Buffy Saint-Marie @ Corona Theatre, Feb 16 2019

It’s very seldom that you see a performer arrive to more admiration and praise than 77 year-old singer-songwriter Buffy Sainte-Marie received last week at Corona Theatre. While the show was not quite sold out, the energy in the room could have filled a football field. This concert showed that even though Buffy has been touring for half a century, she can still be trusted to put on a great show. 

Despite the large venue, looking around, it felt like everyone knew each other. Before the opening act took the stage, attendees everywhere were hugging, laughing, and introducing themselves to each other. Concerts like this make the big city of Montreal feel like a small, intimate town. The crowd was refreshingly diverse (in comparison to the sea of Dickies-clad white students I’m used to at mile end shows). While the average guest skewed older, there were plenty of young families and students filling up the seated venue.

The lights went down and Josh Q. stepped out, rather sheepishly. I previously had no knowledge of Josh Q., researching him I knew to probably expect a singer-songwriter type, but I was blown away by what I got that night. Josh Q. usually plays in his band The Trade-Offs with accompanying guitar from Jeff Maurice, but tonight he stood alone. After a brief intro, Josh launched into his first song with just his acoustic guitar. His voice immediately captivated the whole room. Though his stage presence at first seemed lacking, his powerful, brooding voice took me by complete surprise. Every lyric he belted was dripping with emotion and urgency. 

In the middle of his set Josh Q. asked if anyone was from Nunavut, his home province, which was met by applause and hollers from a group at the back of the balcony. Then, he explained that his next song, “Qaumariaq”, would be in Inuktitut, again to roaring applause now from the whole crowd. Despite not understanding any of the lyrics, I’ve had the song stuck in my head for the days since. Later on, Josh Q. introduced “Ghost” as a call and response. I typically hate this move by performers, with a voice like that, I want to hear him sing, not random concert goers. Most of the audience was eager to participate in the singing, so the choice for a sing-a-long didn’t fall flat, though it still felt too “arena rock” for this particular show in my opinion.

After an almost forty minute intermission the lights went down again and a voice over the speaker announced that Buffy Sainte-Marie would be taking the stage soon, but first she asked for a short video to be shown. The video was in a word, odd. Buffy, being an activist above everything, created a video to highlight the injustices happening in the world today. Set to her 2015 song “Power In The Blood” the video was a collage of rapid fire images of war, political figures, indigenous rights protests, and dancing skeletons (for some reason).

When Buffy finally came on stage, by the applause alone it was obvious that she has made an immense impact on countless people over several generations. She performed with so much power and intention, every word of protest felt just as fresh as the day it was written. 

A few songs in she pulled out an indigenous mouth-bow to show the audience. She joked about how it was called a “primitive” instrument by a music anthology she had read, to the all too knowing eye-rolls and chuckles of many in the audience. She then introduced the next song, an American folk standard, according to her “from the real primitive culture, the United States”, to a massive laugh from the audience. 

Buffy played for about an hour: short but powerful. She sang the classic hits like “Universal Soldier” and “I’m Going To Be A Country Girl Again” as well as recent favourites like “You Got To Run”. Despite being without her touring band, Buffy’s voice and charisma carried all the power she needed. She also had the perfect amount of chatting between songs, something the fans seemed to crave, which makes sense, she was hilarious. 

Sometimes, when seeing a musician who has been at it for awhile, the show can feel rehearsed and emotionally stunted, but that was not the case with Buffy Sainte-Marie at Theatre Corona. The concert was intimate yet packed, emotional yet funny, showing that Buffy Sainte-Marie’s genius is just as powerful today as it was 50 years ago.