Canal Days Marine Heritage Festival is an annual weekend of festivities that takes place on the Welland Canal in Port Colborne, Ontario, close to Niagara. The festival hosts over 300,000 visitors each year and includes music on a few stages including a main stage that is set up in a big parking lot near the river. I made my way to this festival to check out the bands playing Saturday evening, and despite rainy weather, had such an amazing time watching The Johnstones, illScarlett and Moist.

The Johnstones, tagged as “Canada’s party band,” opened for illScarlet and Moist on Saturday night in Port Colborne. It’s certainly not the only high profile gig the ska/punk band has had since their 2002 inception. They’ve also toured the world with bands including Hedley, Gob, Reel Big Fish, Less then Jake and The Mad Caddies. Formed in Ajax, Ontario, the band became notorious in the punk scene not only for their lively and comedic live show but for their offstage antics, such as being banned for life from Disneyland and starting a Justin Bieber riot at the Toronto G20 conference. Their shows and videos led to a management deal with Canadian Idol judge Zack Werner, after which they signed on with STOMP Records (Warner) to release their debut album, Word is Bond, in 2007. That album has been followed with two others; Can’t Be Trusted and Suck.

After a brief hiatus, the band returned to making music together earlier this year and have been playing shows around Southern Ontario like their Canal Days show on Saturday. The band never fails to amuse or get their audiences moving. They clearly draw influence from bands like the Beastie Boys and they include rap segments in many of their songs that are much in the vein of something Ad-Rock would do. Their music is both really good and really fun, and they’re super entertaining to watch. They always incorporate some comical dance segments and often improvise new moves and sequences as they go along. They’re having just as much fun as their audiences are.

The Johnstones have their own half-hour TV show, Crown the Town, that features their music, their wild antics as well as sketch comedy featuring special guests. Do yourself a favour and check them out.

illScarlett followed The Johnstones with an energetic set of their own and were an appropriate bridge between the ska/punk sound of The Johnstones and the alternative rock that Moist play. illScarlett’s most prominent influence would be bands like Sublime and their sound could be classified as a fusion of ska punk and reggae rock. This long-running and successful band has been active since 2001 and will be releasing their sixth studio album (not including two EPs) this September.

They played a tight set that combined many of their own popular tunes with a few covers and kept the stage nice and warm for headliners Moist. Never having seem them perform live before, I was pleasantly surprised by the strong vocals of Alex Norman, who belted out tune after tune and kept the crowd engaged despite the rain that was coming down on us.

Moist certainly doesn’t need an introduction. They were one of my favourite bands of the 90s and I remember being devastated when they split in 2001. So it was almost too good to be true when rumours about them re-banding started last year. After a thirteen year hiatus, Moist is back in the game with new music! Not only that, but they are on top of their game and sounding as good as ever. Sometimes when bands split up and then later try to make a comeback with new material, the new music sometimes seems a bit lacklustre compared to the old and fans are disappointed. Not with these guys, not in my opinion. The new songs rock just as much as their older stuff.

Their set was comprised of all the hit songs from their first three studio albums, Silver, Creature and Mercedes 5 and Dime plus some new tunes that will be included on their upcoming release in October. Classics like “Push,” “Silver,” “Machine Punch Through,” “Leave it Alone,” and one of their encore songs, “Resurrection.” Revisiting all their most successful numbers after such a long break seems a really clever way of getting fans to re-engage and remember just how great their original repertoire is. It actually surprises me to realize just how many hit songs Moist has had since releasing Silver in 1994.

Some of the band members have changed with their resurrection, but the new formation sounds so tight and David Usher’s vocals are as strong as ever. It was honestly one of the best shows I’ve been to in ages. The band seemed genuinely thrilled with their reception as well, and despite their great skill as performers and songwriters, they remain humble and truly excited to be back on the scene. And dare I say, they all look fantastic. Age seemingly hasn’t touched these handsome devils.

Here’s the video for “Mechanical,” a single off their upcoming album Glory Under Dangerous Skies.

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Click on the image to activate the slideshow. Photos by Stephanie Beatson.