Juno-nominated singer-songwriter holds last-minute show at Café Alt

Joel Balsam | Fulcrum Contributor

Photo by Joel Balsam

STUDENTS WHO STOPPED by Café Alt for a quick cup of coffee or a comfortable place to study on Oct. 31 were surprised to find Juno-nominated folk artist Craig Cardiff performing live.

Despite the fact that the show was announced on Facebook and Twitter just the night before, the early-afternoon show garnered a captivated audience of more than 75 people.

Normally, the 36-year-old singer-songwriter from Waterloo, Ont. gives at least eight weeks’ notice before he plays a venue, but doing a surprise show once in a while offers something unique.

“People talk about the experience and feel special,” Cardiff explained. “It’s like seeing an eclipse or viewing a falling star.”

The free event was organized by Jozef Spiteri, vp social of the Student Federation of the University of Ottawa.

“The event is meant to give students a break during midterms and classes,” said Spiteri, adding that more of these short-notice shows will start happening in both English and French at different venues around campus.

“Doing a show like this is a really typical ‘Craig’ thing to do,” said John Cangino, a computer science major at the U of O. “His shows are always interactive and a lot of fun.”

True to form, at one of the high points in the nearly two-hour set, Cardiff asked the audience which song he should play next.

“Circus!” one eager fan shouted from the centre of the room.

“Why?” Cardiff asked.

“It’s just a beautiful song,” replied the fan.

So beautiful that Cardiff told the young man to come up and slow-dance to the song. With no hesitation, the fan obliged. Within seconds, a girl from the other side of the room jumped up to accompany him. Two other couples joined in and they danced away until the end of the ballad.

Cardiff’s music is the type of easy listening folk fit for the cottage, road trips, or kicking back during a study break. His bushy beard and relaxed demeanor give off a friendly vibe, and the stories he tells between songs are hilarious.

As part of a tradition, Cardiff passed around a small notebook in which audience members could anonymously write their deepest, darkest secrets—a social art experiment he calls the “Book of Truths.”

“Everybody is full of brokenness,” said Cardiff, who draws on many of the entries as inspiration for his songs. There are 40 books to date.

Currently living in Arnprior, Ont., Cardiff has been performing for 16 years. But no year has been bigger for his music career than 2012; his newest album Floods & Fires was nominated for the Juno Award for Roots and Traditional Album of the Year: Solo, and he is hoping to win at this year’s Canadian Folk Music Awards in the category of Contemporary Singer of the Year.

“I’m able to support myself doing this,” said Cardiff, “and that makes me happy enough.”