An absolutely gorgeous day greeted the thousands in attendance for the second day of the Toronto Urban Roots Festival. Festivites on the South Stage kicked off with Nashville singer-songwriter Caitlin Rose. Most regrettably, I did not arrive in time to catch this set which is unfortunate, as Caitlin was on my list of artists to catch this weekend. I do look forward to attending one of her shows in the future.
So the afternoon, for me anyway, started with award winning duo Shovels and Rope. Still riding high on the success of their second album O' Be Joyful, they are preparing for the August release of their follow up album titled "Swimmin' Time." Judging from the performances of some new songs from the upcoming release and the response of the fans in attendance, Shovels and Rope have another hit on their hands. A wide range seems to be covered on this new album, from relationships as noted in "Pinned", to historical events captured in "Stono River Rebellion" about the slave uprising in the 1700's at that location, to the darker edges of humanity with "The Devil Is All Around." Favorites from O' Be Joyful were not to be ignored, as the crowd was graced with fiery performances of "Birmingham", "Keeper" and the closing number "Hail Hail." There is a sweetness with the chemistry that exists between Michael Trent and Cary Ann Hearst, the husband and wife team that make up Shovels and Rope. It translates in their performance and it resonates with the audience, which had a variety of age ranges. They are the real deal and people will always be attracted to that.
Next up on the East Stage (the main stage) was a band from the "dirty south" that's been rockin' the roads for many years. The Drive-by Truckers are no strangers to Toronto, or Canada for that matter. Kicking off their set with "Birthday Boy" from the album The Big To-Do, the bar was set early for what would be a highlight show at this year's TURF. Next up was Patterson Hood on lead with "Righteous Path." The Truckers have a tremendous advantage, in that they can trade off lead vocals with the aforementioned Hood and Mike Dooley. Both have distinctly different vocals and both work very well with the sound the Truckers have captured. Other fan favorites were "Lookout Mountain" from The Diry South album, as well as "18 Wheels of Love", a true story song about Patterson Hood's mom.
One of the more unique artists to appear at this year's TURF is Pokey LaFarge. Hailing from St. Louis, Missouri, this young man has managed to carve out a solid career by capturing an authentic roots music sound. That's really the only way to describe an artist who's stage attire of that and his band resembled a cross between Hank Williams, Sr. and Jimmie Rodgers, and there's nothing wrong with that. A talented group of musicians they were able to easily sway from rockabilly, as with " Angel Won't You Be Mine" to 1940's jazz with the Hoagie Carmichael classic "Riverboat Shuffle" and his own unique version of the Hank Williams, Sr. classic "Lovesick Blues." LaFarge shows off his songwriting chops with originals "The City Summer Blues" and "Cairo, Illinois." A generous artist, he allows his band members to take their turns front and center for a solo, and each one more than rises to the occasion. Pokey LaFarge is continuing his tour this week with a sold out show in New York City at the Bowery Ballroom, then on to stops in Virginia this weekend.
The final act of the evening was Chicago's own The Waco Brothers, led by Jon Langford, with a special appearance by Sally Timms of the Mekons. The Waco Brothers, for all intents and purposes, were the Iron Horses of TURF this year. They performed on two consecutive days at the festival, as well as performing a late night gig at TURF Club Series at the Horseshoe Tavern. Their energy on stage is infectious. This is a band who loves what they do and the audience just joins in on the fun. Performing with Sally Timms, I caught the Waco Brothers set as they played a solid cover of the Dolly Parton hit "Old Flames", followed by a great singalong to the John Anderson hit "Wild and Blue." It was time to kick it up a notch after these two ballads, so what better way to start than with an ode to Alejandro Escovedo and "Sensitve Boys." Johnny Cash's "Folsom Prison Blues" and The Who's "Teenage Wasteland" found their way in to the set as well. But trust me, this is not a cover band, as I was about to find out with their performance on Sunday, Day 3 of the TURF.