Our third and final night at One Man Band Festival took place entirely at one of my favourite small venues in Montreal, Le Divan Orange. A decent sized crowd had turned up to see the lineup that evening, and we quickly settled into a small table front and centre as Aaron Zimmer prepared for his set.
Aaron sat down with a guitar in his hands and a kick drum and snare rigged to pedals at his feet. He had an array of effects pedals, including a looping station, which he would go on to make prominent use of. Zimmer’s set consisted of pop-rock pulled straight out of the nineties. His songs were short and enjoyable, but he needed to bring something new to the table to make his music stand out. The nineties throwback vibe was one we hadn’t heard much of during the festival, so he did remain distinct, but put him in a lineup of nineties rock musicians and he is likely to blend right in. There were a few issues with the use of his complex setup. The first and most noticeable problem was oddly Aaron Zimmer’s guitar strap. It continuously slid down his arm, due to the fact that he was sitting, and forced him to periodically fiddle with it mid-song. This would not have been such a problem if it didn’t also make him lose the rhythm on his two drums, but he was distracted enough to occasionally skip a beat. He used an octave pedal to shift his guitar down to the tone of a bass, which did not quite sound natural to me. In the end he tried to used the looping station to set himself up as a full band. Doing so can sound good, but usually you create layers that could be easily replicated and topped by a full band.
Aaron Zimmer was still an enjoyable set, but after he finished hometown hero Chris Velan stepped up to show the audience how to use a loop pedal in a distinct way. Chris Velan used only his voice, acoustic guitar, and the occasional harmonica to create songs that mostly focused on intricate guitar work with clean and beautiful folk vocals. Rather than try to sound like a full band, Velan kept his looping within one instrument, which creates textures that are not as easily mimicked by a full cast of musicians. This culminated in his intrumental loop jams that he would mix into his songs. These consisted of building countermelodies and harmonies in the acoustic guitar until he was ready to throw a solo on top. These were my favourite parts of his set, and arguably of the night. The songs themselves were rather nice, though not particularly unique, but it was the loop jams that put him over the top. Aaron Zimmer, take notes from this guy.
We closed out the night with the weird and the wonderful. Laura Barrett chose a simpler approach, forgoing the use of a loop pedal, and instead relied only on the peculiar voice of the kalimba (aka thumb-piano) to accompany her singing. Kalimba is not an instrument that tends to show up a lot these days, and particularly not in a solo musician setting. It has a rich, mystical tone, which set up the atmosphere of an eerie fantasy forest in the middle of the night. The peculiarities did not end there. Barrett’s singing style is one that makes prominent use of dissonance, deliberately singing significantly out of tune. Although some members of the crowd found this to be distracting and unpleasant, I found that it made things creepier, and truly added to the mood created by the Kalimba. Laura Barrett’s set felt almost childlike, but with a twisted sense of unease. This set was a stand out of the festival for me since I can honestly say I have never heard anything quite like it.
And so we wrapped up our experience at the One Man Band Festival. The weekend was such an interesting blend of artists in so many excellent venues. My favourite aspect of the whole thing was seeing all of the different ways that these musicians went about creating a one man show. The range of approaches surprised me, and managed to present something new and different at each venue and on each night. This is a festival that I will be keeping my eye on for next year. If you were there, let us know who your favourites were, I’m curious to see what others thought, especially at all the shows we were not able to attend.