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They did it their way, and it worked.

Danny Michel, the penultimate performer at the Massey Hall Canadian Songbook, was a perfect example of why Monday night's showcase Luminato event was an audience hit and will likely return next year, according to organizers.

Mr. Michel bounded onto stage and, eschewing the help of the talented house band, launched into a crawling, bluesy rendition of Paul Anka's My Way, a fresh and fascinating take on a song that's been covered by everyone from Frank Sinatra to Sid Vicious.

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The night worked because of treats such as Mr. Michel's, eclectic new approaches to well-worn Canadian songs in a relaxed, intimate atmosphere that rollicked along oblivious to the absence of many of the country's biggest musical names.

Hosts Kim Stockwood and Damhnait Doyle set a casual tone, frequently ad libbing introductions and self-consciously drawing attention to their prompt cards.

As I chatted with several artists at the after-party, it became apparent the song selection process was conducted with intense care and freewheeling daring.

Mr. Michel said he ended up doing My Way because all his initial ideas were taken; he said he was awake most of the night before from nerves.

"I learned it a week ago, and then I tried different keys and different ways. I didn't know how I would do it until I got up there. I rehearsed it a hundred times, but when I was on stage, I didn't play it like I rehearsed it," he said.

Alex Cuba, Mikel Rouse, Nikki Yanofsky, Karen David and Ron Sexsmith were all particularly strong.

But one of the crowd favourites was Luke Doucet, playing with only his wife, singer Melissa McClelland, as accompaniment. He caressed his guitar through Robbie Robertson's Ophelia before a magnificent rendition of Wondering Where the Lions Are by Bruce Cockburn, a guitarist he has always feared.

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"I chose Bruce Cockburn because it's a really difficult song for me to play. All my musical decisions are based on what I'm afraid of," he told me.

The most poignantly Canadian moment came during 17-year-old pianist Marika Bournaki's arrangement of Oh Canada, when the capacity crowd leapt to its feet to sing along. When did she pen this stunning version, I asked? "Yesterday," she told me. "But it worked out well."

James Bradshaw's Luminato diary will return Friday.

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