Kathleen Edwards & Julie Fader at the Black Sheep Inn
The Black Sheep Inn is a legend in Canadian music circles. Located about a 45 minute drive from Ottawa the Black Sheep has a capacity of about 125 people and frequently plays host to artists who play much larger venues. I’d never been to the Inn, so when Kathleen Edwards announced a gig in the middle of my vacation it seemed like the perfect opportunity. There were friends and family who needed to be visited in Ottawa anyway, so we packed up a car and headed east from Toronto.
My first impression of the Black Sheep was of a tiny venue in a beautiful location along the Gatineau River. It looks more like a corner bar than a live music venue, with only a smattering of round tables offering seating. Getting there early is recommended: we arrived about two hours before the show started to find every table in the place with someone sitting at it already. Luckily a couple that had driven up from Phillidelphia was sitting at the front of the stage and invited us to join them. This officially made us the travelling table, and we watched the crowd grow over the next two hours to the point where calling it standing room only would be generous.
As a pleasant surprise, Julie Fader had been added to the bill as the opening act after I’d bought tickets for this show. Fader’s 2009 album Outside In was an underrated gem, and we’d seen her only the weekend before singing backing vocals and playing keyboard with Sarah Harmer at the Greenbelt Harvest Picnic. Fader is a prolific artist frequently backing Harmer, Blue Rodeo, Justin Rutledge and any number of Canadian acts but she’s never made it to Vancouver (where I live) to play a solo show.
Accompanied by her partner Graham Walsh on guitar, Fader’s set was beautiful and intimate and offered some insight into what makes the Black Sheep so unique. A quiet, attentive crowd meant that you could hear a pin drop on the ancient wooden floors. Fader’s voice is beautiful and Walsh’s quiet, moody guitar work matched it perfectly. The half hour set included a rendition of the first verse of Baby Beluga, a song Fader’s been singing to her newborn daughter (who was present, but not in the Black Sheep itself) since she was born. Raffi would have been proud.
Edwards took the stage (accompanied by Gord Tough and Jim Bryson) to an appreciative round of applause from the crowd and played a set featuring old material and new. With no percussion at all, the set’s rhythm was set by the three guitars and a single keyboard.
New material alluded to recent changes in Edwards’ life, including touching on spending more time in the United States amongst other topics. Her early hit Hockey Skates, was introduced with a personal story of a friend and a reference to the recent suicides of several NHL enforcers as a “tough time to be a hockey player.” Edwards is a funny, engaging performer whose between song banter is as entertaining as the music.
Giving the band a break for a moment, Edwards turned to the audience for requests and played a beautiful solo rendition of Buffalo from her most recent Asking for Flowers album. The song provided as good a demonstration of the range of her voice as any could: as comfortable with the hard rocking twangy numbers that got the band moving as this, it’s obvious why Edwards’ fan base continues to grow in both Canada and the U.S.
Edwards’ set lasted a bit more than an hour and a half, though the audience would have been happy to have her play quite a bit longer. A quiet cover version of Neil Young’s From Hank to Hendrix closed out the encore and the crowd spilled into the warm, humid night under a star filled Wakefield sky.
I’m not sure I could have chosen a better show for a first visit to the Black Sheep. Born in Ottawa, Edwards considers the venue to be a sort of home for her. The chance to see an artist at home is always special, and when that home holds a crowd 1/5th the size of an artists’ usual venues (Edwards played Vancouver’s 450 seat Rio Theatre on her last visit, and opens at the 2,800 seat Orpheum on September 25th) the show is almost guaranteed to be something special. The chance to finally see Julie Fader play a live solo set made a week that included the best shows I’ve ever seen complete.
The hard part was leaving: with a chalkboard showing upcoming shows from artists who rarely make it to Vancouver including Deep Dark Woods, New Country Rehab and Justin Rutledge the temptation to stay in this little town on the Gatineau River strong. It still pulls.
More photos from the show are in my album from the night.