I remember first hearing David Wilcox when I was in high school out in New Brunswick. I didn’t care for his music very much – I especially couldn’t get past his nonstandard nearly-rock voice – and most of my friends didn’t really get him either. But when I moved to Ottawa for university I found he was much, much more popular in Ontario and after enough listens* I started to like David Wilcox just fine.
Then in my first year at school I roadied one of his shows and just like that I was a fan. I found out that night that David Wilcox is a manic guitar player and a heck of a performer, and if you got those things going for you then just the most passable songs are all you need to get into the ear of a guy like me. And when I finally listened to David Wilcox with an interested ear I found out that his songs were well beyond “passable”.
But then a million years went by and Wilcox had fallen far from my usual listening habits when I happened upon him at a small rural festival in the woods of Ontario (just outside Calabogie, to be vaguely precise). It turns out he still had “it” and I was utterly shocked at how much blatant, wonton fun I had at his show. I came home from that festival sputtering to m’lady that she had to go see David Wilcox ASAP and though she knew none of his music whatsoever I was sure she’d love it.
So I added his lonely tourdates page to my bookmarks list and kept my eyes open. And then like magic the greatest of opportunities came: David Wilcox was announced as the Thursday night headliner of the Kemptville Live! Music Festival.
(Yeah, there’s an exclamation point in the festival’s name. It seems a little optimistic to me.)
July 20th, 2017 was a beautiful day and the pair of us drove south out of the city to little, rural Kemptville and parked in the sparsely-filled Community College campus parking lot. There was nobody in line for tickets and nobody in line to get in, and in mere seconds we were on the soccer pitch walking idly towards the beer tent.
This was my second or third time at this festival and I really like it because it’s so darn small and roomy. Don’t get me wrong – it’s not empty by any means – but fifteen hundred people gathered in one corner of a large sporting field makes for a very spacious, friendly concert experience.
Warming up the crowd was Ottawa’s own Juno Award winning swamp-blues trio MonkeyJunk. I made a point of getting close enough to catch Tony D’s eye and he gave me a smile and threw a nice riff my way. Tony and I used to teach together and he’s truly one of the world’s nicest people; I’m really glad he’s getting some of the success he deserves in this band along with his friends (and nice fellas themselves) Matt and Steve.
But as happy as I was to hear MonkeyJunk I could hardly wait for Wilcox to hit the stage, and when he did I was propelled back in time to every other great David Wilcox show I had seen before. He had the same swagger, the same chops, the same now-classic catalogue of great songs, and the same almost-voice that had initially put me off the guy so many decades earlier. And he rocked it.
There literally wasn’t a single moment to not be enthralled; from the first downbeat of Downtown Came Uptown to the last note of That Hypnotizin’ Boogie that closed the show Wilcox was a musical demon, rolling his eyes back and spitting out sharp, angular nuggets of guitar gold before snapping his head back to the mic just in time for another talk-sung rip through one of his innate choruses.
Hot, Hot Papa, Bad Apple, Layin’ Pipe, Riverboat Fantasy, and of course his masterpiece, his musical title-shot, the pinnacle of his oeuvre, that behind-the-nut bending empty riff of joy: Do The Bearcat.
Oh, it was ever so good. And m’lady agreed. She’s ready to go see David Wilcox again anytime.
As we all should be.
*There are countless books, articles, papers and lecturers out there dedicated to answering the mystery of aesthetics and why we like the art and music that we like, and the last line in every one of them is “…but really, nobody knows.” But I know. The formula for aesthetics is merely this: exposure without prejudice. If you are exposed to a certain song enough and you don’t have a reason to particularly dislike the song, you’ll end up liking it. For examples see Land Of Confusion by Genesis, Patio Lanterns by Kim Mitchell, and the bulk of Bryan Adams’ career.