June 25

A night with the Queen of Soul: As many Torontonians know, Aretha Franklin was in town for a free outdoor concert, making up for time off due to a bout with cancer last year. It was hard to know what to expect from a 69-year-old, post-surgery Aretha, but if she thought she was fit to perform then I knew it would be something to see. So did thousands of others, but everyone was friendly despite the close quarters, even if you stepped on a toe or two. (The audience was massive: take all the white people who came to the free kd lang concert last week and then add all the people of colour who didn’t come but should have. A very big event.) The only genuine disappointment was the poor organization that saw a VIP tent with too many awnings and flags obscuring the view, while a giant screen was positioned so far off that you couldn’t watch the real show in tandem with the monitor. That was just plain dumb. But we were there to pay homage to the queen, not to bitch. The first act was a bit tame as she flew through her old hits for the sing-a-long fans, but by the second half (after some truly awesome entr’acte jazz from her band) her voice had warmed up and she raised the roof. A twelve-minute rendition of Bridge over Troubled Waters (a song that in other hands can be so saccharine it hurts) showcased her gospel-raunch side. And what a side! I’ve lived with Aretha records for most of my life, but I’ve never experienced the fiery excitement she generates with a live audience. From that moment on, the fun never let up and we knew we were going to get what we came for. Freeway Of Love was the last great highlight of the evening for me, though the show went on for another quarter hour, ending at eleven-forty. Thank you, Queen of Soul. Thank you, TO Jazz Festival. It’s been a great time to be in Toronto.

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