Big Sugar, known for their high energy and often raucous shows (and audiences) took a step back and put together their current tour in a stripped down 2 set acoustic extravaganza. Dressed all in white, Big Sugar along with a few extra friends, took to the stage amid the scent of incense which pervaded the entire Mary Irwin Theatre in Kelowona. Sitting down at their various stools, chairs and drum seats, the band just jumped into the music letting it speak for them as the audience sat in rapt attention.
About the third song in, singer/frontman Gordie Johnson said ‘hello!’ and everyone laughed and seemed to breathe a little easier. I got the distinct impression fans were not used to a) acoustic b) a definite reggae twist to Big Sugar songs and c) sitting down at a Big Sugar show. With 8 musicians on stage, there was a lot to look at though, as well as listen to… bass, guitar, kettle drum, tin pipe, saxophone, slide guitar, snare drum, percussion, harmonica, tambourine, and even flute, graced the various songs with a smattering of Rasta coming from the dreadlocked musician to Johnson’s left. At one point Johnson quipped something about all the ladies on tour wanting to touch those dreads and how they should charge a fee! More laughter from the crowd who had been getting progressively more vocal as the set wore on, singing and shouting things in-between songs, to which Johnson would smile or shout back.
Near the end of the first set, Johnson came up front with a paper in his hand and spoke to us of why the band all wore white (to highlight the music and not the performer; to give a more spiritual attention to the experience) and also spoke of how Big Sugar had teemed up with World Vision for this tour, making it a goal to sponsor all the kids in one particular village in Ethiopia (150 kids). They had hoped to sponsor them all by the end of the tour – and to much clapping from us and admiration from Johnson, he informed us that the entire village had been sponsored by the time the band reached Medicine Hat Alberta and so they decided to sponsor a second village! Johnson let us know about World Vision at the band’s merch table and encouraged us to consider it.
A quick intermission and the second set started with a more bluesy vibe. The audience was louder with a few more beers in them, but also encouraged by the band to respond more.. the songs were greeted with clapping, foot stomping and much more shouting comments down to the band (most of which were heard and responded to in kind!) By the time the band launched into Digging a Hole (one of their most well known hit songs) Johnson invited.. no, demanded (laughingly) that we get up out of our seats “you’re the most polite Big Sugar audience we’ve ever seen! We know you’re itching to get up, so get up!” The invite didn’t need to be repeated and the entire audience was on their feet in an instant, and the place exploded. The encore was thunderous.
The show was just the right length, and a great mix of styles and song choices… the icing on the cake was the band coming out to say hello and sign things.. and our sleepy little town sponsored 8 children! The happy faces of the concert goers as they left said it all.
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