Exclusive Video Premiere: ‘Grace on a Hill Part 1,’ The Wooden Sky



Today, we nurse your post-Oscar hangover with a video without gimmicks, plot twists, social commentary, or Brad Pitt. We’re premiering the first in a series of five live performances by Toronto-based country folk, indie-rock collective The Wooden Sky captured at the Grace on the Hill church in Toronto, directed by Scott Cudmore.
The film is part live performance, part narrative film. “I knew that I didn’t want to do the whole stripped-down performance type of thing again, and talking to Gavin [Gardiner, vocalist], the band didn’t really want to do that sort of thing again either,” explains director Cudmore. “So we decided to go the other direction and try to make something that was very cinematic. We wanted to make a movie with a narrative. The idea was the make something episodic that would develop as it progressed and in that way the narrative context would give a different dimension to the songs—exactly like in a movie where the drama gives a different context to the song used on the soundtrack, only in this project the songs are the centerpiece and are performed live while the narrative is the backdrop instead of the other way around.”
The film opens with a woman speaking French to a pesky conversant, whom she informs she is in a church filming a video for The Wooden Sky. Relieved of the persistent caller, the camera follows her towards the alter, where the band is ignited by bright white lights and plays opening notes of a musical sermon.
The first few chords have the effect of making our heart race and eyelids heavy, while demanding an exhale all at once. Gardiner’s voice is so emotional, one would think his throat itself is brokenhearted. Drummer Andrew Kekewich is assisted by the percussive enhancement of the evening’s steady rain. Already poised to reminisce, The Wooden Sky takes us back to before even our earliest memory: “I was born bald, naked, and red,” Gardiner sings, somewhere between a wail and a whisper. A mahogany alter and burnished tapestries give the setting a sepia tinge, enlivened by a stunningly lit performance space. The brightly lit band members are juxtaposed against the congregation members, whose glistening eyes are all that illuminates the pew area. 
Cudmore shoots band members not arbitrarily as participants in the performance, but as characters propelling a narrative. The metaphor of performer as minister and audience as congregation is slightly disrupted by the song’s subject matter, as all are indeed born equal, “bald, naked, and red.”