In the Dead of Winter is a unique festival experience that prioritizes songwriters. This doesn’t only manifest in the feel of the festival, but also in the physical presentation of the artists on stage. Some were used to performing alone, while others admitted openly into the microphone that they felt bare onstage without others behind them. This made the shows powerful, as sets were allowed to be vulnerable.
This openness created one problem, however: the buzz at the Carlton often overtook the performers. A festival volunteer had to go onstage to urge the audience to cut the chatter midway through the show, which helped, but after ten minutes or so the room volume raised again. The noise interrupted the performer-audience connection. I can’t blame this on the festival, as they seemed as annoyed as I was.
When groups did perform, the emphasis on writing and structure was clear in their music. Elements of performance were obviously present, but sharp songwriting took a lead over flashy solos or extravagant stage antics. An example of this was a collaborative set between Kayo and Maje. The two turned their performance into a sort of songwriter circle, speaking to each track in detail before performing, all while maintaining their energy and hooking the crowd.
The festival knows itself well and doesn’t pretend to be anything else. It is performer centered and concerns itself with guiding attendees in new musical directions. After experiencing the festival’s personality, I feel that these frozen moments capture In the Dead of Winter in its intimacy.