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Doylefest 2023 Part Two: A Festival for Everyone

Updated: Sep 28, 2023

pictures by Melanie Macpherson

story by Christopher James Vasseur

Eliza Mary Doyle with Mitch Dereault, two of the festival's organizers played an early evening set.

Early Saturday morning I wander to the top of the hill to check my emails and such because I’m a super busy and important person. There are none.

My old friend/bandmate Steve is coming all the way from Calgary to join Olivia Morelli and I on stage for my set. The three of us have never all played together so it’s going to be a fun experiment. The chill atmosphere here lends itself well to this kind of musical experimentation of which I’m a big fan. I check my messages, still no word (or eta) from said bass player.

With a morning full of great acts (ok so it was afternoon, but it felt like early morning to a lot of us), it was hard to catch them all. Olive Forrest, Leanne & Casey, and Betty Cooper & the Silver Linings were among the diverse performers.

At the stage there is a side grill that is just warming up and emitting a wonderfully delicious greasy smell across the mornings vacant festival grounds. I spot Dawson (Wayne) & Shea (Goyer) from Little Darkness and we chat a bit about what they are up to. Stay tuned is all I can say. I’m looking forward to their set tonight, Aurora Bella has a very “Deborah Harry” vibe and is a very exciting band leader. If I was a betting person, I’d guess they’ll have a single out before year’s end.

Somehow, someway….a text message makes it through. Steve is just past Rosetown so math-wise he’ll be here in time for our set. My only slight worry drifts away as the day starts to come alive around me. I head back to the musicians camp ground and you can already hear guitars at 10:00 am.

Steve arrives around 12:00 so we have time to practice a few times before our set. I’m stressing a bit as still no word from our star fiddle player. We head down to the green room to practice and as we come around the corner….low and behold we see Olivia and Joel Rohs and I’m instantly relieved.

Chase Walker, Grassy Blues and The Blackstrap Mountaineers all played afternoon sets.

Things are running about 20 minutes behind as they do, so we have plenty of time to practice and relax a bit.

I haven’t played a show with Steve since about 2015 or so, so I’m excited. Plus Olivia is a powerhouse of a musician making appearances all over the province this summer and we are super lucky to have her join us old fellas on stage. Jaimie Peever even remarks as we're setting up, “If I had 5 bucks for every time I’ve set Olivia up this summer I could retire”….and he’s probably not exaggerating much.

Jamie Peever, Olivia Morelli, Christopher James Vasseur and Steve Staines setting up for an afternoon set.

We sit in a semi circle on the stage and play our set. The crowd seems into it and after a few songs we find our groove. My measure of success for a show is as long as I see one foot taping or one smile at my corny jokes, I’m good. This afternoon, I single my attention between Melanie and Nolan, who I see in the crowd. There is a woman I don’t know near them singing along to my song “Good Things". That's never happened before! Bam. Great set achieved. Olivia is such a force on the fiddle (and guitar, and banjo, and, and, etc.) who easily plays between and around Steve and I in a way that ties the music together wonderfully. Playing with Steve again is a real nostalgic punch in the warm & fuzzies. It's a super fun set and a highlight of a busy summer of shows.

Chris and crew played a great set. If you haven't checked out his video for "Just Fine", stop everything and go do it now. It's amazing!

We say goodbye to Olivia as she has to run off to another five gigs probably and also a few radio shows, etc. Being a such a great player and teacher, Olivia is one of the busiest musicians you'll meet. Reminds me of another gal who hosts a festival in these parts. Steve and I wander up to the camp to park our instruments and have a rest, it’s always such a high playing music in front of people.

We get back to hear a band called TunnelKids who are playing their first set ever. They absolutely slay it and I can’t believe this is their first show.

TunnelKids put on a fantastic set. I had no idea it was their first one!

Next up is a personal favorite, Little Darkness. My camping neighbours who came together at The Cap open mic….where a ton of bands form these days. Shea and I used to play together and he is one of the best heavy guitarists in the city.

Dawson Wayne takes the bass for a walk on the second song as Bella croons into the mic.

She’s dressed in a pink polka dot dress as if on the way to Sunday church. The hair is dyed to match but this ain’t no Sunday school. Little Darkness draws the crowd in as Shea shreds just a bit.

