THUNDER BAY – Day 2 of the 2018 Thunder Bay Blues Fest was full of surprises.
Topping the unexpected – though it really was one of the worst-kept secrets of the weekend – was Sheryl Crow sauntering out on stage to sing a duet with the night’s closing act, Sarah McLachlan, joining the Halifax-born songstress for a duet of her 1997 hit Angel.
For Mary Walker, who on Friday performed with her band, The Angies, it was a surprise invitation from Arkells singer Max Kerman to join the popular Hamilton-based band on stage.
Walker’s arm immediately shot to the sky when Kerman shouted out, “Does anyone here play guitar?”
She was only too happy to oblige.
“I can’t believe it, I’m honestly so excited,” said Walker. “I just raised my hand and said, ‘I do.’ He said, ‘No, do you really and asked me if I know the chords, D, G and E-minor. I was like, ‘I totally do.”
Walker, who arrived early enough at the Marina Park venue, said she was left just about speechless by the rare opportunity.
“I can’t even explain in. It was just super awesome,” she said, noting that she first saw the Arkells at Black Pirates Pub, Kerman recalling the exact show she’d attended from his perch on the city’s new mobile stage.
“It was crazy that I got to do that,” Walker said.
Kerman, whose band hit the stage about a half-an-hour late, revealed they arrived on the lineup thanks in part to an NHL friend who happens to call Thunder Bay home.
The Arkells’ front-man said it was a connection with local NHL goaltender Carter Hutton, who had seen the band in St. Louis and became fast friends with the group, who suggested they try to get on the bill.
“Carter was talking about Blues Fest and he said, ‘Let me see if I can put in a good word,’ Kerman said. “We’d heard that this festival was making a conscious effort to have all female headliners - which we love. It’s long overdue.
“I think he did a little bit of nudging to see if we could open up (Sheryl Crow’s) show. We couldn’t really ask for a better show in Thunder Bay. This is amazing.”
Once again Prince Arthur’s landing was filled to the brim, an estimated 8,000 fans on hand to check out the music, which began with local favourites, The Boardroom Gypsies.
Tom (Bones) Malone was a pleasant addition to the Blues Brotherhood’s afternoon set, who followed a riveting, Stevie Ray Vaughn-inspired performance by 19-year-old Spencer MacKenzie, who ended his day with his take on Bob Dylan’s All Along the Watch Tower.
It was Crow who stole the show, however.
Billed second on the day’s lineup, she delivered a 90-minute set that rolled out hit after hit after hit, from Soaking in the Sun to All I Want to Do – after spending part of the day cycling around Marina Park with her two young sons.
She reveled in the beauty of Northwestern Ontario, and urged her fellow countrymen to use it as inspiration to seek political change.
“I want all Americans to go stand in front of it and just take in its monstrosity, its power, its beauty – and then go back and overthrow their government,” she said.
“I’m kidding – not really though.”
McLachlan, who closed the night, joked her emotional brand of soft rock might be a bit of a bring-down after Crow’s upbeat set, but promised to do her best to send the crowd home happy.
She succeeded, delivering her own hit-filled set that kept the crowd on its feet from start to finish.
Blue Fest wraps up on Sunday, featuring Alan Doyle, The Magpie Salute and Pat Benatar.