Supporting local is something we should all strive for whenever possible. This past weekend Groundswell Music Festival took local support to another level. Nova Scotia can feel a great deal of pride in the product that was displayed. Food, drinks, and of course, music, all from our beautiful province, thrilled the crowd from March 16-19.
Thursday night kicked off the weekend at the Spatz Theatre with a Celtic show for both young and old. Heather Rankin started things off promoting her new solo album “A Fine Line.” She took the stage and treated the audience to a multitude of songs written for said album, a few old Rankin Family tunes to keep the toes tapping, and in true Cape Breton fashion told a few stories for good measure. Recording her new album in L.A. lead to a few little fish in a big pond stories for the Mabou native. From a room at the extended-stay inn with an unexpected guest, to unanswered early morning knocks on the door from a unbeknownst friendly stranger, every story had a song to coincide. She closed her set out with the Rankins classic “Movin On” which had every butt in every seat dancing along.
After a short intermission, a surprise act graced the stage. Mitchell Poirier, from Inverness, won an up and comer’s opportunity to work with Mike Ryan (Town Heroes). He played two songs, one written with Mike Ryan (and his sound was incredibly apparent in the best way possible), and an acoustic instrumental track that left jaws agape. Though maybe not quite as long and moving as John Butler’s “Ocean”, it certainly drew influence from it, and if we’re lucky enough Poirier’s path will lead us down that road. Next up was the headliner Rawlins Cross.
Maybe known as the band your dad loved in the ’90s, these guys haven’t lost a step through the years. Their modernized blend of Celtic rock boomed through the auditorium, with all in attendance digging every note from every Celtic instrument ever made. Ian MacKinnon played every wind instrument imaginable, from bagpipes, to tin whistle, and pan flute alike. Yarns were spun of their highs of sending a video to MuchMusic in ’93 with a quart of dark rum and a couple of lobsters, leading to their video going #1 on the MuchMusic countdown. They closed the night with the help of Heather Rankin on their hit “Reel and Roll.” Night one in the books.
The smell of green beer hung heavy in the air on St Paddy’s Day. Anticipation and inebriation were apparent at the Olympic Hall. The Royal Volts (formerly Loose Cannons) kicked off the night of hard rock and head banging like they had something to prove. The boys from the Eastern Shore crushed a set with songs from their upcoming EP “Enough is Never Enough.” Make sure to catch their single “Til It Breaks” on Q104, and a major show on the horizon at Garrison’s Backlot Bash, opening for The Sheepdogs. With bodies slowly filing in, everyone was drawn to the front of the stage to check out the heavy sound these guys put out. Their smoky, heavy, dive bar rock set the stage for the absolute chaos that was to come from the rest of the night.
Second on the bill was Like a Motorcycle. It’s no secret that I’m steps away from being a creepy super fan of LAM. These girls (and now Dave) fucking rule. Their brand of punk rock is as unapologetic as it gets. Gracing the stage with a bottle of whisky (and two whisky guns) they wasted no time whipping the crowd into an absolute frenzy. Playing the majority of tracks from their debut album “High Hopes”, the band also hit us with a couple new jams. One of my personal favourites “Stains and Burns” led to a guitar battle between guitarists KT Lamond and Dave Casey. Lick for lick, neither of the two would be outdone by the other. All the while, bassist Kim Carson spent her time on the riser face to face with drummer Michelle Skelding. With a flick of the wrist, a big drum fill, and a primal scream from Skelding, it was back into the heavy chorus to finish out the song. Their stage presence is second to none, and chemistry is undeniable. Casey has filled in for Jillian Cormier expertly, both on guitar, and from what I can see, as a part of the party that encompasses any LAM show.