“Rebel Girl” starts and I’m reminded of the scene in Wayne’s World where the band is playing bar room blitz. But heavier and better. Also no Garth. Party on. They close their set with possibly the biggest amassed crowd yet. I hope these guys do big things. All the ingredients are there for sure.

Colorful as always, Little Darkness gets better every time I see them.

Next up is a duo called MA’AM. A project co-founded by Mitch Dureault. My hill buddy, head of CAMP and all around nice guy. Joining him is Aryn Murphy who is also a teacher with the CAMP organization. I met Mitch a few years ago here as we are both luthiers. Him of the fiddle, me of the guitar. He also played on my track “Prairie Calls me Home".

After a short rain break, Mitch and Aryn play a set that melts me. I have to lean against a near by pole for support. They go through a number of covers including an inspired version of “How I got to Memphis”. Easily my favorite performance of the evening even before they played an original. Then I was completely hooked.

Aryn's original was a result of time travel, something he took from another era. It was so genuine and heartfelt. I beg Mitch after the show to tell me there is more coming. He assures me there is. All is right with the world.

So... I may have headed back to my campsite when it started raining and just made it back to catch the very tail end of Ma'am. It was great, but.... I didn't get any pics. So here are some rain break pics instead.

The Perkins family starts to assemble side stage so you know The Perks are up soon.

Dirty and the Perks take the stage and the party is now on and it’s only 6:30. Still lots more to come. They begin struttin' with a song called "Shiver and Twist". The collective crowds feet were a tappin' right off the bat for this crew. This is a very fun band. A double rainbow frames the early evening's stage perfectly.

Dirty and the Perks always bring the party, even when they're still recovering from last night's party!

We are settled near the back and are content just sitting and listening. Though Steve may be on acid. Not too sure. I thought he got it from the stoned out dudes in sarongs who thought they were at Ness Creek? They have yet to make an appearance at the stage. Everyone enjoys the festival their own way. Later I'm told one of these fellows has been dubbed "Disco Jesus". I think I know which one.

We go for a walk to stretch our legs as I see my buddy Raven Reid walk in. She is a raw talent. We miss the first few but get to our seats in time for the powerful “Government Song”.

Disco Jesus has made it to the stage! This is the person who has been dancing in a sarong on a picnic table for most of the day. His robes have been changed and he’s once again twirling, twirling, twirling. I bet he still thinks this is Ness, bless his high heart.

The festival atmosphere allows everyone to enjoy in their own way, and everyone is welcome and appreciated. Honestly, this has got to be the most chill and friendly of any festival I have ever attended.

Ravens voice pierces through the silliness with its honesty, integrity and vision. “No one Really Knows”, she sings. She praises Eliza and CAMP and says cheekily that it’s great to do it for “those little bastards”. She then sings a song called “Bruises”, written about her experience being a sixties scoop survivor living with abusive adoptive parents. Her voice is too beautiful to carry such sorrow. But she works through it effectively with her songs. She is quick and witty and Reid is a funny performer as well, she tells some amusing and charming stories before sinking into a cute little love song. The way she weaves through tragedy and serious subjects to light and humorous stories is very engaging. The emcee nails it by saying that Raven only gets better and better with every performance and I agree.

Eliza Mary Doyle and her band are next.

Doyle spent the early part of her summer in Nashville working on her latest record. She has a new line up and a new vibe. Parts were also recorded at Skull Creek in Manitou and it truly is quite a departure from her previous release. The new record comes in swinging and doesn’t really let go.

Follow that up with a much talked about Jazzfest set and a summer of shows all over North America. Eliza is probably most comfortable at her own festival…seems that way anyway. When she’s on stage I should clarify. She’s a hard person to track down for most of the festival and probably most of the time. But for great reasons, she's usually helping someone else.

Eliza Mary Doyle played as the sun went down and all of the Christmas lights came on for a magical set.

She explains that’s it’s peer pressure that she’s playing. As if everyone here isn't here to see her play. She talks of her new shiny shirt and her brand new band. Humble to the end. She thanks her crew (there is a ton of them). The volunteers, the heads of camp (Mitch, Holly & Zhe).

