Saturday night saw one of the hottest names in hip-hop hit the mainstage at the TD Halifax Jazz Festival. With the announcement that Anderson .Paak and the Free Nationals were headlining the 2017 festival, the city was whipped into a frothy mess of disbelief and excitement. For an act that had just wrapped a European tour opening for Bruno Mars, and had a chance to hang out at Abby Road studios with Bruno Mars and former Halifax Jazz Festival performer Nile Rodgers during some down time, it was a major coup to have him play this year’s festival.
The organizers of the TD Halifax Jazz Festival are clearly prescient in their ability to book not only top tier talent, but some of the most talented artists performing today. Those of us who have grown up in Halifax have been resigned to the fact that your typical Cross-Canada tour never manages to cross-over Quebec. We typically get to bookend an artist’s career, having grown accustomed to seeing acts either in their infancy, or well past their prime. Rarely do we see acts finding their way to perform on our Halifax piers during their meteoric rise, or at their peak, but the Jazz Fest folks have managed to lure these white-hot acts to town on a regular basis.
In addition to .Paak’s headlining slot, the organizers found the perfect act in Reeny Smith to pair as the evening’s opener. Smith herself is enjoying her steady rise of prominence in the Halifax music scene, as she was fresh off an opening slot at the Canada 150 celebrations on the Halifax Commons, where she supported Matt Mays and Deadmau5. It’s abundantly clear that Reeny’s confidence is steadily growing, as she had full command of that stage and her voice never sounded better. Considering Reeny has been a Jazz Festival mainstay for a few years now, you could tell that she was completely at home, from her vocals to the ear-to-ear grin, and the choreography of her set. It doesn’t hurt that she had her full band (comprised of friends and family), but it was a fiery opening set that kicked the night off, and certainly earned Ms. Smith a new legion of fans.
I can only assume that the legion of Haligoons in attendance at the Anderson .Paak and the Free Nationals show on Saturday Night left thinking that was exactly what they came for. It was a show that from its announcement had the city hyped up, and that was no more apparent than on Saturday night. It was one of those shows where everything aligned and made for a potent performance loaded with fire and magic. For those folks who didn’t dig too deep, you’d think you were there for nothing more than a hip-hop show, but had you spent some time with Malibu or Venice you’d know that Paak is far more than just a singer-songwriter/rapper. When the lights went down, .Paak and the Free Nationals hit the stage, and set the spot off. The first handful of tracks were designed to get the crowd moving, and getting that introduction single “Come Down” out of the way early was a stroke of genius. We were 4 or 5 songs deep by the time he took his spot behind the drum kit that sat stage right and proceeded to showcase his virtuosity on the skins.
.Paak was a breath of fresh air; not only is his stock increasing exponentially, but he is fortunate to be backed by one of the tightest bands in the industry. While the set kicked off on a predominately hip-hop tip, there were elements of disco, funk, R&B, jazz (fittingly), and certainly a healthy dose of hip-hop. In addition to his seriously musical chops, both on the mic, and behind the drums, Brandon’s attitude and excitement on stage seemed entirely authentic.
The love that was shared between Anderson .Paak and the Free Nationals and the Haligoons in attendance was palpable. It was indicative of the vibe of the festival, which from opening night was entirely positive. Jesse Royal and Jo Mersa Marley brought in that vibe, and it hung around through Bria Skonberg, Ron Sexsmith, Blue Rodeo and Reeny Smith, and finally Anderson Paak. Lesser artists have had a modicum of the success enjoyed by Paak, and it totally skewed their attitude and perception, but the pure joy on the mug of this talented chap throughout his set was great to see. It was a set that whipped by (clocking in at under 90 minutes), but it was one that had the Haligoons pleading “Don’t Run, Just Stay Awhile”, as this crowd wasn’t coming down anytime soon.