August 2006

Fred Eaglesmith
August 17, 2006Hugh's RoomToronto
Hands Up for Fred Eaglesmith
by Molly Anthony with photo by Eddie Nadurata
It was standing room only at Hugh’s Room last Thursday. It was also hot, loud, and there were a few more cowboy hats than you’d be accustomed to seeing in a Toronto bar on a summer night.

A small band took the stage — a drummer, a bass player, and Willie P. Bennett in suspenders with his mandolin and harmonica. And then Fred walked up, in classic sleeveless plaid (and cowboy hat, naturally), to applause and oo-ee hoots, and picked up his guitar. Without a second thought they all burst into their first song, rollicking and rolling through it with the momentum of a Mack truck, snapping into perfect harmonies and relenting only for a chorus so Bennett could take it away on his mandolin. They carried the audience as far as you could get in three minutes from the steaming traffic and apartment buildings outside, to an open road, clean dirt and big skies.

Fred Eaglesmith has been touring for 3 decades and it was clear that this 48-year-old singer-songwriter knew how to work a crowd. He told us how he’d been on the road for months, through every which town, in every which direction. He joked about how his audience — a fiercely loyal bunch who sing along and heckle — was getting too old to clap, so he understood if we all just wanted to raise our right hands in approval. He mused about watching a dog run away in Saskatchewan, for three days, and how all the girls are named Twyla in trailer parks in Southern Ontario. He raged a little about hummus (“Everyone remembers a time before hummus, who remembers a time before hamburgers?”) and why if we’re not supposed to eat animals, how come they’re made of meat? Everyone howled and raised their hands.

Eaglesmith has built his career on his lyrical spin of cowboy culture and rural roots, and he’s the real deal. Drawing deep inspiration from bluegrass music, honky-tonk and country rock he sang with soul, like Bruce Springsteen with a Tom Waits-size hangover, about love quietly lost and found in small, forgotten towns, heartaches, booze, how he shot his neighbour’s dog, and near religious reference to all things with big wheels. Throughout the show he was honest and raw, raunchy and funny — a must see the next time he blows through.

Fred Eaglesmith
We welcome your comments and feedback
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Molly Anthony
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Eddie Nadurata
The Live Music Report

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