I'm enough of a cynic that the concept of an organization that operates for no reason other than to make people smile makes me go "Shyeah, right."
However, I was pleased to have my cynicism momentarily suspended when I attended Unplugged II, an evening showcase of student singing and songwriting talent. Unplugged II is the second showcase and fund-raiser organized by the fuzziest of warm and fuzzy campus clubs, Busking For Smiles. Emceed by the delectable Lance Farkas, co-founding member of BFS, the sold-out event featured eight student acts ranging from rookie Pam Macintosh to rising recording star Anne Klazek to perennial music man Dave Flanders to the languid trio known simply as Mark, Pat and Lisa. After a refreshing smorgasbord of performances from the student contingent, Calgary singer-songwriter Tariq eased his way onstage for the closing set of the evening, playing songs from his not-so-enigmatically titled recent release While You're Down There... and wrapping up with a low-key rendition of the unofficial Alberta anthem, "Chevrolet Way."
Though the formal "feel" of the Boris Roubakine Recital Hall where Unplugged II took place was somewhat at odds with the informal feel of the performances, it didn't detract from their overall enjoyment. In between performances, the artists chatted with the audience, greeting family members who were in attendance and gently ribbing the charmingly bashful Farkas. BFS President Steve Bleile also took the stage to deliver a cheerful, rambling but inspirational message to the audience using greyhounds, metal rabbits and the Pythagorean theorem as a metaphor.
The evening couldn't have been brought to a better close than it was with Tariq's performance. Tariq, having survived his first roller coaster relationship with the ultra-fickle music industry, is a wonderfully honest performer. His mellow and slightly self-deprecating approach to music was a perfect match with the BFS mandate of letting people do what they're good at and making everyone smile. Tariq played, his band members heckled and muttered their witticisms between sets and, yes, the audience smiled. The evening wrapped up with a high-energy rendition of Tariq's current radio hit, "Liberal Guy," featuring a surprise cameo on vocals by a nervously dimpling Farkas.
Yes, I am a cynic and smiling makes my face hurt. But for a few hours on a Friday night, BFS made my face hurt so much it nearly fell off--and I didn't mind at all.