As with previous years, I was having too much fun, and was too stressed from all the running around to take proper notes, but who needs ’em: either you were there and you loved it for your own reasons, or you missed it, and there’s song samples below to judge for yourselves. 2015 was Lawnya Vawnya’s fifth festival and it went off like a firecracker — flawless and vibrant as the shiny purple wristbands
Jonny and the Cowabungas Officially Breakout Band of the Year
“Drunk on Wine” by Jonny and the Cowabungas
This year’s festival kicked off by visiting headliners Vulva Culture, who were okay, but failed to outshine our very own Quidi Video and the local buzz band of the year: Jonny & the Cowbungas. Jonny & the Cowabungas are a pile of surf rockers so good they don’t even need vocals. For the current music scene, they’re doing something younger showgoers haven’t heard done yet, and for the aging showgoer, they’re getting flattering comparisons to The Kremlin. Both demographics can agree they’re 2015’s breakout band of the year, and they proved their appeal by securing a solid review and 8-star stamp of approval from Exclaim Magazine. Only 3 of the 30+ bands who played got a rating higher than 8 (The Burning Hell, Ouroboros, and Susie Asado).
Nick Everett Fills in; Minds Get Blown
“St. Augustine” by Nick Everett
When Kira Sheppard was too sick to play her Thursday night Rocket Room show, Halifax’s Nick Everett took her slot and slaughtered the audience with his offkilter, crowd-wining banter, and his atypical take on the folk-leaning singer-songwriter genre. But it was the banter that really won everyone over and engaged the audience to get more into the songs. That and his fluid, atypical approach to guitar and his gently powerful vocals. This memorable, stand-out performance did a lot to get people interested in his band Mauno — who also performed in the festival. Mauno went on to be one of the top 3 talked about acts in town for Lawnya Vawnya. But this was the showcase to shine a light on Everett’s Everest-sized potential as a songwriter.
Thursday’s Suuns & Walrus Show = Two Bands to Learn From
“20/20” by Suuns
One memorable moment from Suuns rolling through town was the instant people realized the band name is not pronounced as suns, but SOONS, which later prompted another festival act, Suds, to consider changing their pronunciation to sueds. Suuns treated the crowd at The Ship to a set they’ll never hear the likes of again … not because it was so good (which it was) but because it was an entirely unique breed of music, as expected. There are a handful of overly confident songwriters in town who’d have benefitted from seeing music this groundbreaking and un-mimicable. There’s something primal at work in their music, and you feel it like a magnet on your chest pulling you in.
“Banger” by Walrus
Suuns were joined Thursday night by one of the finest newer bands in town, Mooch, as well as Halifax’s Walrus. If there’s one sound that’s been taking over music blogs and national music magazines for the last years or 2, it’s a sort of Post Mac Demarco style of Psych Pop. Which means few genres are as abused by emulators these days as psych pop. But Walrus nail their genre with their own brand. At their best, they infect the genre with a surf-tinged spin to make it all their own. Point being, don’t just recreate a trending sound, kids: do what Walrus do and reinvent it.
Mauno & Teenanger Pop-up ICYMI Show
Every festival has its tragic clashes – you can’t be at two shows at once, or in the case of Friday night, 3 shows at once. But Lawnya Vawnya are swell enough to remedy that dilemma for us with pop-up shows and music crawls throughout the festival, that let you catch glimpses of the bands you missed. And one such pop-up let people hear a few tunes by Mauno and Teenanger at a house show — two great bands you missed if you were at Thursday night’s Suuns show or Friday night’s Waves or Strumbellas show.
“Hot Rods at the Loser Convention” by Teenanger
“Nothing” by Mauno
Lawnya Vawnya Talk Show
Every year, Canadian media mogul Vish Khanna comes to town to host/review many of the shows at Lawnya Vawnya … and to host a talk show associated with the festival. The Lawnya Vawnya Talk Show goes down just like Letterman — a dolled up Vish Khanna has three guests on his show. This year, The Burning Hell played house band, cracking jokes back and forth the way David and Paul do on Letterman. The Burning Hell nailed it, playing quick 10-second — and very fitting — clips as guests came and went. The guests were superstar author Elisabeth de Mariaffi, a pair of visiting visual artists from Iceland, and the band Suds (a new project from Lee Hanlon of Gramercy Riffs fame). Throughout the talk show, Vish was checking in on an artist at work on a painting on a wall, and spectators were encouraged to sttp up and draw one thing, and one thing only on it: dog turds.
Weaves Win the Festival
“Shithole” by Weaves
Lawnya Vawnya 2015 could also be referred to as “the spring St. John’s fell in love with Weaves.” And what wasn’t there to love? A wild-ass drummer, a ferocious bassist, an ultra-innovative guitarist who can be seen screaming into the body of his hollow body guitar for the coolest approach to back-up vocals you’ll hear, and a singer whose voice defines their sound, both for its richness, and for how she uses it like an instrument to jam with the music the band is creating — as in freestyling what the guitar is doing, for example. It was quite simply riveting and a refreshing new sound that sounded quite different song to song, and yet cohesively Weaves.
