Saturday night at NXNE is always a panicked evening of venue hopping as festival goers attempt to see as many acts as possible and not spend too long in a cab or waiting for a streetcar. Many people pick an area of town and wander from bar to bar, listening to a few songs here and there until an act really grabs them and they stick around for a full set.
While NXNE isn’t exactly billed as a music festival primarily for Toronto-based bands, let’s face it; a good majority of the acts playing are from the area. Considering the cost of airfare, the fact that the festival is meant to showcase the northeast, and the sheer number of great local bands we have, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
But if there’s anything I noticed about this particular NXNE Saturday night, it was that the visiting team brought some serious energy to the game.
Maybe they played harder because they don’t play these venues as often. Maybe they knew that they had to really work to win new Toronto fans. Maybe they flew across the country (or the world) and wanted to make it worth their while.
Whatever the reason, the out-of-towners sure got my attention, this year.
Here are a few of the highlights from Saturday night:
Free Times Café
I’ll admit that I am non-committal when it comes to NXNE. I’ve been known to catch a few songs of one act and then wander to the nearest venue to hear the next few of another. This is what I had planned on doing with Svavar Knutur – and then he started to play. I don’t know if I have ever seen anyone captivate a room like Knutur did. His contrast between sentimental songs and comedic storytelling was the perfect rest for festival goers. Playing self-described fjord folk, this Icelandic artist could do no wrong on Saturday night.
Daniel Ellsworth and The Great Lakes
The Cameron House
Jumping between moments of Phoenix-like melodies and Kings of Leon style arrangements, this Nashville-based four-piece showed NXNE fans that you can be extremely polished and still come off as sincere. Leaving the stage nice and sweaty, Daniel Ellsworth and The Great Lakes acknowledged that this wasn’t their home crowd and played a show deserving of new fans.
Finishing the night with a Hot Panda show is like drinking ten shots of espresso before bed. Never pausing to catch their breath for even one moment, this Vancouver band knows what it means to put on a rock show and didn’t stop until they got the job done. In fact, their fans (some old and some obviously acquired with each tune) refused to let them leave without a quick encore. When you’re faced with playing up against hundreds of bands in a single night, these festival veterans know how to fill a room in a single song – a skill many bands will take their careers to master.