THORNBURY, ONTARIO — Cottage country calls all Torontonians — including, it turns out, some of the city’s most listenable musicians. During the recent Peak to Shore Music Festival, headlined by Sarah Harmer, I caught stellar performances from three acts at Blue Mountain Village and in the wonderfully inviting little town of Thornbury.
Suzie McNeil — It’s hard to believe it’s been six years since McNeil appeared on “Rock Star: INXS,” wowing judge Dave Navarro with her voice, her sweetness and other charms. McNeil didn’t skyrocket to superstardom, but she has earned four top 10 hits in Canada since 2007 and headlined on stage in the theatre production of “We Will Rock You.” During the Peak to Shore Festival, McNeil performed two shows in Thornbury on August 13, a day when she had major car trouble and “merch” issues (CDs she’d hoped to sell never made it up from Toronto). She related those stories and woes of “getting dumped” to the audiences while beaming and laughing and seeming to be genuinely enjoying her time on stage. You couldn’t help but like someone so easygoing and natural — and talented. McNeil has total command of her pitch-perfect voice and she demonstrated it first on Bruce Street in Thornbury and later at Bridges, a tavern with a sprawling lawn that made for an enchanting setting for a show. Although she’s put out three albums, McNeil isn’t above singing cover songs. In fact, about half of her set were popular hits most listeners would know — from Beyonce’s “Single Ladies” (which McNeil actually made likeable) to Dusty Springfield’s “Son of a Preacher Man” and “Bohemian Rhapsody,” the Queen classic that the Mississauga singer performed on the reality-TV show that made her a star in 2005. Her most recent single, “Merry Go Round,” is a tuneful, melodious, easy-to-listen-to song — like most everything else she puts out.
King Sunshine — If you didn’t know better you’d think this gang of nine from Toronto came straight out of New Orleans. They’ve got a horn section, a funky beat and a lead singer with one big voice. Their song “At the Party,” which is five years old now, sounds as fresh as anything out there. During their show in the middle of a 30 Celsius-degree afternoon, they had feet tapping and more than a few people shaking when the horn section descended the stage to liven things up like a veteran Dixieland troupe. This is a fun group that makes sure everyone has a blast. Plus, Maya Killtron’s voice dazzles.
I bought the CD and would hit one of their shows again in a drumbeat. They don’t have any gigs scheduled but visit their website for updates.
Brett Caswell & The Marquee Rose — I’ve seen Caswell play around Toronto a few times and keep waiting for his name to get bigger. He deserves it. He’s a talented guy and a credible songwriter. More than that, he pours everything he’s got into it, and so does the rest of this band. There was a moment in the plaza at Blue Mountain on August 14 when the crowd had thinned out and the voices of the kids playing in the adjacent water fountain (poor spot for a stage) had picked up enough to disrupt the sound coming from the musicians and you’d think the band might just rush through their set to collect their cheques and hit the bar.
The Marquee Rose, though, performed as if there were thousands in front of them and played professionally right to the end, which crescendoed with a riveting rendition of their song “A Friend in Need” just when the crowd was at its lowest number. Good for them.
They’re at the Rivoli on September 8, with Harlan Pepper and Ben Somer. That will be a show to check out.
MORE CONCERT REVIEWS
Blue Rodeo wows at Ottawa Bluesfest
and on Canada Day in London
U2 has a beautiful day in Toronto
Los Lonely Boys bring a Texas Flood to Toronto
Sam Roberts collides with success
Death Cab for Cutie livens up the Phoenix
The Jezabels woo Lee’s Palace