By: Luke Ottenhof (@lukeottenhof) –
Lederhosen, alpine hats, and just about every kind of beer imaginable crammed the sleepy town of Vankleek Hill on Friday night, and factor in more than four straight hours of Canadian rock and roll, and it’s one for the books.
Home to Beau’s All Natural Brewing Company, Vankleek Hill plays host each year to thousands who come for the brewery’s now-annual Oktoberfest. Featuring two days of music, games, and more beer than Andre the Giant could drink, the festival emulates the massive Oktoberfest festivities that have become tradition in Germany. With games like Keg Toss, Stein Hold, and even a Sausage Eating Contest, it’s a happy relative of its older Bavarian brother.
The main stage buzzed with polka music from the storied Walter Ostanek, and funneled through the gates into the fair grounds was akin to Charlie entering the Wonka Factory. Except instead of a chocolate factory, it’s Beau’s little wonderland, and instead of sweets, it’s delicious, malty beer. Hands off, Charlie.
Ottawa’s The Balconies christened the evening air with molasses-thick riffs and a relentless percussion pounding, coupled with frontwoman Jacquie Neville’s soaring, hellcat vocals. Neville’s body, racked with feverish intensity, commandeered the stage along with the band, and her riveting, howling vocal power neared feral levels of vivacity.
Quickly bursting through cuts from their EP Kill Count, it was easy to forget it was only 7:00 PM. As the darkness descended over the fairgrounds, the gritty, sexy blend of grungy-dance rock being thrashed out by the four piece made it feel like midnight. An hour went by in what felt like 15 minutes, and the bombastic, distorted whirlwind that was The Balconies graciously thanked the audience before finishing up.
Following the bombastic display The Balconies offered, Hamilton natives Young Rival took over the stage. Sounding a bit like The Who is nothing tough; keeping that vibe on retainer as they pushed the bounds of pop and indie-dance rock is a little more difficult, but Young Rival aced the test.
The three-piece delved into their 2012 LP Stay Young, with tracks like “Nothing You Know Well” and “Let It Go”. Aron D’Alesio, who handled six-string and vocal duties, was suave and chill. They continued the tight sound that The Balconies displayed, with a seamless mesh of the trio’s playing. For a smaller gig, the sound quality was pleasantly clean.
Be it the chilly Oktober air or the killer music, people clustered together on the makeshift dance floor, anxiously awaiting The Sadies. Balanced on brothers Dallas and Travis Good, the weathered alt-rock four-piece received a very warm welcome from the healthily inebriated crowd. Dressed in their Western best, the band tore up the stage just as handily as the youngsters before them.
The brothers Good, accompanied by drummer Mike Belitsky and bassist Sean Dean, had no shortage of tunes to choose from. Their authoritative grasp of virtually every musical genre came through in their sound; from rockabilly to psychedelia to punk to country, it’s was hard to find ground these fellas haven’t tread upon. Travis and Dallas’ pistol-quick, back-and-forth riffwork was stunning; fully loaded six-shooters couldn’t have done as much damage as they did with six-strings. With genuine humility and tireless fretwork, the band wooed all onto the dance floor; even far at the back, folks linked arms and hooted and hollered.
Ottawa native songstress Kathleen Edwards embodied the finale for the first night. A Polaris Music Prize shortlister, Edwards recently hosted the Polaris Prize Gala last month, and you might have noticed the humorous “Kathleen Edwards Swear Jars” present on each table. They were there for good reason.
“There is a curfew and we completely fucked it up the ass,” laughed Edwards as she came out for a brief encore.
Jovial and delightfully sassy, Edwards’ ability to shift gears between comedy and heartbreak was evident Friday night; the heavy-hearted “In State” left many wide eyed, as Edwards found a sincere medium between belting and whispering, the results being the breathtaking tone she’s defined her whole career. Shortly, though, Edwards dropped the wounded soldier act and called upon anyone who lived in Stittsville to claim a prize she had; a young lady answered the call and made her way to the stage front, to be given a Panini press Edwards received as a Christmas present. Guitar picks? Yes. Setlists? Definitely. But panini presses are not often doled out at rock shows.
Keyboardist and backing vocalist Jim Bryson led a rollicking cover of “Fisherman’s Blues” that saw Edwards on the fiddle; always a welcome addition to any setlist, the rendition proved a highlight.
After lighting up the dance floor once again with “Back To Me”, Edwards made her way off stage, marking the end of the first night of Beau’s Oktoberfest.