It is hard to preface an event like this, so I am just going to quote was the organiser Dustin Bentall said in the facebook post:
"In March of 2013 I lost a great friend, Jay Smith. He took his life while out on the road. In an effort to celebrate his beautiful songs and spirit we're throwing a party at The Imperial Vancouver. All proceeds from this show will benefit Unison Benevolent Fund.
Unison Benevolent Fund is a non-profit organization that provides counselling, emergency relief, and benefit programs for the Canadian music community who face personal or professional challenges due to hardship, illness, unemployment or economic difficulties."
Starting off the night was "Vancouver's official house band", Odds. They played a quick set of a half-dozen songs from old favourites like the the deceptively upbeat "It Falls Apart" to newer tunes, "He Thinks He Owns You", which is either about a jealous boyfriend, or a jealous dog owner.
As usual, the band was full of energy, lead singer Craig Northy effortlessly chatting between their ridiculously catchy songs. They wrapped up by inviting the first (of many) special guests on stage, Barney Bentall to join in on "Someone Who Is Cool", as well as Cary Pratt (aka Prairie Cat) on percussion.
Next up was Adam Baldwin, a long time member of Matt Mays band with Jay Smith, to play his own material. He started off on stage alone (joking that he opted to drink rum instead of teaching the band his songs) with a couple heartfelt songs off his EP, "Bonnie Raitt" and the single "Love You With My Eyes Closed". After that, he was joined by what was essentially the "house band" of the night, which included Odds' drummer Pat Stewart (who actually played with every single band that night), Rick James Baker, and Brad Ferguson, and later on both Dustin Bentall and Kendel Carson. The full band setup was quite a bit more rockin', and included a cover of "Tush" by ZZ Top, with vocals from Christine Campbell.
At the end of the set, Baldwin invited up a Vancouver band to play one of his favourite songs with him. Which was The Matinée as they played the eternal 'song of the summer' "Young & Lazy" with Adam.
Not long after, the man who organised the whole night (with a fair amount of help as he was quick to point out) Dustin Bentall, with a bit of a dark roots-rock sound. He played a few songs, mostly songs from his recent album You Are An Island, with highlights being the title track and "Shine", both featuring the incredible fiddle of Kendal Carson -- I mean, how many times have you seen someone absolutely shred on the fiddle in a rock show?
After his own set, he quickly brought out a few more musicians, including Shaun Verreault and Jay's sister Chelle Fraser to for a set of some of Jay Smith's songs. It was a rockin' set with songs like "Romantic Fool" and "Hurts Like Hell", as well as a gorgeous song with just Chelle and Kendal on stage called "LA Postcard"
And finally, after a round of raffle draws, prizes donated by some of the night's sponsors, it was time for Matt Mays. He came out with Adam Baldwin for a song that they decided to play just two minutes before hitting the stage, a cover of "May the Wind Take Your Troubles Away".
They were quickly joined by the rest of the band, including, once again, Pat on the drums, and Kendal Carson on the fiddle, as they launched in to a couple songs off his latest, Coyote, both "Indio" and "Take It On Faith" which had the crowd singing along unprovoked.
Carson's fiddle really added a nice depth to the songs, especially on the softer and heartfelt "Loveless", and one of my favourite songs "On The Hood", which got the whole place jumping during the chorus, and once again singing along to lyrics that just seemed perfect for the moment. It was clearly a night that meant a lot to Mays, to see a packed crowd singing along, and that was channelled into the music and his passion while playing.
But the single most emotional moment of the night came as the band took a break, for Matt Mays & Chelle Fraser to share a microphone for an acoustic version of "Chase the Light". It is a song that was written before Smith passed, but has since turned into a perfect tribute to Mays friend. It was an incredible, tearjerking performance, and I doubt there was a single person in the audience without a tear in their eye.
And that wasn't even the end of it; Mays invited everyone back on stage, every person that had played that night, for Adam Baldwin to take over vocals on a cover of The Boss' "Glory Days", the whole venue joining in for one last song.
I have long been a fan of Matt Mays, but without hyperbole or exaggeration, this was the best show I have seen so far this year. It was an incredible night, full of so many talented individuals on stage, remembering their friend and celebrating a good cause.
And if you want to donate to the Unison Benevolent Fund, you can do that right here.
May the Wind Take Your Troubles Away, Indio, Take It On Faith, Loveless, Tall Trees, On The Hood, Cocaine Cowgirl, Chase the Light, Glory Days [Bruce Springsteen cover].