Arts & Culture City In Focus

IDOW: Friday

(The Marquee Ballroom/The Seahorse Tavern)
Hey all! Here are my reviews of the second night of IDOW. I stuck to The Marquee and The Seahorse so I could maximize all the great talent featured in both venues. The Marquee has a long history of featuring great acts from all over and is usually an excellent spot to see some bigger names come to Halifax. The Seahorse is a great spot for some weekend dance parties, as well as some great, mostly local bands and DJs. However, there were a couple issues that came up with both spaces last night…

Corey Gulkin (Photo: Jessica MacIsaac)
Corey Gulkin (Photo: Jessica MacIsaac)

Corey Gulkin
Walking into The Carleton on Thursday, all the tables located by the stage and bar were full before the first set started. So walking into the Marquee to see less than 30 people inside was a surprise. Seeing the standing space almost completely empty was a little uncomfortable, and it seemed like the performers felt this a little in between songs. They didn’t let this get them down though. Gulkin (lead vocals, banjo, acoustic guitar) was joined on stage by Leah Dolgoy (harp, autoharp, vocals) and Sam Gleason (electric guitar). Their set was incredible, using effects like a bowed harp and looping/delay pedals to create a spectral atmosphere. Gulkin’s set was initially full of sweet and optimistic folk tunes but eventually turned to songs tinged in more darkness. Her song “Wolf” was particularly moving, focusing around her and Dolgoy’s feelings amidst the #MeToo movement. Gulkin was not afraid to play with moments of dissonance, and in her heavier material there were moments she couldn’t hold back a smile. Her love of music shone through the whole performance. Concert goers really missed out by not coming early to check her set out.

Owen Meany's Batting Stance (Photo: Jessica MacIsaac)
Owen Meany’s Batting Stance (Photo: Jessica MacIsaac)

Owen Meany’s Batting Stance
Some great local talent to follow up the first set. By this point in the night, many more people had filtered into the standing space of the Marquee, so the venue felt more alive for their set. These guys were a dose of pure rock and roll, with loud and energetic accompaniment from all members. Frontman Daniel Walker is a natural storyteller and opened the band’s set with a song about their recent tour to Europe. Many of the band’s songs include some clever play on words within the lyrics, making frequent references to works of literature. I was particularly amused with their song “Dissonance”, which as far as this classically trained musician can tell, included no real dissonance at all. There were unfortunately a few moments that I couldn’t clearly hear the vocals, mostly in their newer material, due to the solid force of the accompaniment. The band had a natural ease with their audience and told many stories in between songs. I was happy that they ended off with one of their classics, “Pop Odyssey: The First Person Narrative of The Bottle of Cola at a House Party”. Check this song out if you haven’t already.

The Weather Station (Photo: Jessica MacIsaac)
The Weather Station (Photo: Jessica MacIsaac)

The Weather Station
By all accounts, these folks had a really solid set. Tamara Lindeman (lead vocalist and songwriter) has a distinct voice that floats beautifully over her band’s accompaniment. The songs were upbeat rock anthems, and the audience was full of their fanbase who was loving every moment. The band works really well together on stage and with their audience. For some reason though, they, unfortunately, weren’t my cup of tea.

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Nick Ferrio (Photo: Jessica MacIsaac)

Nick Ferrio
These guys were the first set on the Seahorse stage. Much like the Marquee two hours earlier, I could count less than 20 people in the space. Not really the expected (or deserved) audience for these rockers. Ferrio led his three-piece set with some great rock riffs, but they really hit their stride once more people started jamming along with them at the front of the stage. They rolled with their small crowd and brought a really fun energy to the stage. Ferrio’s new song “Anxiety” was my favourite of what I caught of their set, a relatable song that eloquently describes such a hard emotion to face. Because of the way the night was structured, I had to head upstairs before the set was complete to catch the headliner of the night…

Waxahatchee (Photo: Jessica MacIsaac)
Waxahatchee (Photo: Jessica MacIsaac)

As the main headliner of the festival, Katie Crutchfield (Waxahatchee) drew quite a crowd at the Marquee. The American songstress is excellent, her clear and sweet voice delivering raw lyrics over her sparse and simple electric guitar and piano accompaniments. Between each song, she would retune her guitar with intense concentration, and this attention to detail could be seen in other small gestures in her performance. A thing I found quite intriguing is how she seemed to end almost (if not every) song with a quick strum on the tonic chord, reinforcing her home key (for anyone interested in music theory, this is what I’m talking about). It was a solo set, and she delivered her emotionally charged folk songs to a mostly captivated audience. Unfortunately, the key word being mostly
There have been numerous tweets about the concert, and Exclaim! wrote a lengthy review on what went down. In between and even during Crutchfield’s songs there was a constant drone of people talking, mostly located towards the back of the venue near the bar. I was located close to the front, but it was still present in between each song. Many of the audience members themselves were loudly shushing people in the back, and Crutchfield herself gave one plea to her audience for more quiet. My initial reaction after the concert was, I’m ashamed to admit, a little annoyed. Yes, I would have loved for people to be quiet, but all night I had seen people yelling and running into each other’s arms as they shared their excitement over catching up and watching live music together. I’ve never thought of the Marquee as a quiet place, so I thought it was normal and okay for there to be talking. Right? No, I’m really not.
Many people paid $30+ dollars specifically to hear Crutchfield play. Their memory of that concert is going to be coloured by annoyance that they couldn’t hear one of their favourite artists over someone else’s loud conversation. Even worse than that, part of the audience made her job incredibly, unnecessarily tough, even though people paid to support and appreciate her work. Imagining the amount of talent and confidence a quiet solo set like Crutchfield’s takes, there’s no excuse for not being in quiet awe of her. I and any of the loud chatters in the concert should have immediately understood that. We as an audience should have all upheld our end of the bargain and showed a respectful audience-performer relationship. Especially since this isn’t the first time a breach of performer-audience respect has happened in Halifax . Crutchfield herself has an excellent thread on how our actions as an audience affect a performer. I hope Halifax audiences take this to heart for future shows. I know I will.

The State of Alaska (Photo: Jessica MacIsaac)
The State of Alaska (Photo: Jessica MacIsaac)

The State of Alaska
I had heard this band’s name floating around for some time, but have never managed to catch them until tonight. One of the most fun bands I heard from the festival so far. They balanced their heavy rock ballads with songs asking deep questions about superheroes (all band members were wearing some item of Spider-Man clothing). Frontwoman Alaska McMillan has a powerful voice and commanded the stage wonderfully. The band themselves seemed to love being on stage together, and the now-substantially-bigger audience was having a great time bopping to their music. Definitely check these folks out the next time they play in Halifax.

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Reeny Smith (Photo: Jessica MacIsaac)

Reeny Smith
Smith delivered a pure and powerful dose of soul to the Seahorse. With the upstairs concerts complete, she had a big crowd of people ready to dance. Whether singing covers or her own music from her upcoming debut album, her band and backup vocalists had the audience engaged and energized the whole set through. She is an amazing local talent that you can’t go anywhere without seeing ads for her next performance. Based on her stellar pipes, you can expect to keep hearing her name for quite some time.
Witch Prophet
Witch Prophet was the last set of the night, but, unfortunately, I was too worn out to stay after Reeny Smith. That wraps up the Friday night recap. Stay tuned For Saturday’s recap of the final songwriter’s circle of the festival.

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