Shining on the big stage

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As the sun shines in their faces and the 1000-person crowd starts moving, the anxiety that had preceded the walk out to their stage marks melts away, leaving in its place a calm euphoric flow.

“The sound is so big,” said lead singer Adrian Sutherland. “It felt just like the first time I got on stage in front of my community. It was kind of nerve-racking, but for me it was like a rite of passage.”

It was the third venue, second festival and city in three nights for the James Bay quartet Midnight Shine. Over the September 16-18 weekend, the band performed two shows at the Toronto Urban Roots Fest and a Sunday set at Ottawa’s CityFolk festival.

But it was the first time the band had played a festival stage in their four years together. “It’s an amazing experience playing larger shows like that. Definitely something fresh and new for all of us,” added guitarist Zach Tomatuk.

In addition to the stage and crowd, it was a big moment, and admittedly there were butterflies. “There’s a nervousness that comes over me before hitting the stage,” drummer George Gillies acknowledged. “But after the first or second song, I calm down and think, ‘This is what was born to I do.’”

Midnight Shine performing on stage

The size of crowd and venue weren’t the only differences the band noticed on their Ontario tour. When performing at smaller venues the band become accustomed to others setting up their stage. “When we got there the crew took our equipment and set it up for us and then drove us around in golf carts,” said an amused Gillies.

On one occasion, in a small community, they even had to do their own sound rigging, though no one in the band can call himself a sound engineer. “It was like an operation, we were all like doctors standing over a patient with scalpels trying to figure out what to do,” joked Gillies. “In the end Stan was able to get the sound just good enough to do a show.”

But the size of the show didn’t change the band’s approach. “Part of music is exploring, and there are definitely a lot of fresh faces when we play down south, but either way we’re there to play our asses off,” said Tomatuk.

Midnight Shine's Zach Tomatuk

Their preparation, however, was a bit different this time around. As they all reside in distant James Bay communities, the band members try to get in rehearsals for three days before big shows. This time they added a few extra days of practice.

Most of their time together on this trip was spent at the Jukasa Studios on Six Nations territory, where they recorded a new song called “Sister” to be released early next year. “It’s a poem my sister, Iris, wrote about the struggles of today and trying to get back to the good times of the past,” explained Sutherland.

The three shows in three nights represented the busiest weekend of their professional careers. The festival weekend also signalled the next step for Midnight Shine. They played alongside classic Canadian acts like The Barenaked Ladies and Matthew Good, as well as big draws like Death Cab for Cutie, Vance Joy, and The Sheepdogs. They even got the chance to play a set at Toronto’s legendary venue Lee’s Palace.

“It feels surreal. I never would have imagined my music would have taken me this far,” said Sutherland. “There are moments on stage where you feel kind of euphoric. When the audience is applauding, it’s like getting a collective hug from music lovers. But at the same time I feel like we’re just getting started and there’s a lot of music ahead of us.”

Up next for Midnight Shine is a return trip to Toronto in October. A third album is in the works for next year – “Sister” will be the first single – and they’re already planning for next year’s festival season.

Adrian Sutherland of Midnight Shine

Lead singer and rhythm guitar player Adrian Sutherland

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