I did the Jazz Fest thing on Saturday with a friend. The el cheapo version where you buy the two dollar meat and potato samosa, which was really good by the way, instead of the $12 taco plate. And you listen to all the free bands playing The Cube at Old Market Square.
By midnight on Saturday, I was done with Jazz Fest, all the bands had blurred together for me. I wanted something different; a mellower, more traditional jazz sound.
According to the schedule, Dawn Pemberton was slated to play a free concert at The Cube on Sunday night.
Dawn Pemberton – ‘Who’s she?’ I wondered. ‘It’s Sunday night, could it be gospel?’ the thoughts ran through my head.
I missed a bit of her set due to being iffy about catching another loosely interpreted “jazz” performance.
I could hear her long before I reached The Cube. Her voice was that strong, and yes! it was jazz. She was the real deal. It was gospel, it was soul, it was funk and it was an infectious mix.
One thing it wasn’t was quiet. She sang a lot of her own songs intermixed with some Chaka Khan and Hall and Oates. Her voice could go from being smooth as maple syrup to belting out the vocals with the power of Janis Joplin or Aretha Franklin.
You could get lost in her songs. She’d change them up with layer upon layer of expression and instrumentals and they went on and on. And who wanted them to stop?
Some were pure funk and she was just having such a good time up there with her band as she took the audience along with her.
Her exuberance coupled with her open smile and expansive gestures; everything about her was bigger than life. She owned that stage with her huge personality. You could tell she was having fun up there.
“Everybody thinks it’s [Winnipeg] all mosquitoes and cold but they don’t know,” said Pemberton. “I feel like it’s Canada’s best kept secret and we won’t tell them.”
I saw her the next day too. She was playing her second free concert, this time as part of the noon series. Sometimes the best things in life really are free. Congrats to Winnipeg Jazz Fest for keeping her and other performers accessible to all.
People were sitting all over the grass. I think we were all stunned that we were hearing someone this good for free.
She was a powerhouse of warmth and emotion. With that voice and her rapport with the band; it felt like watching a headliner at a summer music festival.
Some artists sell t-shirts at festivals; she sold bags printed with ‘Do It To It.’
“It’s my personal funkier way of saying get it on,” said Pemberton. “If people are bugging me, I like to say ‘do it to it’.”
The phrase is also a pretty great song from her album entitled, Say Something.
The only false note to a perfect summer concert was the fire truck slowly circling the block with horns blaring. But hey… downtown Winnipeg.
In between songs she gave a couple or more shout-outs to Mr. Lee, the music teacher at Arthur E. Wright school. He’d met Dawn while taking her master class in Vancouver two years ago.
Already planning to bring his classes to Jazz Fest that day, he’d only realized the day before that she was singing. How perfect is that?
All 80 kids in grades 7 and 8 looked like they were having a great time there.
I don’t think it can get much better but there are two more free lunchtime concerts at The Cube. You can catch The Brian Chipney/Tim Cummings Trio on Thursday followed by The Lenny Chet Breau Band on Friday.
If you too like a jazz, gospel, soul mix, you’ll want to check out The Cube lounge series. I’ve been told it’s going to have a really mellow, true jazz feel.
The part in front of the stage will be fenced off because of the liquor license. However you’ll still be able to relax on the couches in the super styling TD Jazz comfort area tent. There’ll be extra seating available on the concrete perimeter as well.