Saturday, June 25, 2011

The Queen captures Toronto's Soul

Young Jordan John, opening for Aretha, was not about to leave that tent until she had sung her very last note. Jordan and dad, Prakash John, with Al Cross on drums and a special appearance by Toronto's gift to the B3 organ, Michael Fonfara, were very well received by the huge crowd that spilled out into a solid mass right across King Street - a crowd who had come for one reason, and one reason only, and that was spelled A-R-E-T-H-A. 

Richard Underhill and members of Tyler Yarema and his Rhythm, scheduled to play after Aretha on the outdoor stage, were equally absorbed by Aretha's killer orchestra (with many local players in the horn section and with TMA President Brian Barlow as one of three percussionists) and a voice that is not even slightly diminished from the days when she dominated the charts. Underhill left the tent at the appointed time only to make his way back into the tent when he realized that Aretha was nowhere near finished. She took her fans on a two-hour musical journey through some hits and faves, a very deep gospel experience complete with joyous handclapping and a lot of tunes that made you think she was quite aware that she was playing a "jazz" festival. A little jazz "Aretha-style." She must also have been aware that she was playing for a lot of life-long fans who might never have had a chance to see her live except in a free concert like this. Even after Tyler had packed it in,  she was still talking to the fans who had followed her out to the dressing room trailers on Wellington St.

One devotee watching Aretha on the big screen on King street noted that, not once, but twice, he had bought some expensive tickets to see Aretha in Toronto only to have the show cancelled. Others remembered Aretha shows that might not have had the energy that we've come to expect, but if anyone else in that audience harbored any ancient disappointment, it was wiped out forever. This was a night to remember, maybe even for Aretha.