Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Recording: The Wilderness of Manitoba

Artist: The Wilderness of Manitoba

Song: unknown*

Recorded at Christie Pits Park (Bloor Ossington Folk Festival – Day 1), September 17, 2016.

The Wilderness of Manitoba - unknown

It was a bad news/good news sort of vibe down at Christie Pits. There was a sense of triumph that the festival — for the previous five years a well-curated, intimate event with an enjoyably-casual vibe — was happening at all, given that it was at the very precipice of the plug being pulled in the face of some expected grant money not coming through. The joy at the fact that the organizers found a way to go ahead with it was tempered by the sadness at the corresponding announcement that this would be the festival's final edition. On Saturday, the fact the event had been downsized — losing its main stage and moving everything under the beer garden tent — turned out to be a blessing in disguise as the day arrived with the (seemingly annual) dose of rain. The park was eerily quiet but it made everything feel extra dry and cozy as the bands played.

It sometimes gets too easy to take a band for granted when they feel like a part of the background fabric of the musical community. For one reason or another, I had missed out on a whole album cycle of live shows from The Wilderness of Manitoba, for whom 2014's Between Colours was now mostly in the rear view as they previewed material from their forthcoming fifth album. The band has always featured an evolving cast around frontman/songwriter Will Whitwham, so it was no surprise to see different faces surrounding him on stage — but there was a surprising sonic consistency from what I recalled, the group's sonic palette showing their accumulation of folkish and California mellow-rock tendencies, all held together by warm vocal harmonies and a certain "homeyness". Raven Shields, on vocals and guitar, was a new element since I last saw the band in action, but gave a nice contrasting balance to Whitwham's vocal work. This one-off show felt like a casual neighbourhood hang-out for the band — there'll probably be more activity on the horizon once the new album makes its way into the world.

* Does anyone know the title to this one? Please leave a comment!

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