Aysanabee’s deep and soulful voice put the “blues” in Bluesfest. Photo: Amira Benjamin/Fulcrum
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The first day of Bluesfest reminded me — and the other attendees — of how much we’ve all missed live music

It was a grey and rainy evening when I arrived at the Lansdowne Plaza. With a Fulcrum camera in one hand, media passes in the other, and a bright yellow raincoat on my back, I entered the gates to my first-ever Bluesfest with my old friend and accomplice for the evening, Maxim (hey, Max!).

We arrived early despite a small hiccup on my end with a Lyft driver, so before the first opener got to the stage, Maxim and I indulged in some untitled food truck poutine. For $10, garnished with what I assume was Maplewood bacon, it filled me up for the rest of the night.

The first act of the night was Lauryn MacFarlane, a singer-songwriter with a friendly and familiar presence. Despite her small stature, her voice and lyrics were bigger than the stage itself. 

MacFarlane wasn’t afraid to present her vulnerability and personal feelings on songs like “Letting It Out,” “Touch” (which strives for closure you might not always get), and “Try and Let You Be My Man,” which was about trusting yourself to let others in.

My favourite song was “Nowhere Town,” an ode to closed-minded people in small towns — MacFarlane is from Peterborough, and Maxim and I are from Durham Region, so we’re practically neighbours — which showcased MacFarlane’s songwriting and guitar abilities the best. 

MacFarlane ended her set with a heartfelt cover of the Beatles’ “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” which I am still humming as I write this, and “Friendly,” a frisky and fun song about getting to know someone. 

The second act — and my personal favourite — was Aysanabee, an “Oji-Cree” and Toronto-based singer-songwriter. He made an impactful opening with songs like “Near to Death,” a song about the singer’s terrifying experience snowshoeing up north.

Aysanabee plays the guitar as if he’s known it his entire life; this was proven in songs like “Ocean Breath” and “Last Ocean” by the way his fingers strummed and danced so effortlessly across the fretboard I took it for a backing track. He also has a deep and soulful voice, truly putting the ‘blues’ in Bluesfest, that hypnotized me into forgetting the rain that had picked up around this time and had soaked through my raincoat. 

Aysanabee rounded his set with “We Were Here”, a song he explained resulted from his conversations with his grandfather about residential schools, which was the most emotional performance by far. 

After a break (for both the performers and the rain), the crowd began to form around the front of the stage while I tried to remember the names of the Tokyo Police Club songs I knew — which were the generic two, “Bambi” and “Your English is Good” (which they did perform, lucky me!).

Tokyo Police Club had the most energetic and possibly anticipatory crowd of the evening, with so many people dancing and singing along, I wondered what the venue capacity was. No matter, the vibes from the audience and the band were clearly in sync, and you could tell the band was happy to play live again.

Guitarist Josh Hook and drummer Greg Alsop stabilized the melody and rhythm of each song, while Graham Wright gave his all with every instrument he switched between — though he seemed most excited with the tambourine, which he may or may not have lost control of at one point.

Around this moment, one of the more overzealous crowd members looked like they were being exorcised at the end of each song, and I felt a little concerned for him. But the energy of him — and the rest of the crowd — only seemed to increase with the rain, and as they cheered for an encore, which the weather gladly provided.

The rain had picked up by that point, so after some slight technical difficulties, the closing act, Half Moon Run took to the stage and was warmly welcomed by the audience.

The indie rock band played as passionately as the downpour, which made its direction towards the stage and prompted a comment from lead singer Devon Portielje, but the band continued with little hesitation and the crowd was more enthusiastic than ever.

Though at this point Maxim and I had enough of the rain, the weather clearly wasn’t phasing the crowd, and the band continued their set with a lot of energy and enthusiasm that I could feel even outside the venue. All in all, this was an amazing kick-off to the acclaimed Bluesfest, and I will gladly volunteer for covering it again next year.