CMW 2015: Ben Lee @ The Great Hall

THURSDAY — Ben Lee has been a massive part of my life ever since I first ‘discovered’ him late one night in the mid-1990s, while I was watching an episode of Much Music’s The Wedge. They played the video for “Away with the Pixies” (from his first solo album, Grandpaw Would) — which was the start of a 20-year long love of his music.

I hunted down everything I could find about him; ordered albums as imports from HMV after countless blank stares from sales clerks; joined an internet fan club to get mix-tape bootlegs from live shows around the world; defended him against my friends who just didn’t understand my love for his sometimes sugary sweet, sometimes goofy, sometimes depressingly sad music. His music was the starting basis for one of my now longest friendships — discovering we were both the biggest Ben Lee fans we’d ever met, listening to those bootleg cassettes on a school bus trip to NYC in 1999 as we stayed awake through sunrise in the Adirondacks, bonding over our shared love of this relatively unknown Australian artist (relatively unknown at least to suburban Etobicoke – our world was not that big).

I’ve seen him live countless times, but seeing him again on Canadian Music Week's Thursday night at the Great Hall filled me with glee. As he bantered with the crowd, excitedly sharing that he’d just played a gig at the Qantas Lounge in L.A., I could feel all the stress of my week washing away. His affable, silly nature has an amazing way of putting a crowd at ease, and making a show feel like an intimate set in your very own living room. Beginning with "Into The Dark" from his album Awake is the New Sleep, he played a solid set of old classics and songs from his upcoming album, Love is A Rebellion. His new music had that rare feeling of instantly becoming new favourites; one — “Everything is OK” — stood out to me as being particularly special. As a chronic worrier, I can see the chorus of “Everything is OK… even when it’s not” becoming a new anthem in my life, to help get me through any new anxious moments. It’s not a complicated song, and the chorus is simple… but that’s one of the reasons I love his music so much. Its simple poignancy has a way of cutting right to the heart of the matter, stripping away all bullshit, making things easy.

Ben Lee's music is honest, and earnest, and true… and that’s the way I like it.




Read all our coverage of CMW 2015 here.

Words by Laurie McGregor is a Toronto-based dilettante. She likes books, music, soft things, baking, unicorns, robots and has an unnatural love of vending machines. You can find all her posts here and email her at

Photos by Adam Bunch, Editor-in-Chief of the Little Red Umbrella and the creator of the Toronto Dreams Project and Toronto Historical Jukebox. You can read his posts here, follow him on Twitter here, or email him at


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