Smoke filled the room, and excitement mounted as The Stanfields took the stage. What better band to see on St Paddy’s Day? They love to drink, party, and fuck shit up. They did all of that and then some. Kicking their set off with “Dunvegan’s Drums,” and “Blacktop Blues” from their 2012 album “Death and Taxes”, the set only got more intense, and the lack of Irish, but apparent Scottishness shone bright. Crushing beers, rocking hard, and playing fast as hell came naturally to the vets. Track after track, and mosh pit after mosh pit, the crowd ate up every second and every chord they played. Midway through the set, singer Jon Landry dedicated their anti-love anthem “Crocodile Tears” to all the lovers in the crowd. “So go/Pack your bags/I’m not listening to you cry” sums up the feelings of someone who feels “cocaine/vodka/and half a dozen beer/is no excuse for the way you acted last night.” During the breakdown, Landry polled the crowd for lovers. Asking if couples were in love, how long they were together, and having a laugh at some answers. Enter the couple of Sean and Alyssa. Landry asked the happy couple up to the stage for an impromptu wedding game of “Who does it” where the answer to the question is either him or her. Depending on the answer, one of the couple will raise their hand. Sean couldn’t hear the questions Landry was asking, so he decided to ask for the mic to ask his own question. It was then he asked Alyssa to marry him to which the answer was an enthusiastic yes. The remainder of the song they had their first dance as fiancés, while the girls from LAM joined them all on stage with their whisky gun to hydrate the Stanfields. It was the most beautiful scene I’ve ever witnessed (the hydrating of Calen Kinney from KT Lamond’s whisky gun, I mean). The night kicked back into high gear for “Fox in the Heather” and closed their first set with “The Boston States.” Their first encore started off with “Orville Mason owes me $50” to which he paid up. We then learned love was still in the air. Stanfields drummer Mark Murphy, we found out, got married earlier that day. With a gig that night, there was no time for a first dance or reception, so what better time than the present. A circle was cleared where Murphy and his bride embraced for their first dance as husband and wife. Following the impromptu wedding reception, the Stanfields closed the night out as high octane as possible. “Ship to Shore” followed immediately by “Dirtiest Drunk” had the crowds rip roaring, both from the mass amounts of booze consumed, and sheer energy put out from the band. So, throughout the night, we laughed, danced, loved, and lost (teeth, maybe?) but there wasn’t one person in that crowd who didn’t work their ass off for a good time. Though I’m sure there were more than enough hangovers Saturday morning, I would guess none of them were regretful.
With the stale beer mopped up, and the roof put back on the Olympic hall after being torn off the night before, night three of Groundswell Music Festival got underway. First act of the night was the astonishingly talented Arsoniste. Her brand of indie pop was an absolute pleasure to be in the presence of. Though the crowd was lacklustre at the beginning of the set, the massive amount of talent on the stage had the voices from the back quelled, and won over. Pushing her first EP “Where There Is Dark”, her vocal prowess was perfect for the larger venue. Closing their set with Radiohead’s rarely covered “Weird Fishes/Arpeggi”, the band had all in attendance convinced they were a force.
Halifax music scene veterans were up next. In-Flight Safety have a major following in the city, and it’s well deserved. Their set list varied through their three albums, delighting their longtime fans. Loads of energy came in the form of sweat from every pore from the five-piece indie rockers. They kicked their set off with three tracks from their most recent album “Conversationalist” in order. “Before We Were Animals”, “Animals” and “Blue Flares” melded perfectly into the dance rock sound they’re known for. Feet were moving, and the crowd was hooked. Towards the end they kept with the “Conversationalist”-heavy set, finishing with “Stockholm”, “Destroy” and “Firestarter.” It set the stage perfectly for the highly-regarded headliner.
Eagerness took over the crowd in the moments leading up to the music beginning. As drums and keyboards crescendoed to lift off, from the back riser leapt Ria Mae, in sheer excitement to be back in her home town. As she danced and jumped around the stage, the look of joy could not be wiped from her face. The capacity crowd sang along to nearly every song, cried through some, laughed along, and couldn’t have danced more if they tried. Mae held hands, high-fived, and sang to the front row constantly. She ensured everyone in the back and the balcony had just as much fun as everyone else. Inclusivity was top priority throughout the night. Chris Wong showed his stuff on bass, keyboards, electronic drum, cymbal, and guitar, all while maintaining massive amounts of enjoyment and connection to Mae. While introducing the band, Mae lamented over Wong’s first visit to Halifax and how he fell in love. I feel as though he fell in love for the same reason a lot from out of town do, Garlic Fingers and Donair Sauce. By night’s end, everyone in the hall was friends, so they were joined in the crowd by Mae herself to finish the final song. Dancing, hugging, and emotion were apparent in the venue as waves of fandom swept over. The night was over, but will not be forgotten anytime soon.
Though this was only the second Groundswell music festival, it ran like a well-oiled machine. Short and quick lines for food and booze, large crowds, and incredible talent made for an amazing weekend. A wide array of talent taken from several pools varied the crowd. Although you may not have seen the same folks each night, if you were a fan of an extensive catalogue, this was the perfect festival. From Celtic, to punk, to pop, all ages and genres were tended to. Supporting local is easy when this is what’s local.