Non-Ravers Hit up Electronica Show After Party
For the first time, Lawnya Vawnya incorporated an electronic show, and when every other venue shut down and died Friday night, there was only one portion of the festival still 100% alive, thanks to Yung Dumb. There were plenty of “what are you doing heres?” flying around, but the unfamiliar terrain didn’t stop a soul from dancing their pants off — in at least one case, quite literally. Unfortunately some drunk dickhead purposefully smashed a beer bottle right in the middle of the floor. What a party pooper: people needed every inch of that dancefloor.
Doug Paisley’s Tea Towels and Guitar Playing
“Song My Love Can Sing” by Doug Paisley
Not enough people seemed to realize that all festival long there was a “Record Fair,” i.e permanent merch table set up. The highlight of this year’s record fair might have been the fact Doug Paisley sells something more practical than music and clothes — a $5 tea towel. Also, anyone a little let down Paisley played Saturday night without a band (drastically changing the legit country experience) was instantly transfixed at how amazing the bareboned, acoustic core of his songs are. He’s a picker that makes it look deceptively easy, to the point people were applauding halfway through songs as if he’d just pulled off a cock-rock solo, when instead it was a nonchalant riff, repeated throughout verses and choruses, like there was nothing to it. He’d rival the likes of Duane Andrews, with whom he played an impromptu set with at Mallard Cottage the next day during their brunch service.
Saturday’s Quidi Vidi Music Crawl
“Mistakes” by Gianna Lauren
Suppose you had been out late Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday night for the festival? You’d think you’d be too spent for a day show, but this was no ordinary show: it was 4 acts, playing 4 songs each, in Quidi Vidi’s four most fabulous places; 3 of which were serving beer. Halifax’s Dark for Dark played at The Plantation: picture three women with beautiful voices and just one acoustic guitar, harmonizing til your bones ring with the beauty of it all, and the backdrop is Quidi Vidi gut. Then you walk over to the Quidi Vidi Brewery, grab a fresh pint of their new seasonal to straighten yourself out, and Gianna Lauren is playing a set, backed by Mauno. The band were outrageous, with some of the most impressive, interesting drumming and lead guitar work the festival had on display. Next was Mallard Cottage for Donovan Woods … and the cake table looked like a flock of human seagulls were hovering around it and devouring the baked goods Mallard generously offered up free of charge. It was sweeter than the sentiments in Donovan’s songs. The crawl ended at the Inn of Olde, which was packed so tight you could barely bring a bottle of Black Horse to your lips. Weaves closed the crawl with a set that understandably lacked the electricity of their previous night’s performance, and yet still dropped jaws.
Burning Hell & AE Bridger Day Show
“Amateur Rappers” by The Burning Hell
Despite the declaration The Burning Hell were only coming to town to be the house band for Vish Khanna’s Lawnya Vawnya Talk Show, these champions of live performance and endearing, catchy songs played a show to a packed house at the Masonic Temple. Spectators ranged in age infants to the elderly. Nothing says “these guys are not to be missed” like a young mom boping her baby into pacification, alongside your nan dancing despite the knowledge her hips would be hurtin’ for it later. Every musician
secretly wishes they were touring the world in this band — they make it look like the funnest thing in the world, not just for the crowd, but for themselves. AE Bridger warmed the stage with his you-wouldn’t-have-written-this-kind-of-song music.
Lowell Levels the Rockhouse with Charged Performance
“I Love You Money” by Lowell
It was one of those shows that felt over just as it’s just getting started — people were caught up in the Lowell whirlwind of hits and new jams better than old hits, and her set nailed home the notion that “time flies when you’re having fun.” Some people were expecting to like it, “but not that much,” others didn’t know what to expect, “dragged there by knowledgeable friends,” and other were prepared to be amazed “and were.” But everyone agreed it was the kind of performance that turns a good musician into an even greater success in her field — if everyone leaves your shows feeling that satisfied with bang-for-buck, then yes, you wind up a CBC darling, and an Exclaim cover girl, signed to Arts & Crafts, and you damn well deserve it. Anyone too cool to come see a a former indie sensation turned mainstream success missed a pretty magic performance. She wore a head set so she could roam through the crowd singing, and wore her Korg like a keytar for the same reason. And the guy she plays with deserved mad props for some seriously original guitar.
Susie Asado Steals the Show
Susie Asado is not a person, it’s a moniker for Josepha Conrad, named after a literary reference. Conrad is a Berlin-based musical innovator as sophisticated and meticulous and dazzlingly original as any of today’s musical innovators. Stanley Brinks, Bjork, or St. Vincent be Damned: Susie Asado is the one turning music inside out. There’s no sense of order or following templates and rules in the way she writes. Songs would start, stop, meander into improvised percussion, or become plain weird performance art. Flanked by Ariel Sharatt and another stunning voice, the trio left listeners totally not missing drums and bass — which would have only gotten in the way of what was remarkable about her songs: their structures and complexities. Susie Asado was one of only 3 performers to get a 9-star rating at the festival from Exclaim. And yet it was notably under-attended, so, sadly, anyone who needs to be told where to go during a festival missed out on this year’s secret gem. Lesson hopefully learned, slackers: get your money’s worth next year by doing a little research on the lineup. This is the kind of stuff that benefits from seeing it leave to appreciate it, but here’s a track: