GENERAL INFORMATIONDATE: 20 September 2008
Article by Graham Rockingham in The Hamilton Spectator:
Benefit concerts aren't the kind of places that artists use to try out new songs. They usually just walk through a few tried and true numbers appropriate to the cause, thank the crowd and join the party backstage. But Sarah Harmer had a point to prove.
Her fans were starting to wonder if maybe she was spending too much time saving the world -- or at least a little piece of it in north Burlington called Mount Nemo -- and not enough time writing music for her next album.
So there couldn't have been a more appropriate place for Harmer to introduce two new songs than at a benefit concert Saturday afternoon atop Mount Nemo for PERL (Protecting Escarpment Rural Land) the environmental group she co-founded.
She didn't spend a lot of time introducing the new songs. She just slid them into her set. Two typical Harmer songs: The first, Late Bloomer, a mystery narrative of deceit and detection; the second, If I Only Had One Match Left, a coquettish little ditty about (excuse the pun) hot love.
On a sunny afternoon of great outdoor music from Harmer, Leslie Feist, Bruce Cockburn and Derek Miller, these two songs stood out. They showed that Harmer, one of the sweetest voices in Canadian music, has another finely crafted CD waiting for completion just as soon as she finishes battling the corporate forces aiming to blow another quarry out of Mount Nemo, the panoramic bump of escarpment land where she was raised.
Feist has the buzz that comes with five Juno wins and four Grammy nominations. And Cockburn has all the respect that 35 years of master musicianship brings. But this was Harmer's show, and most of the 750 people who paid $99 each for the privilege of attending this intimate show knew it.
The concert was staged with style on a private farm, located within walking distance of the Nelson Aggregate quarry. A canvas canopy provided some shade in front of the stage for half the well-heeled crowd, the rest relaxed on lawn chairs around the perimeter. Metalworks provided the sound. It was perfect.
More than 30 PERL volunteers poured beer and wine, as well as serving up burgers, dogs and homemade ice cream (Mount Nemo honey and Collingwood berries), while horses grazed directly behind the food tent.
With a ragged straw hat protecting her head from the sun, Feist mingled with the crowd, signing autographs and getting her picture taken with bright-eyed children (tickets were just $49 for 12-and-unders).
Shortly after 2 p.m., two-time Juno award winner Derek Miller and his band kicked off the show with a 45-minute set of vintage blues rock. Then came Harmer and her band with a 10-song set, heavy on lyrical melody and mercifully light on environmental politics.
Feist, the guest star who ensured the show would be a sell-out, took the stage for a brief set that included hits like Mushaboom and So Sorry. Backed only by a guitarist, the setting emphasized her uniquely delicate vocal phrasing.
Cockburn, looking like an old Zen master, added his own 40-minute solo set, delivering an acoustic guitar showcase with the instrumental Where All The Rivers End [sic, actually End Of All Rivers]. He pulled out some old favourites like Tokyo and Wondering Where The Lions Are, as well as some eco-appropriate songs like If A Tree Falls and Beautiful Creatures.
Then Harmer and her band reclaimed the stage for a five-song finale with Cockburn and Feist, playing Cockburn's Lovers In A Dangerous Time and Waiting For A Miracle, and Harmer's Escarpment Blues and Deep In The Valley before ending the four-hour show with an intriguing take on Neil Young's Lotta Love. This was the second I Love The Escarpment, Too benefit. Last year, the Barenaked Ladies brought a smaller crowd to the same farm. It, too, was a great show.
It's possible the quarry application will be resolved sometime next year at the Ontario Municipal Board, which may or may not eliminate the need for these benefits.
Win or lose the quarry fight, let's hope Harmer keeps the Mount Nemo musical tradition alive.
-Photo by Ted Brellisford
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