Last weekend was the unofficial kick-off to Summer in Halifax, as Garrison Brewing threw their 3rd annual Backlot Bash. With a less than stellar forecast, the normally outdoor show was shifted across the street to the Cunard Centre concert hall. The shift in venue proved to be a boon for the event, as the crowd grew as each band took to the stage, culminating in a headlining set by Saskatchewan’s own Sheepdogs who played to a packed and receptive room.
If you’re unfortunate enough to have missed out on the past 3 iterations of the event, you would be unaware that it is something of a mini-festival with a variety of activities on-site to partake in, while the gallery of food trucks tempted the famished concert-goers, and of course a solid line-up of musicians were there to entertain the masses.
The night kicked off with local up-and-coming act The Royal Volts, whose sound was something of a blues-tinged alt-rock. Unfortunately, I only caught the tail end of their set, but the formerly named Foggy Goggle sounded great, and certainly piqued my interest. The Royal Volts were then followed by local favourites The Garrett Mason band (fronted by Mr. Garrett Mason himself), who hit the stage and proceeded to transform the cavernous venue into a much more intimate and smoky blues club. Mason is a vet of the local scene, and his poise and acumen were clearly evident as he let his guitar do most of the speaking, and the singer/songwriter relinquished his tether and let the music take him away. It was a fantastic set that more than likely garnered the seasoned musician more than a handful of new fans.
Next up was one of the hottest bands on the East Coast, Port Cities. This collaboration between three young, talented musicians, Breagh Mackinnon, Dylan Guthro (son of local singer/songwriter Bruce Guthro) and Carleton Stone, has been a breath of fresh air to the local scene, and they’ve played all over town, building themselves as a must-see act. Port Cities is a band I was looking forward to seeing live, as I had read quite a bit about them, and I’ve had to listen to both Mitch and Jeff rave about them, and I was not disappointed. From their flawless harmonies, to their sheer musicality, it was fun to see them amp up their intensity and earn the adulation of the crowd through the course of the set. While it wasn’t a set awash in pyro and showy theatrics, the charm and magnetism of this talented band was more than sufficient.
Closing the night out was the first unsigned act to grace the cover of Rolling Stone magazine, The Sheepdogs. This is a band with a distinct retro-roots rock sound, and they could have easily been heard on AM rock radio in the ’60s and ’70s; but while their studio efforts have been soaked in nostalgia, their live performances always manage to take on a far more driving rock sound. Sure, there are the shaggy haircuts, and vintage clothing, but the music is top notch. As familiar as the band’s material may sound, it is also firmly forward-facing, and the music translates beautifully to the live venue. This is a band that might be hard to read, as Ewan doesn’t tend to express much in his face, while Jimmy Bowskill loves to come to the front of the stage and showcase his guitar wizardry; it’s awe-inspiring. Then you have Shamus’ impeccable work on the keys, and the bass work of Ryan Gullen and his unwieldy frizzy mop top.
The band hit the ground running with a barrage of fan favourites, “Feelin’ Good”, “I Don’t Know” and “Downtown”, and let the music carry the room away. It was a set that solidified my love of The Sheepdogs, as I had been a bit burnt out (thanks in large part to rock radio), that is until the band’s last Halifax show at the Marquee, which showed that the band is far more than their radio singles, and this set was no different. The albums are good, but the live show is where it’s at.
All in all, it was a great night at the Garrison Brewery’s Backlot Bash. I had the distinct pleasure of meeting (and shooting alongside) Garrison’s creative manager Alex Pearson, while taking in some great music. While the weather outside may have had organizers scrambling, as an attendee you’d never know that the show wasn’t slated to be held here. The past Backlot Bashes have been great, and I can’t wait to see what Garrison has planned for the 2018 iteration of the event.