This is it. The end of an era. Since 2011, David and Ambrosia Vertesi have been organizing the annual #SingItFwd event, to raise awareness around the importance of youth music education while also raising much needed funds for The Saint James Music Academy, whose programs support over 300 kids daily on Vancouver's Downtown East Side.
But this year, the shows came to an end with a giant, star-studded two night finale at the Vogue Theatre. They brought back old favourites, and new voices, for two completely different lineups to say goodbye.
Each artist got a short, 3-song set (usually) and while in past shows they had been more acoustical, this year saw a mix of stripped-down and full-band sets. Both nights were hosted by Tamara Stanners (of The Peak) and Cory Ashworth (formerly of The Peak), and also included interstitial videos of various bands performing and interacting with the SJMA kids.
NIGHT ONE! started off with a video spotlighting a few of the kids in the events five year history, the screen rose to a stage full of students from the St. James Music Academy, backing Twin Bandit with a vibrant string section. The voices of Hannah Walker and Jamie Elliott harmonized beautifully, for a couple slower songs, before they picked up the energy with their closer, which I wish I caught the name of.
The Zolas fought a bit of technical problems with their set. As they waited for the drums, Zach joked around (despite his words to the contrary) and decided to just improvise with a song they weren't planning on, a stripped down "You're Too Cool" with just Zach and Tom, before the drums kicked in half way through. From there they played a couple new ones, "Invisible" and "Fell In Love With New York"
Gay Nineties came out as a full band for a set that included their big hit, the explosive "Letterman" and a nice cover of "The Man Who Sold The World", the first of a few tributes to David Bowie over the two nights. I was expecting at least one band to do something in tribute, and I was hoping it would be Gay Nineties.
Michael Bernard Fitzgerald joined us next for his third year playing the event, starting with a brand new song that gave of a roots rock vibe, "I Wanna Make It With You". Twin Bandit popped out on stage for some nice backing vocals on "Follow", and "One Love" saw the stage packed with kids from the SJMA to sing with MBF.
After a short intermission, the SJMA kids came out for a cover of "Hero" by Family of the Year, followed by Five Alarm Funk. I admit, they're not quite my style, but they did kick the second half off by getting the energy up and people dancing. Their name is pretty self explanatory, and if you couldn't get it from that, the first song was mostly instrumental with the only lyrics being "Dance, dance, party, party!!" which pretty much sums it up.
k-os was out with a stage once again full of the SJMA kids for a performance of "Another Shot - A.S." off his new album, with a little bit of Bowie's "Space Oddity" slipped in for another tribute. He only performed the one song, but the kids as his backing vocals and rhythm was a nice touch.
Introduced as an "East Van Queen", Frazey Ford was out next with a purely acoustic set. Hers was probably the most heartfelt and moving (or would have been if not for the loud idiots behind me) as she let her voice carry over her acoustic guitar with gorgeous songs, like "Lost Together".
Dear Rouge was up next, simply Drew and Danielle on stage joined by a cello to begin with.
They started with "Black to Gold" off their new album, and I was blown away. Last year when they did this they still had some synth elements, but this was completely stripped down and acoustic, with Danielle's powerful voice let loose for what was probably my favourite single performance of the night. They followed that with one more tribute to Ziggy Stardust with a cover of Bowie's "Starman" joined by the SJMA for backup, before they finished with their single "Best Look Lately".
Super secret special surprise guest Dan Mangan took the stage next, also alone with his guitar, for the intense "Post-War Blues" and a cover of David Bazan's "Won't Let Go", as he admitted he was not that great at writing love songs, but wished he wrote that one. Finally, he brought up everyone for a big singalong with the kids, lots of the other performers, and the crowd all singing along to "Sold"
And everyone stayed on stage for the traditional grand finale, a cover of "You Got A Friend" by Carole King as the performers spontaneously swapped jackets and shirts, and generally out on a display of just how much fun they were having. Which was a nice touch, seeing all these people donating their time, and genuinely enjoying things.
NIGHT TWO! Started with the same video package before kicking off with a bang as The Pack AD took the stage. Becky & Maya cranked out some hits, including "Sirens" and "Cellophane" , with their usually frantic energy. They were a great choice for openers, as they got the blood pumping right off the bat.
After a video of Aidan Knight singing a new song with the kids (and sharing a tragic story about his cat, Zucchini) Chin Injeti was up. He and his backing band brought some funky grooves that got people singing along to a call & response, and also clapping along, to keep the energy going.
There were some in absentia messages from past performers, Shad, Hannah Georgas, Andrea Lo from Belle Game and the junior violin class came out. Four small children who looked absolutely thrilled to be there, which Tyler Bancroft joked about being impossible to follow as Said The Whale took the stage. Tyler, Ben, and Jacelyn played some stripped down songs, Tyler and Ben on guitar and trading lead vocals, with Jacelyn on keys and backing vox. They played some of their more recent songs, including the heart wrenching "Helpless Son".
Finishing off the first half of the night was Top Less Gay Love Tekno Party, all in matching track jackets with "Top Less" emblazoned on the back. They brought out the SJMA kids for backing vocals on "Moustache" and the swirling "Danger Love", which also saw special guest and former band member David Vertesi rejoin them on keys.
After the intermission there was another performance from the SJMA, this time the senior choir, before Jocelyn Alice took the stage, backed by her musical partner Lisa Jacobs going between bass and keys. I wasn't familiar with her before the night, but she definitely had a pop star voice, and got people psyched with her hit song "Jackpot"
Humans were out next, the duo behind a table full of equipment, and backed by a stage full of SJMA students for the second night's only Bowie cover, an electro-synth version of "Modern Love" as the stage filled with even more kids jumping, dancing, throwing balloons into the crowd, and even a couple brave ones crowdsurfing among their peers on stage.
The night's not-so-secret surprise guest was Mother Mother, playing for the first time in a little while as Ryan explained the band was on a bit of a hiatus. Ryan also shared with us his love of children and their worldview in his own loquacious (and slightly odd) way, as the band played a song from each of their last three albums. They also had a little fun with the songs; "Simply Simple" being a bit more chilled out, and Ryan & the band flexing their jazz muscles for a solo during "Bit By Bit".
The final band of the night was, as usual, Hey Ocean!, as David Vertesi took the stage with his bandmates Ashleigh Ball and David Beckingham, with the kids from the SJMA for their song "I am A Heart", and a pair of covers; Fleetwood Mac's "The Chain" with Jocelyn Alice and "Sprawl II" from Arcade Fire.
At this point they invited everyone back out -- including the "celebrities" backstage, as masks of pop stars and Ron Swanson took the stage -- for the big finale, "You Get What You Give" by The New Radicals, leaving the crowd with the sentiment "You've got the music in you!"
And while the concert series has ended, David Vertesi assured me that there will be plenty of other ways to support the St James Music Academy in the future. As the tagline says:
Music Changes Lives. Pass it on.