Canadian Blast Blog: A Busy Two Days in Austin beginning with the Annual Canadian Blast BBQ
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Friday, March 16, 2012

Wow. The past two days have been busy. Where do we start? Well, let's talk about the best Canadian Blast BBQ ever at SXSW on Wednesday. From start to finish, both the VIP and regular areas of the BBQ were packed, with a tent full of delegates there to see each act. As usual, our friends at CBC Radio 3 broadcast the show, beginning at 2PM with Saskatchewan's Library Voices. This being their first show at SXSW, the energy was uplifting with the band rolling through tracks off their new record, Summer of Lust. With seven of them on stage including two keyboardists and tenor sax, Library Voices made an impression, one that may turn them into the runaway successes at SXSW. But this was only band one; there were four others to go. As the VIP area filled up, Whitehorse took the stage and treated the BBQ crowd to beautiful harmonies, virtuosic guitar from Luke Doucet and gorgeous lead vocals from Melissa McLelland. More mellow than Library Voices, but equally enchanting.

Next up was Said The Whale, followed by Arts & Crafts Recording act Zeus. Both acts have been making headway down south lately off the backs of new records, with Said The Whale enjoying the number one slot on Radio 3 after the release of their album, Little Mountain. The set featured highly off the new record, showcasing a band whose maturity and songwriting skills have visually evolved since they first played SXSW a few years ago. Even Dan Mangan joined them for a track - a treat indeed. Zeus kept the energy rolling featuring a set comprised of both old and new songs including new standout single, 'Waste My Time'. The crowd continued to fill up as Zeus played, as by the end of their set, the fire marshall was outside, prohibiting punters from entering as Brush Square was, for the first time, over capacity.

The BBQ concluded with two more standout sets, one from Rich Aucoin and a closing jam from another Saskatchewan band, Rolling Stone darlings, The Sheepdogs. Aucoin, complete with parachute, confetti, accompanying video for each song and Joel the drummer, brought the crowd together in euphoria, as he often does, with a mix of 80s pop and electro-indie. The Sheepdogs took a page straight out of the Allman Brothers with a crisp, clean set of southern flecked rock and roll to the largest crowd of the day, one spilling out from the tent in all directions. Throughout the day, we had Craig Norris from Radio 3 MC the event, interviewing bands and guiding the broadcast.

All in all a hugely successful day from all accounts for Canada as a whole. We should feel pretty good right now.

But this is only the beginning of SXSW music. After the BBQ another two dozen Canadian bands packed SXSW venues in the evening, including the launch party of our friends at Planet Quebec, featuring poutine in the early evening and sets from Half Moon Run and Tonstartsbandhtt at Spill. We tried to get to all of them, but it was impossible. Shimmering Stars at Hotel Vegas impressed, along with Mozart's Sister (also at Spill), Bahamas and Delhi2Dublin. We also had Cancer Bats close the party at the British Embassy and Purity Ring play in a garage, sponsored by Chevy. This was indeed the beginning of the party.

Thursday morning. Coffee drank, breakfast had and pass found, so over we go to the Canada Stand for the second set of country connections speed networking. The first, happening before the BBQ on Wednesday and featuring over a hundred labels and live promoters was a success, with eight countries participating in a frantic set of meetings that gave each participant at least five new contacts in an hour. Today was the managers turn. The attendance was smaller but more targeted, with seven countries participating across four stands - ours, the Brits, the Aussies and the Kiwis. Again it was a success, firmly planting speed networking into the host of activities to do at SXSW.

1PM rolls around, speed networking over. That means we're off the Canada House for its opening, featuring Six Shooter Records' Sleepwalk Jam, curated by Luke Doucet. Imagine some of Canada's best guitar players, including Doucet and Alex Cuba, roll through Chuck Berry and Elvis standards over an hour. That's what we got and it was terrific. In addition, Whitehorse took over for an hour after the jam, further cementing the skills they displayed at the BBQ the day previous. This was followed by a four-band showcase from our friends in Nova Scotia. It began loud and brash with The Stanfields and their Dropkick Murphys meets Gaslight Anthem rock, followed by eccentric folkie Ben Caplan, Sonic Youth enthusiasts Dog Day and the always impressive Wintersleep, featuring songs off soon to be released new album. All four bands impressed in different ways, showcasing the hotbed of talent brewing in Halifax and surrounding areas.

After a quick dinner, it was out into the mesh of people that is 6th street to see as many Canadian bands as possible. We started at the Opak / Secret City showcase with Leif Vollebekk and Little Scream, followed once more by Library Voices at the Breakout West showcase and Royal Canoe at the Manitoba showcase, held across the street at Maggie Mae's. Once again, each showcased why everything is so damn exciting right now. Highlights included Vollebekk's 'You Can't Lie to Me in Paris' and the behemoth machine that is Royal Canoe, including three keyboardists and two drummers. In addition, we managed to catch bits of 3 Inches of Blood, a terrific set from the mind blowing Barr Brothers and Toronto electro act Torro Torro. Other sets including a Montreal Jazz Festival showcase at Planet Quebec and sets from Grimes, CFCF and Camp Radio.

Now it's Friday and we have another packed day at Canada House, featuring the ACTRA/RACS showcase and the OMDC showcase. Manitoba has its pool party and Arts & Crafts and NXNE have their respective gigs. Lots to do and see - let's go Austin.

Photos courtesy of Duncan McKie

Checkout more pix from the BBQ here.

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