When deciding on which main stage show to attend at the 2017 Deep Roots Music Festival, I had two choices: stick with what I know, or choose the unknown. I ended up deciding on the latter, and I am overjoyed that I did because it meant that I got to experience a variety of musical stylings that I would have otherwise never been exposed to. On Friday, September 22, I was sung to in Spanish by the 4-time Latin Grammy winner Alex Cuba, I was serenaded to in French by the charismatic Yves Lambert Trio, and got a little taste of the south with Jonathon Byrd & The Pickup Cowboy. All the artists were entertaining, and all impressed me. But it was performances by Kaia Kater and Corin Raymond that touched my soul and left a mark.
Hailing from Toronto with Montreal roots, this young banjo wielding African-Canadian sings with the authenticity and tradition that folk music fans have come to adore. Standing alone on stage with just her passion and banjo to accompany her, Kaia’s voice rang out into the Deep Roots crowd and sent vibrations through all of us. Her personal lyrics give you a taste of the struggles faced by people of colour everyday. Her honesty is unflinching and raw, but mesmerizing at the same time making it so you couldn’t look away even if you wanted to. Having the privilege of seeing Kaia Kater live affected everyone who was sitting in Festival Theatre that night. I know this to be true because it was the first time I have been at a live performance where you could hear a pin drop between songs. The audience was completely and utterly devoted to Kaia, giving her every modicum of attention they could. Her magic was felt by everyone. The most memorable songs that Kaia Kater performed that night include titles such as “Paradise Fell”, touching on the Black Lives Matter movement, as well as the personal journey of “Nine Pin”. These songs, with their hard-hitting lyrics and haunting melodies, showcased Kaia’s tenor voice perfectly and reminded all of us of the important relationship that politics and music share. Though it was her song “Saint Elizabeth” that sent shivers through every inch of me. One of her less political songs, “Saint Elizabeth” explores the connection between the sinner and the saint and what that kind of relationship looks like. It is gritty, it is sinister, and it is oddly beautiful. Although Kaia’s songs are enough to get her messages across, it was perhaps her stage presence and pained facial expressions while she sang that truly resonated with her audience. Even with a stripped-down sound, Kaia took command of the room. This artist has a lot to say, and her voice couldn’t have come at a better time; a time where we need musicians to use their platform to stand up and speak out. For that, I thank her.
Corin Raymond has said that “good songs are like burrs…they will attach themselves to you”. After seeing Corin’s performance, I can personally verify this. Performing songs off his album Hobo Fever Jungle Dreams, Corin took his audience on a lyrical journey. What is wonderful about his heart-wrenching songs is that they are more than an auditory experience. The images that Corin’s lyrics paint in the minds of his audience somehow make sense of the album title. After listening to his swooning and often eerie melodies, I am left with an idea of what a hobo fever jungle dream is, as weird as that may sound. If the album title is any indication, Corin Raymond doesn’t take himself too seriously…even though the content of his songs is often serious. In between songs, Corin loves to make his audience laugh. Which is a welcomed tension breaker during some of his darker lyrics. His song “Hard On Things”, for example, is a piece of self-reflective prose over music that describes the ways in which everything that Corin touches carries collateral damage. This deeply personal and raw song makes his audience feel just the right amount of discomfort. Perhaps it is because we as listeners resonate with his words, and it was the first time hearing somebody else speak of such things on such a blunt level. One of my personal favourite songs to see Corin perform live, “Under the Belly of the Night”, is a melodic masterpiece that gives the listener a strong sense of….what, exactly? I still can’t find the words to describe the emotional impact that this song has. The only word that can describe the ache associated with this song is anemoia, which is defined as nostalgia for a time, place, or thing that you’ve never actually known. Corin left his impression on me. I exited the festival theatre craving more of the obscure feelings I had while watching Corin Raymond perform…so I went back the next night for seconds. This time, though, at a little bit of a more intimate setting that we are all familiar with: Paddy’s. Corin’s performance at Paddy’s only solidified my impression of him which is that his entire demeanour is an oxymoron. His dark and mysterious Johnny Cash-esque persona contradicts the vulnerability we hear and see through his songs. His humorous quips between songs full of imagery of self-destruction seem out of place, but they oddly work. Corin Raymond gave everyone who attended his shows a fever that cannot be broken. I spent Corin’s entire set standing on my seat so that I wouldn’t miss a single beat.
Kaia Kater and Corin Raymond restored my faith in honesty and in music. One of the best decisions I ever made was choosing to go to a show where I did not know any of the acts, because I left not only with a new appreciation for folk music but with a deeper understanding and appreciation for the human experience. If you ever get a chance to see either of these fantastic artists perform live, I urge you to jump on the opportunity.