Dream Serenade is a uniquely Canadian benefit concert experience. Chock-full of high calibre artists and performances, it retains the humble intimacy of a small local fundraiser. This year, due to the renovation efforts at Massey Hall, the 5th edition of the show moved to Roy Thompson Hall. The room was filled with supporters of the Beverley School community – teachers, parents, caregivers and music lovers.
The lights dimmed, as the night kicked off with a video rolled profiling the some of the amazing special needs kids and their parents who attend the school. The masterminds behind the benefit, Toronto musician Hayden and his wife Christie came out to offer a heartfelt speech making sure that no one would lose sight of the true purpose of the night. The silent auction was plugged and then the music started.
First up was an unannounced special guest. The band came out first, filled with familiar faces, including two Barenaked Ladies. Then, music legend, Andy Kim sauntered out and treated the audience to perhaps his most popular song of all time, Sugar Sugar. Next up was another special guest, Kevin Drew. The Broken Social Scene member performed Chancellor, a song he co-wrote with the late Gord Downie. He took his leave and Kevin Hearn came to the mic. Hearn played Flying Dreams, a beautiful song he wrote for his daughter, Havana, who also has special needs. While he sang, a touching lyric video played up on the screens, showing imagines of Havana.
Next up was Weaves, who played two songs filling the hall with an odd blend of funk and punk, and slightly off kilter attitude. The talent parade continued with Owen Pallett, who sat at the piano for his set. Accompanied by a guitarist, he went on to play three songs – one of which he’d never played for an audience before. The dreaminess of Pallett’s set was disrupted by the next band up – Rural Alberta Advantage kicked up the noise and the energy with their three songs. The trio had a number of true fans ion the audience who bopped intensely in their seats.
Hayden came out and played a few songs, accompanying himself on guitar. He joked that after 4 years, he struggled with what to play. On being advised to stick to the hits, he had to turn to Spotify to see which of his songs had the most streams.
After the intermission, the awareness campaign continued with a video highlighting many Canadian Artists playing at the Beverley School to the utter delight of the kids. Then the last special guest made his appearance. Fresh of five sold-out nights at the Danforth Music Hall, Bahamas graced the event with four songs. He is quite funny, wry and engaging and his performance was enhanced by two charming back-up singers. Iskwé was up next and she brought a very different presence to the show. Whereas every other act was rather casual with their staging, Iskwé appeared in a fantastic blue outfit of tuxedo, tuile and feathers. She tapped into the spirit of the night taking about what a collective can accomplish when it works for a common good. When she was done I heard the man in front of me say “wow, she is beautiful”, to which his friend replied “her music is so powerful.” Both were right.
City and Colour had top billing for the night. Dallas Green’s music is made for rooms like Roy Thompson Hall. His voice and guitar pierced through the air with clarity and serenity. He had planned to use some sort of device – a looping machine perhaps – but it didn’t work so, after a few failed attempts, he improvised. Unfortunately, the technical glitch seemed to destroy the vibe a bit. He performed a few songs and then ended with a Jeff Buckley cover.
The last song of the night saw all the performers, save Green, come back out for a sing along. They chose Neil Young’s Helpless and with a sense of friendly fumbling they made it to the song’s end. It was an apt reminder that life’s joy is not found in perfection, but perfection can be found in moments of joy.