This was no ordinary jazz concert.
Thousands gathered in Nathan Phillips Square to kick off World Pride. Premier Kathleen Wynne made a surprise appearance to anoint the festival, promising to make Ontario the most accepting place on earth for the LGBTQ community.
The atmosphere was lively, though the crowd's enthusiasm made some of the guest speakers difficult to understand at times.
While Deborah Cox and Melissa Etheridge were scheduled in collaboration with the jazz festival, the audiences was also treated to some of World Pride's entertainers. The festivities began with the "O Canada" sung in Ojibwe, followed by a traditional dance troupe and a spiritual blessing by an elder.
Tom Robinson opened up the musical performances. The audience sang in unison as Robinson sang his 1975 anthem "Glad to Be Gay".
Chicago native Steve Grand gave a short set at the keyboards accompanied by guitar and banjo. The set was a collection of life-affirming up-tempo songs in the teen pop genre. Grand ended his set with his viral hit "All-American Boy".
When Deborah Cox took the stage the sunlight was gone. As the lights of Nathan Phillips square shone, she performed atop a fountain with only her microphone and two back-up dancers. Cox began her set with a high energy performance of "Who Do U Love". Her powerful voice stayed strong throughout the set, delivering some impressive notes. Canada should be proud to be able to claim such a world class vocalist. A highlight of the set was "Beautiful U R". Song title spelling aside, the lyrics were perfectly suited to World Pride. It was very moving to see an ocean of rainbow flags proudly waving as Cox passionately proclaimed "Don't ever let nobody tear your world apart."
When Melissa Etheridge finally took the stage the audience was beyond enthused. In addition to performing fan favourites such as "I Want To Come Over" and "Come To My Window", Etheridge made some important announcements. The crowd roared as Etheridge announced that she had gotten married three weeks ago. She also announced a new album titled September, set to be released September 30. Etheridge debuted new material from that album, but the biggest surprise was yet to come. Serena Ryder joined on vocals for an unforgettable duet of "Bring Me Some Water". Another unique feature of this concert was that there was a woman signing the lyrics of every single performer to the audience. This effort did not go unnoticed as Etheridge acknowledged the effort, as did the audience.
Under all of these surprises was a set of quality material. The performance ended with "Like The Way I Do". The band walked off during the number, save for Etheridge and her drummer. Etheridge performed a self contained acoustic solo, she then soloed on the drums alongside her drummer. The rest of the band came back from the wings for a grand rock and roll cadenza. The crowd had been on their feet all day, and yet they tirelessly begged for an encore. Though Etheridge did not return to the stage, the crowd was appeased with a dazzling display of rainbow fireworks while "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" played.
This was no ordinary jazz concert, but a piece of Toronto history we can all take pride in.