Everything kicked off on Thursday night with a raucous party at SRO featuring genre-smashing dance band Five Alarm Funk. Their performance set the tone for the weekend: This year’s festival was one to be spent on your feet.
The dancing continued Friday evening for local folk-rock band Sea Perry as they opened for Newmarket’s Tokyo Police Club at the Grace Hartman Amphitheatre. Hundreds of young fans rushed to the front of the stage to shout the lyrics to songs from TPC’s set, which spanned their entire discography.
Saturday was filled with highlights including local bluegrass band Murder Murder, whose propulsive murder ballads commanded movement from their audience. Members of Murder Murder were ubiquitous over the weekend as they participated in countless workshops and sessioned with other bands including country singer Barry Miles and Brian Dunn. Miles is a commanding performer with a clear, powerful voice and virtuosity on both acoustic guitar and banjo. Dunn played memorable selections from his new album, which consists entirely of songs written by much-beloved local musician Ryan Levecque.
Saturday also featured the Melbourne Ska Orchestra, a 24-piece band all the way from Australia whose massive sound and inspired grooves commanded the audience to leave their seats. They were followed by a solo set by legendary songwriter Bruce Cockburn, who showed tremendous poise by channelling the energized audience’s attention through the sheer force of his songwriting and personality.
Saturday’s music wrapped with a wild and untamed performance at The Townehouse Tavern by Toronto ensemble Lemon Bucket Orchestra, whose set started on the stage, moved to the middle of the venue, then onto the bar itself, and finally finished out on the street. The large band and the dancing crowd effectively blocked all traffic as the joyous sound of their music rang out over downtown Sudbury.
I caught up with Toronto Juno winners the Strumbellas on Sunday afternoon over an all-beef hot dog in the artist hospitality tent, which provided a fantastic view of the Grace Hartman Amphitheatre. They had just arrived from Toronto, and are kicking off seven weeks of touring. NLFB marks the alt-country band’s fifth time playing Sudbury, and despite having graduated to larger stages, they still hold a lot of love for our local watering hole, The Townehouse Tavern.
The weekend belonged to Sunday headliners Wintersleep. The band is clearly at the top of their game as their nuanced set spanned their decade-plus career and incorporated stirring live renditions of their older material (a personal highlight was their live adaptation of the song Orca from their self-titled 2003 debut). They also performed unreleased material from their forthcoming record, which seamlessly integrated polyrhythmic drumming and analog synthesizers. Wintersleep had a full, lush sound that was perfectly suited to the large outdoor stage.
This year’s Northern Lights Festival Boréal was a highly varied musical buffet, and I look forward to next year’s feast.
Clayton Drake performs in Sudbury bands The Birthday Cakes and Almighty Rhombus.