Timbre has never disappointed us with the quality of acts it programmes for its annual Rock & Roots music festival, and this fourth installment was definitely not an exception. We were stoked to finally catch the epic line-up over two days at Fort Canning Park, certainly a more fitting site than the Marina Promenade for the growing festival. Enough to hold about 4000 people, the area provided enough space for ticket holders to have a seat on the grass, and for the vertically challenged, the sloped grounds were like a natural cinema, allowing everyone the luxury of an unobstructed view all night despite the large number of people in attendance.
Despite the early evening start at 6pm, the heat and humidity were killing us when local blues and funk gurus, Raw Earth, took the stage. After a number of originals, the band, led by vocalist/guitarist Surath Godfrey, wanted to “bring the old school to the new school”, when 13-year-old Miguel Antonio appeared on stage for a rendition of The Beatles’ ‘Let It Be’ to massive cheers of encouragement and almost astonishment from the crowd. The highlight of the band’s set was perhaps Kara Grainger’s appearance alongside the five men, a leading female Aussie known for her wicked slide guitar skills. Her dynamic vocals were a delight to behold for all fans of the blues. Together with Raw Earth, they performed flawlessly together; you’d mistake them as a full band that has been playing together for years.
Women (and maybe some men) screamed the moment the next performer came on and it was none other than American-Canadian crooner Rufus Wainwright. He had an undeniable aura of “cool” surrounding him as he walked up on stage decked out in shades and patterned jeggings. His voice was in top form with incredible pitch control as he sang all his songs stripped down with just his voice accompanied by a Steinway grand piano or an acoustic guitar (notably, a Hello Kitty model he acquired from Korea). It felt surreal as we sang along to songs like ‘Hallelujah’ & ‘Cigarettes & Chocolate Milk’. Wainwright entertained us with jokes throughout and even dedicated a song to “all the homosexuals out there”, quoting Star Trek: “Live long and prosper.” And to close the set was a particularly serene moment when he sang a song he wrote for his mother, sharing an intimate and emotional experience with everyone who listened.
Led Zeppelin fans were anxious to catch the next act of the first night as we noticed all of the fanboys (not really boys anymore really, but we respect the young at heart) had moved to the front for a better view. Robert Plant, lead singer of legendary rock band Led Zeppelin, made our night. The 63-year-old could still hold all his notes with the energy he had during his younger days. He warned us jokingly before starting that it could be a “questionable evening” as he said that they’d keep changing it up, and his band, The Sensational Space Shifters presented a massive spectrum of rock n’ roll; from old school hard rock to psychedelic jams. We couldn’t stop head-banging to his music and when the set ended, everyone shouted for an encore till he came out again… with a birthday cake for his Gambian band member Juldeh Camara, who gave a special twist to their band’s sound with his African musical instrument.
The Tedeschi Trucks Band closed the first night with their tight sounds of blues and rock. Fronted by Derek Trucks and Susan Tedeschi, the 11-member band gave us a great closing performance with their sweet tunes. If you ever once thought you could play the guitar, you have clearly never seen Trucks. He absolutely shredded solos accompanied by keys and a trombone with two drum sets, making the band sound so full live — far better than any of the studio recordings. Tedeschi did all lead-women proud with her powerful vocals and sick guitar skills. The whole performance seemed so natural, as though it was an improv set that they’d just came up with on the spot. Songs like ‘Midnight Harlem’ sounded new and fresh and the tunes were truly stuck in our heads as we left Fort Canning that night.
Day two started off wet with rain right before the gig, but surprisingly, the ground was not muddy, perfectly fine for everyone who didn’t prepare picnic mats. There were quite a number of people who attended the event with their children and grandparents on day two, and it was nice to see that the festival and its music was still a family activity even despite all the modern attractions of our world today. Things did get a little testing however, when groups of people had to squeeze their way over our legs with trays of beer and drinks, as the organisers had blocked out the back for VIPs, leaving no other way to get across the green. Nonetheless, the evening was perfect and nothing stopped us from having fun that night.
Kicking off day two was Indonesian band, Mike’s Apartment. They played a number of decent covers of rock songs that got the crowd singing along and were a great warm up for the next few acts we were waiting for, but the acoustic covers felt like just that — a mere filler for the early-comers before the main attraction.
Bonnie Raitt came on next though, and really got the groove on. Upon hearing her music, you couldn’t just sit still and watch, even if you were too lazy to stand. Being an all-rounder, Raitt performed hits of many styles and genres, from RnB to country. She said that she was glad to be performing at a music festival that had three strong female leads and her attitude and swagger deserved our respect as her soulful voice resonated, making us love her even more. Raitt’s band was made up of talented members of other established bands too, and they all had neat stage presence.
It’s safe to say that most of the audience on the second night were there for the next performance by Paul Simon. Everyone knew who this legend was. He looked so small compared to everyone else on stage but youthful at the same time, with a voice that hasn’t changed in decades. The audience stood up and danced along to his anthems like ‘Call Me Al’, and Simon would invite a little boy Harrison up on stage to dance along with him, which really got the crowd going to see how much fun he was having with the music. The stage set up was elaborate — two drum sets, and racks of guitars. Instruments were constantly being switched around and Simon played a different guitar with every song. He could still perform with much energy and it was clear that he’s still got it, especially so when he came out for an encore singing The Sound Of Silence’, which gave the whole venue goosebumps as everyone sang along. The set had already been quite long, but so much love was in the air that the legend had to come out for a second encore.
After the fantastic performance by Paul Simon, there was still one final act to go. Most took the set-up time to refuel on beer or take a break lying down on the grass, but a large number of the audience started making their way home. Everyone who stayed though, made sure to have a good rest, because when the next performer came out to perform, we all knew there would be massive amounts of dancing to reggae artist, Jimmy Cliff. He knew exactly how to engage the crowd as he instructed us to cheer, chant and sing along to some words or raise our hands to really feel the good vibes. The audience was having so much fun not worrying at all about how silly they looked as they imitated his dance moves to the happy peaceful sounds of reggae. There were a few songs that everyone was definitely holding out for, like Cliff’s cover of Cat Steven’s ‘Wild World’ and Johnny Nash’s ‘I Can See Clearly Now’. We especially enjoyed ‘Hakuna Matata’, which of course reminded us of The Lion King we watched some decades ago.
Timbre Rock & Roots 2013 boasted an incredible line-up, not to mention the awesome atmosphere of Fort Canning and the professional sound crew that made sure no technical errors would happen. With so many new genres of rock and new bands popping up so frequently, these respected legends brought us back to the roots of good music and unified everyone that were there those two nights. The festival’s “Know your roots” and “Music = respect” slogans could in no way better represent the Timbre Rock & Roots festival.
By Jared Rezel