The crowd goes nuts of course as she breaks into a track for the new record, “Ain’t No Telling”.

You can hear the Nashville influence even through Ohio guitar player Caleb Powers. The new band has a much more energetic sound and Eliza mentions the only one missing is one Clayton Linthicum who has been playing with her lately. Linthicum being of amazing local folk sensations Kacy and Clayton. She attracts talented people, as great musicians always do.

Eliza finishes the set with a request from mama Doyle, "Molly Brown". She suggests playing it solo as she has never shown the band this song, but they say they'll give it a whirl anyway. You would never have known they didn't know. They rock the song out and quickly leave the stage to make way for Haunt Era.

B the Ghost performed as part of the diverse hip hop ILLHumanNation set as well as his own quick solo set.

We take a quick meeting with Nolan and Melanie half way up the hill. They are in the middle of taking a billion pictures. We agree this will be much grander than anything the zine has ever done so far and disperse back down the hill for more Doylefesting.

B the Ghost does a quick tweener set and for a music style I’m not familiar with, I’m quite pleased. Haunt Era is next and I’m quite stoked to see this new three piece play. Aspen Beveridge, Paul Kuzbic and David Wickstrom set up as the emcee tells the crowd a ghost story.

Haunt Era's classic rock set kicked the night off in a big way!

Beveridge opens the set with a sick bass riff plucked right out of the seventies. It’s thick and funky. Kuzbik adds some great guitar licks and the trio begin to rock out. Love this band immediately but I knew I would. The line up speaks for itself.

A small child is twirling light up twirly things and it suits the chill atmosphere. The guitar and bass complement each other greatly and the harmonies match the calibre. This band is catchy AF as the kids say. I’m a fan.

Like a whip made of fibre optic strings, these were seriously so cool. I might have to find myself some.

The energy around the place is warm but the weather is not. We decide to head back to camp to gear up before the rest of the night. We get back just in time for most of Zhe the Free’s set. Again, it’s not my usual taste but damn this MC is talented. The vibe and energy she brings is catchy as hell. She’s got a great style and a great message. Love and peace. She’s joined for a few songs by another MC and DJ Charlie hustle provides the mad beats for her whole set.

Zhe the Free and crew are definitely seasoned pros. They are so good at what they do.

LJ Tyson is next and he starts with a cover of "Bang, Bang" that morphs into a great original. He’s got energy in spades as does his band mates, The Locals….one I recognize for sure is Colin Klassen. Guitarist and sound guy extraordinaire. And he’s vibin’. The whole band is so tight and the dancefloor is hopping!! So glad I finally got to see LJ and his powerful voice live!!

LJ Tyson and The Locals heat things up as the night gets colder.

He throws some compliments Eliza’s away as much of the artist's rightly do and thanks her for such an amazing festival. And he’s so right. This festival, my fifth Doylefest and fourth or fifth of this season. They were all great in their own way but Doylefest hits different. This is family. A giant province wide musical family that gets together once a year on Eagle Creek with a humble matriarch of the arts quietly pulling the strings.

LJ writes amazing songs, important songs as is a great fit for closing this night. Oral Fuentes was originally scheduled to close but he had to decline so the schedule got flipped around a bit, as will happen. So, we get LJ and Kit Langfield to close out the night and that also is very cool. I saw Kit play at Dog Patch and he's great, but its getting late and I'm getting quite sleepy.

Unlike Chris, we were in it 'til the end. Kit Langfield brought his usual high energy, hard rockin', punkabilly knockout to a cold but energetic late night crowd.

Tomorrow, at 11, I have to host a jam so it's probably lights out soon. And the music is too good. Then Colin walks off stage as someone yells “I love you Colin”.

LJ plays a solo rendition of “Home on the Rainbow”. A beautiful song with a beautiful message. The whole crowd is vibing and feeling the love and message of acceptance. It’s a personal favorite and a good note to head back to amp on. Thats what this festival represents the most to me, a place where everyone is not only accepted but also encouraged. A place where music truly is the message. Today started with a Reconciliation workshop and this whole event is to bring the music to those who need it the most.

Thanks LJ.

Thanks Eliza.

Thanks all you wonderful people.

Thanks Doylefest.

See you in the morning!

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