GroundSwell Music Festival: Night One

So… I’m back at it again! Compared to festivals I’ve covered in the past, this one started out a bit differently. The Spatz Theatre at Citadel High School was the venue for night one of this festival whose organizers, GroundSwell Music, are focused on highlighting Nova Scotian talent and helping young, emerging musicians from the province. Mayor Mike Savage was in the house (and I’m pretty sure I saw him grooving in his seat to Rawlins Cross…).

Heather Rankin on stage. (Photo: John Sandham)

Heather Rankin on stage. (Photo: John Sandham)

Heather Rankin kicked off the evening. She’s a natural storyteller and joker, and I loved the simplicity of her music and accessibility of her lyrics. One of my favourites was “Down By the Sally Gardens,” which Heather joked was recorded before she went through puberty. Nevertheless, her voice more than held up all these years later. The stand-up bass, keyboard and guitar that accompanied her were the perfect compliment to her voice. Some other terrific numbers she performed: “The Way Life Goes,” and “We Walk as One,” Heather’s tribute to her family.

A digression (I always seem to mention my extended family in my reviews…): while browsing Twitter after her set, I discovered that Heather owns The Red Shoe Pub, a well-known establishment in Mabou, NS. I recognized it immediately, since my aunt has worked there for decades. I pointed this out on Twitter, which Heather responded to with this:

 

Anyway, like I said, one of the things GroundSwell does is promote young, up-and-coming Nova Scotian musicians. After intermission (which was a bit longer than it should have been, since local food and beer were being served in the lobby…), Mitch Poirier, a young musician from Inverness, took to the stage to play a few songs (one of which was co-written with Mike Ryan of The Town Heroes). He’s got a good voice, and I couldn’t help but notice his hairstyle was classic John Sandham circa late 2016 (EDIT: I’ll admit, he rocks it better than I ever did…). Without a doubt, the most exciting moment of his set was his second song – the microphone was put away and he played his entire guitar as an instrument, strumming, slapping, and picking his way to one heck of an ovation from the audience. I wish I had video of this to show, but alas, I have none.

Mitch Poirier. (Photo: John Sandham)

Mitch Poirier. (Photo: John Sandham)

And then, it was on to Rawlins Cross. My first thought, when I saw their setup? “HELL YES, THERE’S BAGPIPES.” And wow, did Ian McKinnon sure prove bagpipes can rock (although I already knew that). Another highlight? Brian Bourne playing the Chapman Stick, an instrument I had never seen before. Almost three decades after forming, these guys still kick ass, but can still take it down a notch or two when they need to, like on “A Matter of the Heart.”

Ian McKinnon (Photo: John Sandham)

Ian McKinnon (Photo: John Sandham)

Yesterday’s performances can be summed up in one word: nostalgic. The average age of the crowd was… much older than me. Although I initially thought the venue was an odd choice, it proved to be ideal for last night’s shows. Heather’s quiet power worked especially well for the Spatz Theatre. All in all, it was a great way to start the festival.

I’m expecting tonight to be a bit different. As one of the organizers of the festival predicted, “It’ll be messier.” After all, it is The Stanfields on St. Patrick’s Day, and Olympic Hall is… different than the Spatz. Should be fun.