into an interlude of a few lyrics of Space Oddity.
After the soulful chorus filling the stage, Frazey Ford dialed it down with just her calm, solo acoustic presence. Her powerful lilting voice and songwriting talent give her all the gravitas of Canadian folk lady royalty like Joni Mitchell. She sang September Fields, from her newest album, Lost Together (a tribute to her hippie, draft-dodging parents), and Cat Stevens’ How Can I Tell You, apparently one of the first songs she ever learned to play. Fittingly for a night honouring youth, her set was a lovely nod to her early influences. Oh yeah, and I don’t think anyone has been or will be able to rock a red velvet jumpsuit as well as Frazey.
Dear Rouge played a bit of a different set from the bold, electric, arena-ready performance I last saw from them downtown on New Year’s Eve, this time featuring acoustic guitar and cello. They performed a slower, stripped-down version of their hit Black to Gold, but Danielle McTaggart’s voice was dramatic and powerful as always, the cello provided some neat effects, and their rockstar presence was still palpable. Honouring their roots as a cover band, they brought a ton of uplifting energy to a rendition of David Bowie’s Starman, and finished with the self-love-booster Best Look Lately.
Tamara and Cory had been hinting at a mystery guest all night. While they chatted with the crowd after Dear Rouge, who should just happen to stop by but Dan Mangan?! (He swore he was just out wandering the alleys and decided to drop in. Typical.) He treated us to all that Mangan sound we love – textured vocals, rich lyrics and heartfelt acoustic guitar – playing the soaring Post War Blues, David Bazan’s Won’t Let Go, and the classic Sold. As he played, other artists from the night, including Vertesi, Fitzgerald and McTaggart, began to fill the stage, and ended the show with a rendition of James Taylor’s You’ve Got a Friend that perfectly fit the event’s collaborative, supportive atmosphere.