At the Come Home Queer festival in Small Point-Broad Cove-Blackhead-Adam’s Cove, the big event was a concert on Saturday evening at the Salem Community Hall featuring Kate Best and Wanda Crocker, Zay Nova, and budding superstar Kellie Loder. Having Loder headline the show was such a smash, in fact, that tickets sold out almost immediately and the organizers had to add a second show for Sunday. And once I find my seat at the back of the room and hear them start playing, it is easy to see why.
I fully get the hype. Loder has captivated the room.
“I feel just like I’m in my living room with you,” they joke. “Except my living room is really big.”
They’ve got a powerful voice and a remarkably self-assured stage presence. They’re charming, funny, and relatable in the way only someone with unmistakable star power can be. It’s been a long time since I saw someone work a room so effortlessly. Kellie Loder is a bona fide entertainer. Watching the performance, it seems incomprehensible that they didn’t place first in Canada’s Got Talent.
It’s a very intimate atmosphere—and a participatory one, too. Loder is showcasing a few new tunes and inviting the audience into the songwriting process. They’ve got a new tune about taking a long drive with your partner but without a destination. It really captures the vibe of sharing the open roads of rural Newfoundland with someone you love. Naturally, the crowd goes wild for every regional reference, cheering madly when Loder sings about traveling “on the Baccalieu Trail.” (And when they ask us to pick between a few prospective song titles for this yet-unnamed track, the crowd vetoes all suggestions and chooses “Peace of Mind” instead.)
One of the most compelling things about Loder is that they manage to find the sweet spot between being powerfully earnest and heartfelt but also irreverent. This is best exemplified by “Gross With You,” an incredibly sincere yet completely campy ode to being so infatuated with someone that you gleefully disgust everybody else around you. Loder so convincingly sets the mood with this song that while performing it they wind up playfully flirting with an especially enthusiastic fan in the front row. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a better encapsulation of the Newfoundland spirit at a live performance in my life.
Loder also showcases a more serious side when they break into “Shame For Dinner,” a beautiful and heartbreaking song they wrote following a particularly invalidating coming-out experience. As they softly sing “to love would be so simple if you tried,” I suddenly understand why they’re selling stickers that read “Kellie Loder Made Me Cry” at the merch table. The crowd is on the same page, and delivers a well-deserved standing ovation when it’s finished.
While the early evening was all about trying out some new material, Loder brings it home by playing the hits. They deliver one empowering pop anthem after another, culminating in “Fearless,” to bring the whole room to its feet clapping and belting out the chorus. You feel this one in your bones and it brings the house down. When the standing ovation is finished, they launch into their first encore.
“I never thought I’d see a queer festival in the bay,” Loder—speaking for all of us—says over the applause. “We’re back in the bay, baby.”
Loder moves to leave the stage, but festival coordinator Gerry Rogers takes the mic and insists on another encore—a request that’s impossible to refuse. So Loder calls one of the workers—a guy named Barry—out from the kitchen for an impromptu jam session on the stage. They launch into a cover of “Folsom Prison Blues” while Barry is absolutely shredding it up on an acoustic guitar. This is the most powerful ‘rural church basement energy’ I have ever experienced . We are fully basking in the Newfoundland dream.
“Kellie is ours, and we are Kellie’s,” Rogers declares as the fourth, and final, standing ovation quiets down. It is hard to disagree.